Anatomy of a Web Address

By steveOctober 7, 2019

So you’re surfing the web.  Perhaps you start out at a site like Amazon.  After browsing a while you find a product that you like.  You share that product with someone via text message, and man does that seem like a complicated address.  Perhaps you could care less about what all that stuff means, or perhaps you’re a little nerdy like me and are wondering what to make of it. Today I am going to take a quick look at the anatomy of a web address; more accurately a URL.

URL stands for universal resource locator.  It is the address of a specific item on the internet.  It could be something as simple as http://amazon.com, or something as complicated as that phone case.   In physical terms, if I were giving the location of something, It could be as general as the address of my house, or it could be as specific as the location of my coffee cup, on my desk, in my office, at my house. We need to be able to address stuff generally or very specifically.  Let’s break it down.

 

Protocol

e.g. https://

There are different protocols which you can use to locate a resource.  When it comes to the web, there are two: HTTP and HTTPS. Hypertext transfer protocol (HTTPS) is the protocol of the world wide web.  Its close relative HTTPS is the secure version of the protocol, which is replacing HTTP as the standard for the web.  The secured version encrypts the information that flows between the user and the website while it is in transit.  Think of a letter being sent, but before it is sent, it is translated into a code, and then deciphered on the other end.  If the mailman or anyone else who comes in contact with the letter while in transit looks at it they will not be able to read its contents, since they are coded.

 

Domain

e.g. amazon.com

The domain is pretty straightforward, assuming you haven’t been living under a rock since the mid ’90s.  Using the example of our phone case, the domain is Amazon.com.  If we want to break it down a bit more, we can look at the top-level domain (TLD), which in this case is .com.  I am located in Canada, so I may actually go to amazon.ca, which uses the .ca TLD.  There are lots of TLD’s available.  We all know .com, .org, .net, etc.  There are hundreds of them now available.  Do you want a .ninja TLD?  You can get it.  For more on domains, check out the post we did on explaining DNS.

 

Subdomain

e.g. store.amazon.com

In the example of our phone case there is no subdomain, but often you will find a URL contains a subdomain, which appears before the domain, in the same position you might find www.  If you were looking for Google Analytics, for example, you would go to https://analytics.google.com (with the subdomain being in bold).

 

Path

e.g. /phonecases/new/iPhone-XR-Case-Red.jpg

After the domain comes the path.  When your web browser finds the address of the server using a DNS lookup (again, learn more from our DNS Explained post) it finds the address of the server and then uses the path to find the location of the file or page on that server.  That could be an image file, it could be a style sheet, a script, a page, etc.

 

Database Query

e.g. ?keywords=iPhone+XR+cases&qid=1562259567&s=gateway

Here is where things go from somewhat intelligible to gibberish.  If you see a question mark appear in a URL, whatever follows is a database query or multiple database queries.  Each one separated by an ampersand (&).

If you think of the example of phone cases on Amazon, the search results page pulls information from the database to give your relevant results, and only the relevant results.  There is no way a page for every possible search could be built, so the website looks up in the database what products fit my search, and displays them

 

Put it all together.

Here is an example of a report from Google analytics that contains each element.  I have color coded it to make is easy to see.

Well, if you were curious, now you know.  If you weren’t, you’ve probably already stopped reading.

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Fons Van Geleen
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Steve has helped me setting up a great website for my organization. Being a newbie in Canada i 'm busy with a lot of... stuff and the website had never been live without the help of Mission Bell Communications. Thankyou very much Steve!read more
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Steve has done an awesome job on my website.I needed his experience to do what I am not into and he took the... information I gave him and ran with it.Great job!Very professional website!Thanks Steve.Bobread more
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Fantastic work! Professional, experienced, fast and reliable. Mission Bell did a fabulous job on my site. Incredibly... personable and patient. Everything you want when going through the process of re-branding and creating a new site.read more
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