What is a “Web Browser”: Definition, Uses, History, Types, and Features

A web browser is a computer program is used to surf the Internet. A web browser represents the user interface of internet surfing applications. Web browsers are used to access the HTML Documents of websites that are stored within the web servers. To display a web page to a World Wide Web user, a web browser is used. A web browser renders a web page that includes hyperlinks to other web pages. A web browser user can navigate to other web pages via hyperlinks. A website can have PDF, CSV, and PPTX documents as web page content to be displayed via a web browser. The term web browser is derived from “to look”, “to graze” in the context of wandering on the World Wide Web.

What are the uses of a Web Browser?

A web browser is used to render web pages on the World Wide Web to help users to display the content of websites. The main uses of a web browser are serving as a user interface for web users. The side-uses of a web browser involve web development, web server security test, web site usability test, web scraping, and web server tests. A web browser can be used for hiding the private information of a web user like preventing the ads trackers or reaching out to the content on the web. The uses of a web browser are listed below.

  • Bookmarking: Bookmarks are the records that a web browser user performs for a web page related to a topic. A web page can be bookmarked, grouped and accessed another time by the same user.
  • Forwarding to the next web page: A web browser use is to forwarding the the next web page via the next button. A web broswer can use different cache systems to store the web pages that are the targeted URLs of the next button.
  • Backward to the next web page: A web browser can be used to navigate to the previous web page. A web browser such as Google Chrome can cache the previous web pages so that the back button of the web browser can navigate user to the previous web pages faster.
  • Using address bar for navigating to another web page: A web browser has an address bar for navigating to the targeted website address via DNS Resolution.
  • Clicking on a different web page hypertext for navigating: A web browser can be used for navigating different web pages via hypertext links.
  • Recording the web browsing history: A web browser records the web browsing history so that the web browser user can reach out to the previous web pages that he/she visited before.
  • Tabbed Browsing: A web browser can be used with multi-tabs. Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera and other web browsers provide tabbed browsing. Google chrome provides pinned tabbed browsing for grouping the similar tabs to each other.
  • Using Plug-ins and Web Pages: Plug-ins, and Addons can be used to improve the web browsers’ capacity for the differnt tasks such as taking the words within a web page, or extracting the links within a web page.
  • Having a start page such as an internet search engine, or a web portal: A web browser can have a start page such as a internet web search engine, a web portal, or a specifically designed web page. For instance the web browser plugins such as Daily Web Dev creates a start page from the news for the web developers.
  • Downloading the web page: A web browser can be used to download a web page. To use a web browser for downloading a web page, the “ctrl + s” shortcut can be used within the Windows.
  • Downloading a web page asset such as an image, or CSS File: A web browser can be used for downloading a specific web page asset. To download an image, the right click can be used, to download a CSS, JS or Font file the Google Chrome DevTools, or the Firefox Developer Tools can be used with the network section.
  • Controlling the web page loading performance: A web page loading performance optimization analysis can be done via a web browser. To use a web browser for analyzing the web page loading performance, the Google Chrome’s Network and Performance Tab can be used.
  • Controlling the response headers: A web browser can be used to check the response headers of the web server for a specific server request. To check the response headers for a specific web page asset, the network tab of the Firefox, Opera, and Google Chrome can be used.
  • Scraping the web page content: To scrape the web page content, a web browser automtor, and simulator can be used such as Puppeteer or the Selenium.
  • Taking the HTML Source Code of web pages: The HTML Source code can opened with the “ctrl + u” shortcut within the Windows by using a web browser. Taking the HTML Source Code is useful for web scraping, or DOM Size Analysis, along with the improving the existing DOM Structure. A web browser can provide a HTML Source Code extraction site-wide.
  • Controlling the Web Server IP Address: A web server IP Address can be found wirthin the response headers section with the Remote IP Address value. Finding the IP Addres of t a web server is useful to make multpile requests to a web server for testing purposes in terms of security, or load test.
  • Controlling the web Server Security: A web server can be tested for security reasons via a web browser. If the web server doesn’t have the security related response headers, the web pages can be risky for the web browser user.
  • Auditing the Web Server Load Test: A web browser simulator can be used for the web server load test to see the capcity of a web server.
  • Caching the Cache: A web browser can be used for clearence of the cache. The cookies, and the session related trackers can be cleaned via a web browser.
  • Displaying the local files: A web browser can be used to access to the local files with a file path. A web browser can render a CSV, PDF, or a PPTX from the local machine without the internet.

