URL definition explained with easy to understand descriptions and diagrams. We cover what a URL is and break down each URL part in simple terms.
URL Definition - What is a URL? A Beginner's Explanation.

URL Definition – What is a URL? A Beginner’s Explanation (2019)

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Question: What is the URL definition?

URL definition: a web address on the Internet.
URL definition: a web address on the Internet.

Answer: A URL (uniform resource locator) is an web address on the Internet. Put simply, it is a location of something useful. Take a look at the example provided above of our website URL. It tells us that it will download the website contents using https at the domain name address makingwebsiteseasy.com, from the parent folder /. More on this in the coming sections.

Who Is This Article For?

Let’s dive in a little deeper. Now if you’re a complete beginner and have absolutely no idea what all the lingo is when it comes to online stuff, then you’ve come to the right place. This article will go further into explaining the URL definition and what it means for you. Don’t worry, we’ll make it as easy as possible to understand. We’ll break down everything into simple terms.

Where Is My URL?

If you want to know where the URL is for this web page, simply take a look at your browser address bar. It should look a little something like this on a desktop computer:

You can find the URL on the web browser's address bar.
You can find the URL on the web browser’s address bar.

Yes, nowadays, we can use the address bar as a search bar as well, meaning we can perform Google searches directly from it. However, it is primarily used to the display the URL of the web page you are currently viewing.

On mobile, you can also view the URL on the address bar of the browser you are using. However, usually, only the domain name part of the URL is displayed, and it is only when the address bar is clicked, that the full form of the URL is shown. More on this under Full Form And Parts.

URL displayed on the search bar of Chrome on a mobile phone.

What Does URL Stand For?

URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator.

Uniform: A specific URL that represents a particular web address is never changing and is always the same in all cases.

Resource: This tells us that the URL points to something that provides relevant information or capability. For example, the URL could provide news information or present a shopping cart to finalise an online purchase.

Locator: The last word of the acronym indicates to us that the URL provides the location of the resource, and how to retrieve it.

We’ll expand on how this all works in the coming sections.

URL Definition: Full Form And Parts

Take a good look at the image below. That is the full form of the URL for a web page we found in the Oracle website, because we thought it displayed a good example.

Full Form and Parts as part of the URL definition
Full Form and Parts as part of the URL definition

https://www.oracle.com/database/autonomous-database/guaranteed.html

Let’s break down each part and explain what they all mean. We’ve color-coded each component of the URL to continue to keep things simple and easy to follow.

The Protocol (https:// or http://)

A protocol simply means the way in which the resource that the URL represents, is sent across the Internet. In our example, the protocol is https, which stands for hypertext transfer protocol secure. Hypertext, which is just a fancy way to say textual and graphical information, is basically what you see on this page. It presented to you on your browser and transferred securely over the Internet.

The secure part of the transfer involves encrypting the text and graphics before sending through the Internet, and then it is decrypted before it arrives at its destination, which is your browser. Encryption just means the information is mangled into a form that is not humanly readable. However, it is done in such a way that it can then be unmangled back into its readable form at the destination.

Web page information such as text and graphics can be sent securely over https.
Web page information such as text and graphics can be sent securely over https.

Securely transferring information this way is more typically associated with e-Commerce stores that transfer credit card and personal information over the Internet. This means that outgoing information from the browser is also encrypted before it is sent to the website server where is it decrypted and processed.

Personal data like credit card information can be sent securely over https.
Personal data like credit card information can be sent securely over https.

With all this being said, a URL is still a URL regardless of whether the hypertext is sent securely or not, or whether it is even specified. The same applies for other protocols listed below.

ProtocolDescription
ftp://For transferring files
mailto://For sending emails
tel://For calling a telephone number
telnet://For connecting to a telnet session
file://For viewing files on your local machine

The Subdomain (www)

In a similar way, the www part is not necessary either. It is the subdomain and put simply, it stands for world wide web, and it essentially represents the network of textual and graphical web pages that make up the Internet. Using it in the URL is usually a personal choice, however there really is no implications on the end result when displaying the web page on the browser, which is identical either way.

However, to be more specific with our URL definition, the subdomain technically forms an integral URL part. For example, if we decided to create a section in our website that showcased mobile apps that we’ve created, we may decide to use a subdomain to achieve this, say for example apps.makingwebsiteseasy.com. A hypothetical URL could be:

Subdomains are useful for associating related content to your main website domain.
Subdomains are useful for associating related content with your main website domain.

In this case, the presence of the apps subdomain is necessary for the URL to be valid.

The Domain Name (oracle.com)

The next component within the full form URL definition is the domain name, which, in brief, is what you purchase when you want to create a website. It is the address of your website within the vast world of the Internet.

The URL definition explains that the domain component represents the address of a website on the Internet.
The URL definition explains that the domain name component represents the address of a website on the Internet.

