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What is Browser History?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated May 16, 2024
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A browser history is a record of websites visited by someone using that browser on that particular computer. This archive allows users to quickly access previously viewed pages by opening the history file and selecting the desired page. Browser history also gives employers and parents a valuable tool for supervising Internet activity. For users concerned about privacy, history files can be emptied, and settings on most browsers allow this archiving function to be deactivated.

Browsers identify and locate web pages using a unique Uniform Resource Locator (URL), or web address. When a page is viewed, the URL is stored in the browser history along with the date that the page was last opened. URLs are not always easy to identify on sight, and some contain complex alphanumeric strings. For this reason, easily identified names are also included in the history listing. Users can quickly and easily access pages viewed minutes, days or even weeks previously, depending on the browser' settings.

Browser settings determine how long these records will be stored. Each browser is set up slightly differently, but all have the same major features, including history settings. A typical web browser will keep URLs for about two weeks as a default setting. Users can alter browser history settings to keep URLs for only a few days or for several months, if desired.

One of the browser history's primary uses is for supervision and monitoring of web activity. Parents can check the history to see which sites have been visited and can even display the pages that were viewed. Employers might examine browser histories as well to make sure that workplace Internet activity is related to the work being done.

Some users might not wish to leave a record of sites visited during every browsing session. For this reason, most browsers include a “privacy” function. While this feature is activated, the browser will not keep any record of pages viewed. This does not, however, allow users to move without leaving a trace. Internet service providers are able to keep track of all traffic, identifying which sites were accessed by which accounts.

Users also have the option of deleting some or all of the websites from the browser history. Each browser is set up slightly differently, but all allow users to clear the history entirely or to delete addresses individually, by date or by website. Some browsers also allow users to delete all addresses viewed within a set time frame, such as the past hour.

Parents and employers might wish to limit access to this feature and to any ability to alter the browser history. Most browsers include parental settings that make a password required before any changes can be made to the history. Alternatively, monitoring software that independently records all web activity can be downloaded.

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Discussion Comments

By Markerrag — On Feb 05, 2014

Ask a kid, a husband or anyone else who has gone off looking at sites that shouldn't be looked at about the importance of clearing browser history. A lot of people who have neglected to clear it have gotten themselves in trouble over the years.

That's probably why the ability to browse privately has become so popular -- the browsers that offer it don't keep track of browser history when people use that mode.

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