There are several different popular web browsers.
- All computers running Microsoft Windows will include Internet Explorer. Newer Windows machines also include Microsoft Edge.
- All Apple computers include the Safari browser.
- There are also browsers that work on both Windows and Apple machines. Popular cross-platform browsers include Firefox, Chrome, and Opera.
Each browser has its own strengths and weaknesses, and there are legitimate differences between them, but they all have most of the same components.
Web Browser UI
The UI, or user interface, is the part of the application that you can see and interact with.
Some people refer to the UI as “the chrome.” (This is where the name for Google’s Chrome browser comes from, but the name applies to the UI elements of any application).
The interfaces of the major web browsers are all very similar to each other.
This is the horizontal line of text-buttons that all windows have in most computer environments. On Microsoft Windows, the Menu bar is part of the application window. On Mac OSX, the Menu Bar is always on the top of the computer screen. Menu Items in the Menu Bar usually include:
- New Window
- Save Page
- Print Page
- Close Window
- Cut, Copy, and Paste
- Zoom in
- Zoom out
- Full-screen mode
- View other toolbars
- View History
- Clear History
- Tools (or Settings)
- Privacy Settings
- Developer Tools
Browser Tool Bar
This is where most of the interaction takes place.
- Address bar — Displays the current URL. You can type a URL into the address bar to navigate to that page.
- Back button — usually an arrow pointing to the left — navigates to the most recently previously viewed page
- Forward button — an arrow pointing to the right — disabled unless you have recently used the Back button — navigates forward, to the page you were viewing before you clicked Back.
- Stop button — shaped like a stop sign — only visible when a page is currently being loaded — stops the current page from continung to load.
- Refresh button — takes the place of the Stop button when the page is not currently being loaded — Reloads the current page.
- Bookmark button — Usually shaped like a star — Saves a link to the current page so that you can find it again later.
- Menu button — not present all browsers — looks like three lines stacked on top of each other, or three dots next to each other — provides a way to do most of the things you can do from the main Menu Bar:
- New Window
- New Tab
- Save Page
- Print Page
- Zoom in and out
Main Viewing Panel
This is the large area in which the website’s contents actually appear.
The info bar isn’t always visible. When you hover over a link with your mouse, the URL of the linked page will display in a little bar that pops up at the bottom of the Viewing Panel, usually on the left side.
Under the hood
All browsers have a few common components “under the hood.”
- Rendering engine: The rendering engine is a sub-program that actually converts the code of a website into a viewable page image for you to look at. Each major browser has a different rendering engine.
- Cache: A cache is a storehouse of content (page text, images, files, resources, etc.) from sites you have visited already. When you view the page again, some or all of it will be pulled from the cache, so that you don’t have to wait for the page to load over the internet. Cache files are set to expire on a schedule, so that you don’t view outdated content.
- History: All browsers keep a list of every website you visit. (You can delete this if you need to.)
- Cookie storage: Websites can store tiny bits of data on your browser, called cookies, which can help them keep track of you as a specific user. You can delete these, or even prevent them from being stored in the first place.
- Offline data storage: Newer browsers have a data storage mechanism more robust than cookies, which allows web-based applications to store relevant data on your computer.