In this guide, we answer the question what is a web browser? We talk about how web browsers work, what the different functions, extensions and add-ons are and explain the differences between a web browser and a search engine. We will also provide examples and download links to the most common types of web browser and search engine.
What is a web browser?
A web browser acts like a window on to the internet. It is the software program that lets you visit and view web pages (surf the web). If you know the web address (URL) or you have clicked a link then a web browser will take you to the website.
For example, to visit this site, you would type www.techsnail.com into the address bar (text box at the top of the page) and then press enter. As long as you have entered the address correctly you will go to the webpage.
What are the different types of web browser?
There are many different web browsers available but the four most common types of web browser are listed below. Clicking the name of each browser will take you to its download page.
- Internet Explorer or Edge (from Microsoft)
- Chrome (from Google)
- Safari (from Apple).
- Firefox (Mozilla)
Please note Safari does not work on Microsoft Windows. Other examples include Opera, Brave, Konqueror, Lynx
How does a web browser work?
When you enter a web address into your browser and press enter. You are asking your web browser to request information from that website. The website will then respond by sending your web browser information in the form of code (usually HTML, Java, etc.). Your web browser will convert the code into the website you requested. This all happens really quickly.
Note: To see the code behind an open webpage press the F12 key and you will see the code appear on the right of the screen. Press F12 again to close.
What about when I click a link in an email?
When you click a link in an email or open an internet shortcut it is exactly the same as typing the address manually into the search box at the top of the page.
How do I navigate around a web browser?
Most web browsers have adopted a very similar layout. You can expect a big address bar at the top of the page, navigational buttons to left such as a backward arrow, forward arrow, reload button (clockwise arrow) and a home button (house shape).
In the image below, we have used the Chrome web browser to highlight some of the basic features.
What if I don’t know the website’s address?
If you do not know the website address you would need to use a search engine, which is a bit like a digital phone book or inventory for websites.
What are the differences between web browsers?
Essentially all web browsers do the same task. However, there might be some aesthetical differences or maybe an add-on or extension you require is only available on a certain browser.
This is likely to be one of the most used software applications on your computer. So take your time and see which one suits you the best.
Are a web browser and a search engine the same thing?
No, as explained in the what is a web browser section above, a web browser is a software program that will display web pages. Whereas a search engine is a web-based program that sits inside your web browser and allows you to search for web pages. You can use a web browser without a search engine but you cannot use a search engine without a web browser.
The terms are used interchangeably and often the companies that make web browsers also make search engines, it is no wonder that it is confusing.
Can you provide an example of using a web browser?
Let’s assume you are using Chrome as your web browser and you want to visit this site. You would need to type Techsnail.com into the address bar and press enter. Your web browser will then take you directly to the Techsnail website and you have not used a search engine at all.
Can you provide an example of using a search engine?
Let’s assume you are using Chrome as your web browser and you are using Google as your search engine. You would open your web browser and type google.com into the address bar and press enter.
The google search engine will open. You could now either search for Techsnail or any term related to the Techsnail website such as free computer help and press enter. Google will search and display a range of listings within your web browser for you to pick from.
What are the different types of search engine
There are many different search engines available but the four most common types of a search engine are listed below. You can use them by clicking the search engine name.
Additional features of a web browser
The primary role of a web browser is to display web pages but many have built-in features, some of which we have listed below.
- Set a web page or range of web pages (in tabs) to open when the browser is turned on.
- Bookmark or set favorite pages as either a button at the top of the screen or lists within folders.
- Adjust settings for the browser such as allowing cookies, turning the pop-up blocker on or off. Enable safe browsing and parental controls.
What is a web browser extension or add-on?
Apart from the built-in features some web browsers also let you add features and tools via extensions and add-ons. Not everyone uses these features and the web browser works without them.
We are going to cover some of the best web browser tips and tricks for Chrome in a future post. However, if you would like to know more about web browser extensions and add-ons follow the links below
- Chrome Extensions to search and then there is the Chrome Store for more information
- Microsoft Edge have extensions available via the settings menu. Click the three horizontal dots in the top right corner and either select Extensions from the drop down menu or scroll right to the bottom and select ‘Explore more extensions’
- Mozilla Firefox Add-ons and Extensions
What about browser plugins?
A browser plugin is slightly different to an extension or add-on because a plugin tends to enable content on the webpage. For instance, you might need to install a flash plugin to watch movies or install Java to make a chatroom work.
Are plugins, extensions, and add-ons safe?
Generally speaking, extensions and add-ons which are downloaded from the Microsoft, Chrome or Mozilla stores should be safe. This is because an extension or add-on provides additional features to you, the user.
A plugin is slightly different because it is providing additional features to the website you are viewing rather than directly to you. With big companies like Adobe or Java etc, you should be safe but because these allow websites to run code etc. there is always a risk.
Plugins or rather weaknesses within plugins tend to targeted by malicious attackers and we, therefore, request that you are careful and make sure you have up to date virus and security software.
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