A web browser has many uses such as security audit, page speed audit, HTML optimization, CSS refactoring, JavaScript Tree-shaking, designing a web page, or displaying a web page for the web users and web developers. A web browser is one of the fundamental parts of the worldwide web such as a web server, website, and web page. Due to the excessive use of web browsers, they became a standard program for every computer. A web browser is a lean client application that made the file browsers similar to itself. A file browser is used to navigate a computer user within the local files. Web browsers affected the design and uses of the file browsers within the local machines.

What are the Mobile Web Browsers?

A mobile web browser is a web user application for displaying web pages within a handheld mobile device. The first mobile browser is the PocketWeb developed by TecO in 1994. TecO developed the first mobile browser PocketWeb for the Apple Newton. Since, the mobile user count increases, the mobile web browsers increase their prominence. The mobile web browsers from today are listed below.

  • Firefox Mobile
  • Google Chrome
  • Opera Mini
  • Internet Explorer
  • Microsoft Edge
  • Apple Safari
  • Tor
  • Skyfire
  • Brave
  • Dolphin Browser
  • Boat Browser

What protocols can a web browser use?

A protocol is a set of rules that determine a specific function, or process. A web browser protocol determines how the web browser behaves for certain functions and progresses. If a web browser opens a web page, it will use HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), if a web page transfers a file, it will use File Transfer Protocol (FTP). The protocols that a web browser can use are listed below.

  • HTTP: HTTP is used by web browsers for displaing the web pages.
  • FTP: FTP ise used by web browsers for transferring the files.
  • SSH FTP: SSH FTP is used by a web browser to transfer files with a secure layer.
  • SMPTP: Simple Email Transfer Protocol is used by the web browsers for sending emails.
  • Bittorent Protocol: Bittorent Protocol can be used by web browsers for peer-to-peer file transfer.

What are the Special Web Browsers?

The special web browsers are designed for specific purposes with specific features. For instance, a text browser works based on the text, it doesn’t render the JavaScript. The most common types of special web browsers are text browsers and offline browsers.

  • Text browsers are used to prevent the advertisements on the web pages, and understanding the technical aspects of a website. For instance, Lynx, and Elinks are the text browsers that render only the images and the text within the HTML Documents. By comparing the document within the web page based on the text browsers and a browser that can render the JavaScript give an. opinion to be able to see how the main content of a web page changes. Text browsers are prominent for Technical SEO, and blocking the advertisements.
  • Offline Browsers are used for rendering, and navigating within the websites that are downloaded into the local machine’s hardrive. A web site can be downloaded via HTTP Tracker, or the Wget. After downloading a website, the local machine can be used to surf on the website. Offline browsers lead the way for the offline mode for the web browsers. For instance, via the Progressive Web Applications, making a website work as offline is possible.

How is the History of Web Browsers?

Tim Barners Lee invented the first web browser which is the WorldWideWeb. WorldWideWeb browser name changes as Nexus in the NextT labs in CERN, Switzerland. Tim Barners Lee has created the first HTML Document and the web browser in 1989. Later, Tim Barners Lee and Nicola Pellow invented the Line Mode Browser for providing a web browser for all of the computers. The first web browsers didn’t render the images directly, it required a click to the image to be rendered. In 1991, Tim Barners Lee made both of the browsers public in the newsgroup, “.alt.hypertext”. After Tim Barners Lee made the browser publicly known and open, new web browsers emerged such as Mosaic, and Netscape. The Web Browsers that are used within the web browser history are listed below.

