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What is a Web Browser?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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A Web browser is a software program that interprets the coding language of the World Wide Web in graphic form, displaying the translation rather than the coding. This allows anyone to “browse the Web” by simple point and click navigation, bypassing the need to know commands used in software languages.

The World Wide Web is written in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), which looks nothing like its graphic translation. To take a peek, Web users can right-click on any empty space in a webpage, and a small pop-up menu will appear. They can choose View Page Source in Firefox®, or View Source in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer® to see what the code looks like.

The first successful graphical Web browser, Mosaic, was written by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina in 1992 and released in 1993. At that time, the only popular graphical online services were offered by Prodigy, America Online (AOL), and Compuserv. These companies were closed networks that provided their own proprietary content, message boards, email programs, and interfaces, and did not provide access to the Internet.

The Mosaic browser opened the Internet to the general public. It provided an easy way to navigate the Web and was free for personal use. To compete with the appeal of the Internet’s worldwide network, closed networks had to introduce a pipeline to the Internet and supply a graphic browser to interpret HTML. By the time this occurred in the mid-1990s, Andreessen had partnered with Jim Clark, former founder of Silicon Graphics, to create a new flagship tool called Netscape.

Netscape remained the Web browser of choice until Microsoft began pre-packaging their own version into the Windows® operating system. Internet Explorer® was generally considered inferior to Netscape in many ways, and it was particularly criticized for ongoing security issues, numerous bugs, and a lack of conformity to Web standard protocols. While this turned off many in the online community, the flood of new computer users knew too little to be aware or concerned. By 1998, Internet Explorer® dominated the market, due in large part to Microsoft’s ability to pre-load it into new computer systems.

At the same time, Netscape, then known as Netscape Communicator, released its source code to the public. The browser went through a massive rewrite over the next few years and emerged as the open source Web browser known as Mozilla, under the Mozilla Organization, then owned by AOL. By 2003, AOL passed off oversight to the newly formed Mozilla Foundation, which renamed the browser Phoenix and later Firefox®.

Both Microsoft’s Internet Explorer® and Mozilla's Firefox ® are free from to download and are two of the most popular options. In 2008, Google released the Chrome™ browser, which quickly claimed a significant part of the market. Many people who use Apple products have the Safari® browser, which was created by Apple for its operating systems; a version is also available for Windows®. Another alternative, Opera™, is also available. Many people choose to keep and use multiple browsers, since some sites work better in one than another.

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Discussion Comments

By anon971739 — On Sep 29, 2014

I also say thanks for the explanation. I love to tear apart things that interest me to "see the parts" that make it move. This is difficult with computers. I have only been using a computer since January 2012. Having never turned one on until then and no formal knowledge of them in a user's sense. I have home schooled myself to this point and now learning how to and what code is. It has been and is fascinating, but I am still an infant, but I have a lot of time and this will never get old! I can't wait. Thanks and peace.

By anon139358 — On Jan 04, 2011

this is such lovely information that you shared, we students are learning a lot from this. Thanks.

By anon124246 — On Nov 05, 2010

Yes, this was very helpful. There is just not enough basic starter info for people like me who lack a lot of simple understanding of how the internet and computers in general work. Thanks!

By Bar3755 — On Dec 12, 2008

I downloaded windows live writer to be able to write and add pictures to my posting on my blog.

I am very new to this. It will not load pictures, it says "image uploads not supported by weblog...says to upload images to an FTP server. I don't know how to do this. I use microsoft internet explorer. It asks for Name of my FTP server? User name and password for FTP server?

Publish images into this folder? url of image publishing folder?

Can you in simple terms answer these questions for me so I can publish my post to my blog at blogger?

So Frustrated...Thanks!

By anon11053 — On Apr 07, 2008

I just want to thank you very much for such a nice and easy way to explain! Many people like me want to know things like what is a web browsers, that for some may be so simple, but for us not so! And the way you put it was interesting and I did not get boring reading it! Please keep up the nice work!!!

I'm very ignorant about computer and web! But i start to love it !!! thank you!!!

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