What is a URL?

This indicates the location of a Website
As well as the protocol used to access it

Uniform Resource Locator
Internet Address or Website Address

Updated: July 8, 2023
By: RSH Web Editorial Staff

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What is a URL

URL - Uniform Resource Locator

This is one way of identifying the location of a file on the Internet. This is what is used to find websites, download images, videos, software programs, and other types of files.

Opening a file on your own computer is as simple as double-clicking it. But to open a file on the Internet that are stored on Web Servers. We need to use a URL Address so that our Browser knows where to look.

Uniform Resource Locator's, or commonly abbreviated as "URLs" Also referred to as a Website Addresses. URL is pronounced with each letter spoken individually
U - R - L
Not "Earl" (click speaker icon above).

Main Components

A URL (Uniform Resource Locator) can have 4 main components:
Protocol Identifier
Resource Name
Path Name
File Name

Let us look at this image URL as an example:

CMS Image

Protocol Identifier

The first part of any URL is the HTTP or HTTPS. This often overlooked element of the URL’s component is more important today than ever before. This will tell your Browser how to communicate with the website. Traditionally, most sites have used a non-secure HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol). However, there is a recent move towards widespread adoption of HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure). While this Protocol, HTTPS, does essentially the same thing as HTTP. It is a more secure option that encrypts the data sent back and forth between your Browser and the Web Server.

Resource Name

More commonly referred to as the Domain Name. As you can see in our above example, we are using our Domain Name

This part is the most identifiable element of any URL or web address. A domain name is the identifier for a specific Website. If nothing is added to the end of a Domain, it will generally bring you straight to the home page or the index page.

The Domain Name is actually made up of two parts. TLD and SLD

The Top-Level Domain (TLD) part refers to the .com

But this could end in a .org .net or any of the 1500 other ending extensions available today

The Second Level Domain (SLD) part of the domain would be rshweb. The SLD is the first component people notice with your Domain Name. It is the most memorable part of a URL and can be the most important when choosing a Domain.

Path Name

If you just wanted to visit our Website's front page, you do not need to add a path. All you would need is the domain name:

But each individual page or file on a website will have its own URL and or path

Again with our example:

The part after the .com /image is known as the path. This directs your Browser to a specific directory in the website. In this case, it leads first to our Images directory

As you can see, the paths works the same as your computer or laptop. Not all URLs will display a path. For example, when you visit the homepage of our site, you will not see the path or file name. This is because most all websites can Rewrite URLs (like the homepage) for simplicity and elegance. This can omit the typical index.html page name.

File Name

The last component of a URL is the file name with file extension

In our example, it is cms1.jpg

This tells the Web Server the exact file to display to the end user. File names such as .html .php .pdf .docx .png .gif and .jpg are the most common.

FTP Protocol Identifier

FTP URLs are structured the same, as HTTPS Protocols. For example, accessing an FTP file with its URL might look something like this:

Which, aside from having FTP instead of HTTP, looks very similar to any other URL.

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Examples of a URL

You are probably familiar with a URL like this one for accessing Google's website:
Or other examples:

Most of us are familiar with these types of URLs that we use in our Web Browsers. But those are not the only instances where you might use a URL.

In all of the above examples, you are using the HTTP protocol to open the Website. Which is the most popular that most people will use

But there are other protocols you could use too, like FTP, TELNET, MAIL TO, and RDP. A URL can even point to local files you have on a hard drive. Example in Windows might be my-pc (D:) or (D:\)
Each protocol may have a unique set of syntax rules in order to reach the destination.

URL Syntax Rules

A URL is composed of a limited set of characters belonging to the US-ASCII character set. These characters include digits (0-9), letters (A-Z, a-z), and a few special characters ( - . _ ~ )

ASCII control characters such as backspace, vertical tab, horizontal tab, line feed etc
Unsafe characters like a space or \ < > { } etc.
And any character outside the ASCII Character Set are not allowed to be placed directly within URLs.

Some URLs have parameters that split the URL away from additional variables. For example, when you do a Bing search for rshweb the result might look like:


The question mark you see is telling a certain script, hosted on Bing's server, that you want to send a specific command to it in order to get custom results. The specific script that Bing uses to execute searches knows that whatever follows the ?q= part of the URL should be identified as the search term. So whatever is typed at that point in the URL is used to search on Bing's search engine.

You will start to see the similar behavior in URLs, like in this YouTube Search for best cat videos
Although spaces are not allowed in a URL, some websites use a + sign, which you can see in both the Google and YouTube examples. Others use the encoded equivalent of a space, which is %20.

URLs that use multiple variables use one or more ampersand & after the search term. You can see the example here for an Amazon.com search for Windows10:

URLs are also case-sensitive. Especially everything after the Domain (directories and file names)
If you try to capitalize any letter in our example, you will get a 404 Not Found page.

How to Copy a URL

On your Computer
In your browser’s address bar at the top of the page, select the entire URL. (If you're looking for the URL of an image result, you need to click the image to open up a larger version before selecting the URL.) Copy the URL by right-clicking it and then clicking Copy.

Copy an address link on a smartphone or tablet
Open your preferred mobile Internet browser.
Locate the address link you would like to copy
Note: If the address bar is not visible, try scrolling up using your finger. Also, keep in mind that an address bar is only going to be visible in a browser app. If you're viewing a web page through another app, it may not be available
• Tap the address bar once to highlight all the text contained within it
• Long press the highlighted text and select Copy
• On smaller devices, the symbol for copying text looks like two identical pieces of paper
• Open the app where you would like to paste the address
• Long press again and select Paste

Copying a Link or Image within a Page
To copy the address of a link or image, right-click the link or the object and select Copy Link Address or Copy Image from the drop-down menu. Alternatively, users may view the properties of the link and copy the URL from within that menu.

Some URLs are really long and complex and are best used if you click it as a link or copy/paste it into the browser's address bar.

More Information on URLs

If a URL points you to a file that your web browser can display, like a JPG image, then you don't have to actually download the file to your computer in order to see it. However, for files that aren't normally displayed in the browser, like PDF files, DOCX files, and especially EXE files (and many other file types). You will be prompted to download the file to your computer in order to use it.

URLs provide an easy way for us (people) to access a Server's IP address (computers) without needing to know what the actual address is. They are easier to remember names instead of a 12 digit IP number. This translation from an IP number to a URL address is what DNS Web Servers are designed to do.

We welcome your comments, questions, corrections and additional information relating to this article. Please be aware that off-topic comments will be deleted.
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