  1. Mosaic
  2. NetScape
  3. Internet Explorer
  4. Firefox
  5. Opera
  6. Safari
  7. Google Chrome
  8. Vivaldi
  9. Microsoft Edge

1. Mosaic Web Browser

NSCA Mosaic is a web browser that runs over the Unix systems that lost its popularity after Windows and McOS became more popular. NSCA Mosaic web browser was launched on November 11, 1993.

2. NetScape

Netscape web browser is launched by Marc Anderssen in October 1994. Marc Anderssen was an employee for Mosaic, he created the Netscape Communications group. Since Netscape was faster than Mosaic, it has dominated the web browser market. After the fast growth of Netscape, it has been bought by the AOL Group in 1998. Netscape couldn’t compete against Firefox, Google Chrome, and Internet Explorer, thus it has lost its popularity among the web browsers.

3. Internet Explorer

Microsoft released its first web browser in 1995 after seeing Netscape’s success. Microsoft has made the internet explorer the default web browser within Microsoft Computers. Internet Explorer became the most popular web browser between 1995-2009 due to the vast usage of Microsoft Products. The Internet Explorer has been developed by SpyGlass which is the owner of the Mosaic. Thus, it shows the competition between the Mosaic and the Netscape has been reflected in the Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Since Microsoft Windows used Internet Explorer as a default web browser, internet explorer acquired more than 70% of the web browser market. This situation is discussed within the anti-trust lawsuits against Microsoft. Europen Union forced Microsoft to let users choose an alternate web browser during the windows installation. This situation created BrowserChoice.edu in December 2009.

The competition between Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape caused different companies to create plugins for both the web browsers such as Google Toolbar.

4. Mozilla Firefox

When Netscape started to lose the competition against Microsoft Internet Explorer, it has started to make itself open-source. When Netscape becomes open-source, it aimed to be improved further and be owned by the web development community more. After Netscape becomes open source, the community and the web browser are called Mozilla. The first name of Mozilla Firefox was Phoenix, later it has changed to Firefox. The Mozilla Firefox has been supported by the email client Thunderbird as a personal file manager. In December 2004, Mozilla Firefox has published out of the beta version.

Mozilla Firefox has created a Web Application Suite that contains HTML Editor, File Manager, Addressbook, browser, email client. The purpose of Mozilla Firefox is to lower computational needs with faster browsing speed and faster program start. The Mozilla Application Suite has been started to developed by different groups. The Email Client name changed from Thunderbird to Sunbird, the HTML Editor has been started developed by BlueGriffon. Since, mid-2005, the Sea Monkey continues to improve Mozilla Firefox as a community project. Mozilla Firefox is a competitor of Google Chrome, and it has Firefox Nightly as a developer version.

5. Opera

Opera has been launched in 1996. Opera is the first web browser that adopted the pop-up blockers, and the tab browsing. Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS use Opera as a web browser. In 2013, Opera started to use Chrome’s HTML renderer, Bink instead of using the Presto.

6. Apple Safari

Apple Safari is the default web browser of Apple for the Macs, iPhones. Apple Safari is the second most used web browser after Google Chrome. Apple Safari has been published within January 20023. After the Apple Safari launch, Apple replaced Micorosft’s Internet Explorer with its own Apple Safari. Unlike Google Chrome, the Apple Safari uses the WebKit as the HTML Renderer. Apple Safari is one of the first web browsers that pass the Acid3 test that audits a web browser’s capacity to align everything for the web browser standarts.

7. Google Chrome

On September 2, 2008, Google launched its first Google Chrome Browser. Google has many different versions. The biggest change for the Google Chrome browser happened after version 41 since it has started to render JavaScript. The Google Chrome browser is used for web development, HTML Editing, CSS and JS writing, web development console, and more. Today, the Puppeteer library can be used for automated Google Chrome for different tasks. The Googlebot, the crawler of the Google web search engine uses Chrome as the crawler’s web browser. Google Chrome can be used within Linux, Unix, Windows, macOS, Android operation systems. Today, Google Chrome is the most used web browser. Google Chrome has a web development version called Chrome Canary.

