What is a Web Browser-Components, Types, Functions

A web browser is an application software that enables a user to display and interact with text, video, images, games, music, and other information on a web page at a website on the World Wide Web.

image showing web browser define

History of Web Browsers

The World Wide Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 while working at CERN. The first web browser called WorldWideWeb was also created by Berners-Lee in 1990 to allow users to access the web.

In 1993, Marc Andreessen and a team at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) released a browser called Mosaic. Mosaic was widely credited with popularizing the web through its graphical interface. It introduced innovations like hyperlinks embedded in text and images.

Building on Mosaic’s innovations, Andreessen founded Netscape Communications and released Netscape Navigator in 1994. Navigator quickly dominated the web browser market with over 90% market share by 1997.

As the web grew rapidly, Microsoft got into the browser wars by licensing Mosaic code to release Internet Explorer in 1995. Over the next few years, they integrated it deeply into Windows to bundle IE with every Windows PC. By 2002, Internet Explorer had reversed Navigator’s early dominance to command over 95% of the browser market share.

Google also released its Chrome browser in 2008, promising speed, simplicity, and security. Powered by a new JavaScript engine called V8. Chrome’s clean interface and web app capabilities quickly made it many users’ browsers of choice. Since 2012, Chrome has solidified its leadership to command over 60% of the browser market share on desktop and mobile devices combined.

The browser wars continue to this date, as Microsoft, Mozilla and even Apple with Safari continue to innovate new browser features for speed, simplicity, security, and user choice to attract and retain users to their offerings. The competition has greatly benefited internet users worldwide.

Components of Web Browser

Here are the components/Architecture of a Web Browser:

image showing Architecture of a Web Browser

1. User Interface

The user interface includes the address bar where you enter web page addresses, the back and forward buttons, the refresh button, the home button, and menus and settings options. This is the part you interact with as the user.

2. Browser Engine

This is the core component that does most of the work. It takes the website address you typed and retrieves the content and images from that address. Then it interprets the HTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc, and renders or draws the website content on your screen.

3. Rendering Engine

This takes the content the browser engine retrieved and parses the HTML, CSS, etc, and turns that coding into actual visual pages you can see. It determines layout, styling, colors, etc. so you can view the content.

4. Networking

This handles network calls and security. It uses HTTP to communicate with web servers and retrieve website content. It handles secure HTTPS connections as well.

5. UI Backend

This draws out the user interface features using lower-level operating system UI methods. It interfaces the user interface with the other components.

6. Javascript Interpreter

This parses and executes Javascript code included in web pages. This allows for interactive features and functionality on websites.

7. Data storage

This is for storing browser data like history, cookies, cache, and other data for accessing web pages more efficiently.

Web Browser Features

Here are key features of web browsers:

image showing features of web browser

  • Navigation – Move between web pages via hyperlinks, forward/back buttons, history
  • Address Bar – Type in URLs, and search terms to visit web pages
  • Tabs – Open multiple web pages simultaneously in one browser window
  • Bookmarks – Save and organize shortcuts to favorite web pages
  • Downloads – Transfer files, and media from the internet onto your device
  • Extensions – Add extra functionality with external plug-in programs
  • Sync – Continue browsing sessions across user devices
  • Privacy Mode – Temporarily disable browse history tracking
  • Settings Sync – Coordinate customized configurations across browsers/devices
  • Translate – Convert text of foreign language web pages
  • Print Pages – Send web content to local or cloud-based printers
  • Page Zoom – Magnify or shrink the size of web page text/images
  • Developer Tools – Inspect page structure, debug issues
  • Password Manager – Securely save login credentials
  • Pop-up Blockers – Prevent unwanted ad windows from appearing
  • Customizable UI – Tailor interface elements like background theme

Types of Web Browsers

Here are some types of Web Browsers:

1. Google Chrome

  • Developed by Google
  • Cross-platform (Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS)
  • Features tabbed browsing, incognito mode, synchronized bookmarks
  • Extensible via Chrome web store extensions

2. Mozilla Firefox

  • Developed by Mozilla Foundation
  • Cross-platform
  • Customizable interface
  • Strong privacy features
  • Supports open web standards

3. Microsoft Edge

  • The default browser for Windows 10 and 11
  • Integrates with Windows devices and services
  • Compatible with Chrome extensions
  • Includes tracking prevention features

How Does Web Browser Work?

Here are steps that explain how does web browser works:

  1. A user inputs a webpage URL in the address bar and hits enter or clicks a link to the content
  2. Browser checks cache for any saved copy of URL content locally
  3. DNS lookup occurs to find web server IP addresses via domain registrars
  4. A request is sent over the internet to a server at a resolved IP address for webpage content
  5. Server processes requests and responds with files constituting the webpage
  6. Browser displays HTML and applies CSS stylesheet formatting
  7. Browser requests additional objects embedded via img/iframe/script tags
  8. HTML renderer parses DOM and displays rendered output
  9. JavaScript executed by JS engine to handle input/events
  10. Webpage interaction is managed through redrawing/updating DOM dynamically
  11. Browser recreates rendering steps on the navigation to refresh content

Related FAQs

What was the first web browser?

The first web browser was WorldWideWeb that is created by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990. It ran on a NeXT computer and was meant to make the internet more accessible through a graphical interface.

How to clear a web browser cache?

To clear the cache in most browsers, open settings and find the clear browsing data option. Select cached images and files and click clear.

How to change a default web browser?

To change your default web browser on Windows, go to Settings > Apps > Default apps. On Mac, go to System Preferences > General and choose your preferred browser under Default web browser.

What is the purpose of a web browser?

The main purpose of a web browser is to retrieve, present, and allow interaction with information resources on the World Wide Web. Browsers interpret HTML, CSS, JavaScript, images, and other content.

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