URL stands for “Uniform Resource Locator.” They’re a way of identifying the location of a file on the internet, whether it’s an image, video, webpage, or anything else. A URL is made up of three parts:
Some URLs are made up of four parts instead of three – they just have more options to help them accurately describe where the file is located. The first two parts are exactly the same as explained above. The third part usually specifies the type of resource being requested (like images or video), and takes the form - this section is known as the “protocol” (or sometimes called the “scheme”). The fourth part, known as the “fragment identifier” (or sometimes just the “referent”), is used to point out any specific location within a file – like a bookmark.
The first two parts of every URL – things like www.example.com/anything – make up what we know as the domain name. URLs and domain names are often confused with each other because they sound similar and look somewhat related:
URLs and website domains go together to tell your computer exactly where you need to go on the internet in order to access a file or page. But it’s important not to confuse them! A URL doesn’t include everything you need to access a file – it doesn’t include the domain name. Domain names and URLs each have their own separate uses – for example, we use URLs within our content management system (CMS) to point to specific blog and article pages on our site, but we always link those URLs to our domain name:
Because of these differences between them, it’s important not to link one URL directly to another. For example, if you were to copy/paste this URL into your browser bar
and press "Enter," instead of taking you to that page on About.com where this information is being displayed…
it would take you here
because that second website is not located at the same place as the first. The domain name is different, so your browser would think it needs to display the website located at
instead of this page you’re reading now.
URLs are used for many purposes on the internet, including:
- Advertising sites that only exist to direct people somewhere else (e.g., buying viagra online)
- Disguising adverts as genuine articles/reviews that appear within search engine results pages (SERPs)
- Locking users into viewing certain content if they click an ad or link to another site
- Loading malware onto your computer without you knowing (usually through phishing emails containing shortened URLs like these )
- Phishing scams trying to get login information from users by asking them to input login information into a fake “official” website that looks legitimate
- Other forms of identity theft, like stealing emails or bank accounts when you input your password
- Long URLs being shortened to make articles easier to read and share on social media platforms
- Virus authors hiding code in URLs
- Minimizing tracking ability
- Sharing links privately through email or instant messaging programs
- Being used as part of an attack on a computer network. A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack for example works by sending thousands upon thousands of requests containing the victim's IP address and a link to a page hosting a malicious file. Because multiple computers are sending these requests, the victim's server becomes overloaded and can't respond to legitimate traffic, taking the website offline.
One common use for shortened URLs is when you want to share a link with someone but don’t want it to take up too much space in the message. For example, if I wanted to include a link to this article on my Twitter page, I could use a URL shortener like Matchurl
and it would appear as this
instead of the much longer original URL. Matchurl and other similar services are great for when you want to make sure your links look neat and tidy on social media platforms – or when you just don’t want them to take up too much space!
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