In order to go online and look at websites or interact with web-based applications, you need a web browser.
What is a Client?
A web browser is also called a client. A client is any software or hardware which a local user uses to access a remote server.
If you use a desktop email program (like Outlook or Apple Mail), or an email app on your phone, you are using a mail client.
Any client that allows the user to connect to a website or other web resource is called a web client. A web browser is a specific type of web client. It is the most common and popular, but it is not the only type.
What Does a Browser Do?
Browsers mostly work the same way:
- The browser connects to the internet.
- When you “request a page” — by clicking on a link or typing an address into the address bar — the browser attempts to find the resource.
- Once the resource is found, it displays it in the viewing panel.
- If the page requires other resources (images, stylesheets), it makes additional requests for those and loads them into the current page.
There are several popular, mainstream browsers:
- Mozilla Firefox — Free and open source, preferred by many developers and other tech workers.
- Google Chrome — Easy-to-use, cross-platform browser, built to work very well with web apps, especially Google’s own Gmail and Google Apps. The most-used browser today.
- Safari — The browser that ships with every installation of Apple's iOS, and only available on Apple devices.
- Internet Explorer – The browser that ships with every installation of Microsoft Windows.
- Edge — Microsoft’s replacement for Internet Explorer, also available only on Windows.
Differences Between Browsers
From a user experience standpoint, most browsers are the same. The main parts of a web browser are identical and always in the same place, with minor differences. If you have used one web browser, you probably know how to use all the other popular ones.
There are some meaningful differences between different browsers. It is these differences which would make someone pick one browser over another.
- User experience: Each browser looks just a little different. The buttons are shaped different, they might be arranged a little differently, etc. You, as a user, might have preference over these things.
- Home screen design: When you first start up a new browser window, each browser has a different set of things that it shows you. It might be your bookmarks, or recently closed windows, or frequently viewed sites. How you use the internet on a regular basis determines which type of home screen you might prefer.
- Apps and plugins: Some web browsers (notably, Chrome — but also Firefox to a lesser extent) have apps, plugins, and addons available, which provide additional functionality beyond what the browser usually provides. If you want or need one of these tools, you’ll need the browser it works on.
- Rendering engine: A web browser has to translate a bunch of code into a graphical page design that you can interact with. The sub-program inside the browser that does that is called the “rendering engine.” Each browser uses a different rendering engine, which means that the same site might look a little different on each browser.
- Performance: Some browsers load pages faster or slower than other browsers.
- Additional features: Some browsers provide additional features, for example:
- Google Chrome allows you to sync your browser data between different computers, enabling you to access your bookmarks and history from anywhere.
- Firefox has a lot of developer tools that make it easier for someone who is actually designing a website to see how things are working “under the hood.”
There are also specialty web browsers, that are useful in particular circumstances, or for specific groups of people.
- Lynx is a text-only browser. When combined with a screen-reader, it is useful for blind web users. Also, it can be a good tool for developers to see how their website will work for blind users.
- WebbIE is another browser specifically designed for blind users or those with low vision.
- TOR Browser is a special browser that encrypts all traffic, helping the user to stay anonymous. This is especially useful in oppressive political regimes, where web traffic is likely to be monitored.
Try a New Browser
Many people just use the browser that came with their computer:
- Windows: Internet Explorer and Edge
- Apple: Safari
This is okay — these browsers are fine. But you might want to think about trying another browser. The two most popular are: