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How web addresses actually work

Updated on July 13, 2008
Did you ever wonder what happens after you type in a web address?
Did you ever wonder what happens after you type in a web address?
 

Every web user is familiar with the process of typing in www.whatever.com and quickly navigating to the website which corresponds to that address. The process whereby your browser is able to request information from one specific server from the millions of computers connected to the internet is a little more complex than just "Poof, you're there."

An URL is an Uniform Resource Locator. It is a widely used synonym for Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) and the reason you have URL and URI coexisting is because nerds rule the world and they generally don't have the common sense the good Lord gave a slug, so they always have to make things way more complex than they have to be. A great example is Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee OM KBE FRS FREng FRSA who is widely heralded as one of the top living geniuses for inventing the URL/URI system and saddling the world with having to type completely useless and totally unnecessary www. and .com, .org, .net, ad nauseum. Instead of chastising him for wasting untold trillions of keystrokes where it would have been just as easy to type whatever into the address bar without the pointless prefixes and suffixes, he gets awards and accolades. The nerd world works in mysterious ways.

All the URL does is compare www.whatever.com to an online routing system which tells it that www.whatever.com is residing on an unique IP address which looks something like 66.211.109.13. This online routing system is the Domain Name System or DNS. This DNS is an enormous database that basically just says that if you want www.whatever.com you will be routed to 66.211.109.13 (which is actually hubpages' IP), but if you want www.whoever.com, you will go to 82.165.135.116 (which is actually my website's IP). Just think of it as a gargantuan internet speed dial system. You see MOM on your cell phone screen and when you select that name, your cell phone dials 1-555-555-1212.

When you key in an URL, the request goes through a DNS server to check the IP address linked to the URL. Enough acronyms for ya?

When you register your website as www.whatever.com, the registration process writes into the DNS database that www.whatever.com is now allocated IP address 66.211.109.13. Give it a few hours and every computer in the world that is looking for www.whatever.com will end up at 66.211.109.13 where your web pages reside.

If you think that there is only one route from your personal computer in Peoria to your website server in Tucumcari, you'd be wrong. Routers along the line will "route" your signal in a different pattern and through different cables every single time. Each server that your data goes through is called a Hop. You can confirm the number of hops it takes to go from Peoria to Tucumcari by going to the Run command and clicking cmd, then when the ugly black DOS-like window opens typing in: tracert 66.211.109.13. That will show you how the signal is traveling between Peoria and Tucumcari which has to be one of the single greatest pointless timewasters on the internet unless you're a troubleshooting technician. As long as it gets there, who cares if the data packets are being transported by carrier pigeons flying at the speed of light?

 

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