8. Microsoft Edge

Microsoft Edge has been launched on 30 March 2015. The code name of the Microsoft Edge is “spartan”. Microsoft Edge has been developed for replacing Internet Explorer since it didn’t satisfy the web users’ needs for surfing on the web. Microsoft Edge is able to adapt the plugins, and it uses Microsoft Bing as the start page.

9. Vivaldi

Vivaldi has been created by John Stephenson von Tetchzner which is a co-founder of Opera. Vivaldi Technologies is the owner of the Vivaldi Web Browser. First, a functional “Technical Preview” was released on January 27, 2015, then on November 3, 2015, the first of three beta releases. Last but not least, the official release 1.0 was announced on April 4, 2016.

What is the Compability Standards for Browsers?

The Compatibility Standarts for a Web Browser represent the minimum requirements for a web browser for display quality, web page loading, and rendering speed, along with web accessibility. A web browser standard test can be performed via Aci3 Test. A web browser development process can be hard, and time-consuming. Thus, a web browser should be improved via web browser development standards. The Compatibility Standards of Web Browsers are improved by World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C organizes the standardization of the World Wide Web for web browsers, web servers, web development.

The compatibility standards for web browsers are to protect the web users from security breaches while making the internet usable for everyone by improving the web browser development capacity for web designers and coders.

What is the Cross-browser Compability?

The cross-browser compatibility involves making a website, and a web page compatible for multiple browsers. Some of the CSS Properties are valid for only certain types of browsers. Some web browsers are not able to render JavaScript such as Lynx. Thus, the “noscript HTML tag” is used for these types

What is the Acid3 Test for Web Browsers?

Acid3 is a Web Standards Project test page that audits the compliance and competence of a browser with various web standards, particularly the Document Object Model (DOM) and JavaScript.

When the Acid3 test is successful, a gradual fraction counter will appear below a series of colored rectangles. This percentage will be shown on the screen based on the number of subtests passed for the Acid3 test. Since the test does not keep track of the subtests that were actually started, this percentage does not represent an actual percentage of conformance. Furthermore, the browser should render the page in the same way as the reference page does. To allow for some differences in font rendering, the Acid3 reference rendering text is not a bitmap. In short, a web browser’s ability to follow certain web standards, especially relating to the Document Object Model (DOM) and JavaScript, is tested by Acid3.

What are the Market Shares for Web Browsers?

The market share for web browsers involves the share of web browsers for their usage popularity. The market share of the web browsers reflects the competition between different web browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. The competition table of the Web Browsers can be seen below.

The web browser market share between 2019-2021 can be seen from StatCounter, NetMarketShare, Wikimedia, and W3Counter for Chrome, Edge, Safari, Firefox, IE, and other web browsers.

Web Browser NameStatCounter
June 2021
May 2021
November 2019
August 2020
The web browser usage percentages are based on the different sources such as StatCounter, NetMarketShare, W3Counter, and Wikimedia.

The mobile web browser market share between 2020-2021 can be seen from StatCounter, NetMarketShare, Wikimedia for Chrome, Edge, Safari, UC, Firefox, IE, and other web browsers.

May 2021
May 2021
August 2020
Samsung Internet5.85%5.44%4.50%
The Mobile Web User market share is based on StatCounter, NetMarketShare, and Wikimedia.

The tablet web browser market share between 2020-2021 can be seen from StatCounter, NetMarketShare, Wikimedia, and W3Counter for Chrome, Edge, Safari, Firefox, IE, and other web browsers.

BrowserStatcounter September 2020NetMarketShare September 2020
Samsung InternetN/A3.53%
The Web Browser Market Share based on StatCounter, and NetMarketShare.

The web browser market share statistics represent the popularity of web servers, but every data statistics source publishes a different web browser market share based on different databases, thus the web browser market share should be examined based on diversity. Most of the web server market share statistics are acquired based on the statistics of the user-agent headers that are stored within the web server logs from the hosting providers.

What is the relation between a web browser and a website?

The relation between a web browser and a website is that a web browser requests a web page of the website via its web browser. A web browser can render the HTML web page document with its components such as CSS, JS, Font files, and the images, along with the hypertexts. A web browser uses a user agent for requesting a website from a web server.