If you imagine computers and servers connected in an endless network that is the Internet, one of those servers will host your website, and it will be given a unique numeric address (IP address) that is very difficult to remember such as:

Domain names are used to allow us to easily remember the address of a website, instead of its random-like IP address.
Domain names are used to allow us to easily remember the address of a website, instead of its random-like IP address.

Smart people were able to figure out a way to give a name to this random set of numbers that could be easily remembered and communicated. The name is your equivalent to a person’s name in your phone book, where each name corresponds to phone number that typically no one can remember, unless it’s your own phone number of course!

The .com part is referred to as the top level domain (TLD), and this can vary depending on the what kind of website you are building. Dot coms are obviously the most recognizable, however government websites for example usually opt for .gov TLDs, whereas non-profit organizations prefer .org.

The Path (/database/autonomous-database/)

This forms the directory structure of the URL definition. The first slash denotes the parent level directory of the website server, that is, where the website’s files are stored. Below this parent directory would be the ‘database’ directory which then contains an ‘autonomous-database’ directory.

The path component of the URL represents the file data structure on the website server.
The path component of the URL represents the file data structure on the website server.

Inside this directory is the file name of the web page resource, which takes us to the next part of the URL.

The Web Page (guaranteed.html)

Expanding on our URL definition, the final piece of the basic full form is the web page file name, which in geek speak is often referred to as the slug. This identifies the resource, like the majority of the URL, with human readable keywords.

With our particular example, our slug has the .html extension. However, this isn’t always the case. For example, this URL of this page you are currently viewing, has the slug ‘url-definition-a-beginners-explanation’, which contains not extension, simply because we wanted to keep it neat and tidy (something WordPress is able to do quite easily). In other cases, you may encounter slugs with the following extensions: .php, .asp or if they are image URLs then either .jpg, .jpeg, .png, .gif, etc, the list goes on.

URL Examples

A URL definition is not complete without some examples. Here are some common ones:

  • https://www.oracle.com
  • https://oracle.com
  • https://docs.oracle.com
  • https://docs.oracle.com/javase/tutorial/index.html

All of the above examples exhibit all the properties of a typical URL. Of course, these examples are only a subset of the vast variations of more complicated URLs, which use different protocols as we discussed in the protocols section. URLs may also include fragments (anchor links) and queries which we touch on briefly in below URL Parameters.

URL Characters Limit

A common question that is asked about URLs is, how long can they be? Good question I say. Is there indeed a character limit to a URL? In fact, there are 2 ways we can answer this question.

One way is to determine whether various Internet browsers impose a maximum character length on the search bar. With experimentation, there doesn’t seem to be since I tried it myself. I got to a point where I was copying and pasting thousands of characters on the address bar and my browser just completely locked chewing up computer processing power.

The other more logical way of coming up with an appropriate character limit determining the impacts that lengthy URLs would have on the browser. Say for example, we click In fact according to GoogleSource.com, one of their articles suggests that the maximum character length on the Chrome address bar is 2MB, which works out to be about 500 characters if we say that a character is 4 bytes.

URL Parameters, Queries, And Fragments

Although this section is a little more advanced, we have made our best efforts to keep it digestibly simple.

URL Parameters and Queries

A search query for the phrase "url definition" on the Google website.
A search query for the phrase “url definition” on the Google website.

Typically, the web page that a URL addresses will usually only contain textual and graphical information. However, sometimes URLs are a little bit more dynamic and complicated, and require more input before it can return a web page with textual and graphical information.

In the example above, this input comes in the form of a query denoted by the question mark and the key/value pair, ‘?q=url+definition‘. The key (q) represents the name of the parameter and value (url+definition) is the value the parameter is given. When the URL is given this data, the web server to which the URL points to, uses this information to formulate the resulting HTML file that will then be transferred back to the client (via http secure or not) of course.

In this instance, we have the domain and path component to the resource, which is the Google search engine capability:

The domain and path point to the resource on the website server.
The domain and path point to the resource on the website server.

and, we also have a search query:

A URL query determines the resulting text and graphics to be displayed to the user.
A URL query determines the resulting text and graphics to be displayed to the user.

The formulation of the resulting HTML involves the Google search engine compiling all the search results for the keyword “url definition” into a web page, which is then communicated back to your browser for you to view:

A component of the URL definition is the URL parameter appended as queries to the domain and path components.
A component of the URL definition is the URL parameter.

When the URL contains more than one query, they are appended using the ampersand ‘&‘ symbol:

The URL parameter can have multiple parameters within its query component.
The URL parameter can have multiple parameters within its query component.

The first parameter

?q=url+definition

This provides a Google search query for the keyword “url definition”.

The second parameter

&tbm=isch

This additional parameter tells the Google search engine that rather than return a web page of all the search results, only return image results.

Fragments

If you hover this link, you’ll notice the URL contains a hash # symbol followed by a keyword. Observe:

This keyword is referred to as the fragment. It links to a particular section on the web page, and in this case, to the beginning of the Step by Step section of our article outlining the process involved in creating a website. It’s also known as an anchor link.

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