A web browser is a software application for retrieving, presenting, and traversing information resources on the World Wide Web. An information resource is identified by a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) and may be a web page, image, video, or other piece of content. Hyperlinks present in resources enable users easily to navigate their browsers to related resources. A web browser can also be defined as an application software or program designed to enable users to access, retrieve and view documents and other resources on the Internet.
Although browsers are primarily intended to access the World Wide Web, they can also be used to access information provided by web servers in private networks or files in file systems. The major web browsers are Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera, and Safari.
The first web browser was invented in 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee. It was called WorldWideWeb (no spaces) and was later renamed Nexus.
In 1993, browser software was further innovated by Marc Andreesen with the release of Mosaic (later Netscape), “the world’s first popular browser”, which made the World Wide Web system easy to use and more accessible to the average person. Andreesen’s browser sparked the internet boom of the 1990s.
The introduction of the NCSA Mosaic web browser in 1993 – one of the first graphical web browsers – led to an explosion in web use. Marc Andreessen, the leader of the Mosaic team at NCSA, soon started his own company, named Netscape, and released the Mosaic-influenced Netscape Navigator in 1994, which quickly became the world’s most popular browser, accounting for 90% of all web use at its peak (see usage share of web browsers).
Microsoft responded with its Internet Explorer in 1995 (also heavily influenced by Mosaic), initiating the industry’s first browser war. Bundled with Windows, Internet Explorer gained dominance in the web browser market; Internet Explorer usage share peaked at over 95% by 2002.
Opera debuted in 1996; although it has never achieved widespread use, having less than 2% browser usage share as of February 2012 according to Net Applications, having grown to 2.14 in April 2011 its Opera-mini version has an additive share, in April 2011 amounting to 1.11 % of overall browser use, but focused on the fast-growing mobile phone web browser market, being preinstalled on over 40 million phones. It is also available on several other embedded systems, including Nintendo’s Wii video game console.
In 1998, Netscape launched what was to become the Mozilla Foundation in an attempt to produce a competitive browser using the open source software model. That browser would eventually evolve into Firefox, which developed a respectable following while still in the beta stage of development; shortly after the release of Firefox 1.0 in late 2004, Firefox (all versions) accounted for 7.4% of browser use. As of August 2011, Firefox has a 27.7% usage share.
Apple’s Safari had its first beta release in January 2003; as of April 2011, it has a dominant share of Apple-based web browsing, accounting for just over 7.15% of the entire browser market.
The most recent major entrant to the browser market is Google’s Chrome, first released in September 2008. Chrome’s take-up has increased significantly year on year, by doubling its usage share from 7.7 percent to 15.5 percent by August 2011. This increase seems largely to be at the expense of Internet Explorer, whose share has tended to decrease from month to month. In December 2011 Google Chrome overtook Internet Explorer 8 as the most widely used web browser. However, when all versions of Internet Explorer are put together, IE is still most popular.
The primary purpose of a web browser is to bring information resources to the user. This process begins when the user inputs a Uniform Resource Locator (URL), for example http://en.wikipedia.org/, into the browser. The prefix of the URL, the Uniform Resource Identifier or URI, determines how the URL will be interpreted. The most commonly used kind of URI starts with http: and identifies a resource to be retrieved over the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). Many browsers also support a variety of other prefixes, such as https: for HTTPS, ftp: for the File Transfer Protocol, and file: for local files. Prefixes that the web browser cannot directly handle are often handed off to another application entirely. For example, mailto: URIs are usually passed to the user’s default e-mail application, and news: URIs are passed to the user’s default newsgroup reader.
In the case of http, https, file, and others, once the resource has been retrieved the web browser will display it. HTML is passed to the browser’s layout engine to be transformed from markup to an interactive document. Aside from HTML, web browsers can generally display any kind of content that can be part of a web page. Most browsers can display images, audio, video, and XML files, and often have plug-ins to support Flash applications and Java applets. Upon encountering a file of an unsupported type or a file that is set up to be downloaded rather than displayed, the browser prompts the user to save the file to disk.
Information resources may contain hyperlinks to other information resources. Each link contains the URI of a resource to go to. When a link is clicked, the browser navigates to the resource indicated by the link’s target URI, and the process of bringing content to the user begins again.