What is the relation between a web browser and a web server?

The relation between the web browser and a web server is that the webserver makes requests from the web servers for retrieving a website and its web pages. A web server stores the files and documents that create a website. A web server can respond to a web browser with different HTTP Status Codes so that the web browser can render and display the HTML Documents.

What is the relation between web browser and the user-agent?

Every web browser has a different user agent. The web browser difference is one of the main features that is recorded within the user-agents. The web server logs include the user-agent that contains the web browser information. Based on the web browser, a user agent can contain the web browser information. Below, you can see a user-agent example from Android and Chrome.

Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 8.0.0; SM-G960F Build/R16NW) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/63.0.3202.84 Mobile Safari/537.36

The example user-agent above represents the web browser and its version that is used by the web browser user which is Chrome version 63.

What is the relation between web browser and web development?

The relation between the web browser and web development is that web development is affected by the web browser since the developed websites will work over the web browsers. A web browser can be used for web development to render the web page that is being coded and designed. Different web browsers are used for testing the web page, and its compatibility to other web browsers. Based on the web browser variations, the vendor prefixes for different CSS Properties can be used to make the web page function for different web browsers. Making a website faster requires page loading performance optimization, and it is affected by the web browsers’ working principles. A web browser has HTML Editor, and CSS Editor, or the Console, thus the web development can be affected by the web browsers’ capacity. A front-end dev can edit the CSS directly from Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

Why does every search engine have a separate web browser?

Every search engine has different web browsers because search engines are able to collect user data for different search activities. The web browsers can provide the user activity data for search engines so that the search engines can use the user search activity and behaviors for optimizing their ranking algorithms. A web browser can be used for crawling the web. Every search engine develops its own crawler, thus the web browser development is affected by the crawling needs of the search engines. The web browsers are part of the search. Every web browser has a different address bar, and users are able to search from the web browsers’ address bar. Thus, to start the search activity form the web browser address bar, every search engines develop their own web browser. Web browsers are part of the habits of the users during surfing the web. If a user uses a web browser from a search engine such as Google, and Google Chrome, there is a higher possibility that the web user will also use the other Google-related web applications such as Gmail. Ambiance optimization is the process of making a web user get used to a brand’s products for different tasks. Google’s G-Suite is designed for ambiance optimization for making the web users happy for different tasks such as search, sending an email, or storing a file.

How does web browsers affect the web page loading speed?

Every web browser affects the web page loading speed. Google Chrome uses V8 JavaScript Engine for rendering the JavaScript while Internet Explorer uses the Chakra. The Blink is the HTML Renderer of Google Chrome, while the Trident is the HTML renderer of the Internet Explorer. The HTML Layout Engines of the web browsers affect the web page loading speed. Every web browser has a different methodology for rendering a web page, knowing these differences is useful to make a web page work and load faster. Thus, the web development and understanding the web browsers are connected to each other.

Do web browsers have default, local files for web page design?

The web browsers have default and local files such as font files, or CSS files so that if the website doesn’t provide any information related to that component of the web page, the browser can use the default CSS, and font files. Using the local font files can improve the web page loading performance by preventing the FOIT and FOUT. Loading font files for better page speed, or using the local files of a web browser is important for web development and understanding the web browsers’ working principles.

Last Thoughts on Web Browsers and Holistic SEO

Understanding a web browser helps an SEO to optimize a website further. Being able to use every part of a web browser for checking the response headers, SSL Certificate’s date, blocking the pop-ups, or allowing the notifications, clearing the cache and cookies, or designing a web page while developing it are some of the functions of a web browser that related to the search engine optimization. A Holistic SEO should be able to understand how a web browser works so that the web page loading optimization process can be faster and better.

The definitive guide for the web browser history, features, uses, and relations to the web user agents, web servers, and websites will be updated in the light of new information.

Koray Tuğberk GÜBÜR

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What is a “Web Browser”: Definition, Uses, History, Types, and Features

by Koray Tuğberk GÜBÜR time to read: 17 min