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Using URLs: Uniform Resource Locator Explained in Depth

Reading time 3 min
Published Jun 23, 2017
Updated Oct 2, 2019

TL;DR – URL stands for a Uniform Resource Locator – an address of an Internet resource.

What Is a URL and Where Is It Located?

A uniform resource locator (URL) is basically what you would call the website address. It's a text string that refers the user to a location of a web page or another resource (such as a program or a graphic document). Surfing the web, you can always see the URL of the currently opened page in the browser's address bar.

The need for uniform resource locators arose in the 1990s with the appearance and increasing popularity of world wide web. To open a file placed not in our own computers but remote ones (e.g., servers), we needed to provide browsers the information on how to find and access them.

Parts of a URL

To better understand a simple uniform resource locator, let's break one down and review all parts of the URL separately. To make it easier, we'll use the address to this very tutorial:

https://www.bitdegree.org/learn/uniform-resource-locator

Part Component Definition
https:// Scheme Defines the protocol for accessing the document or file
www. Prefix Defines the content as world wide web
bitdegree Domain Defines the host or server to target
.org Suffix Defines website's type or location
/learn/uniform-resource-locator Path Directs to the exact resource. If not defined, the user will be directed to the main page of the website.

You can see these parts in nearly every web address. However, there are a few more that are optional and get used less, but you might still encounter them:

Part Definition Placement
Port Sets the port number of the host (e.g., :80). After the suffix
Query string Defines specific content to return (e.g., ?string="a great example". URLs with query strings are often called dynamic URLs. After the path
Filename Defines the name of a document (e.g., valuable-example.jpeg) End of an URL
Anchor Directs to an exact part of the page (e.g., #incredible-example) End of an URL

Uniform Resource Locator: Useful Tips

  • To improve user experience, make your URLs easy to type: avoid case sensitivity, skip non-ASCII characters and choose hyphens over underscores.
  • When you're adding an URL to HTML links you don't neccessarily need to include it whole – a relative or root relative URL is often enough.
  • The prefix part of an URL can also represent a subdomain (e.g., best.example.com).