What is a web browser?

Whether you surf the web on a laptop or smartphone, a web browser is the program that makes it possible. But there are a few things you might not know about web browsers. When were they invented?
Woman and man sit on couch looking at laptop while dog runs in front of them.
If you don’t like your preinstalled internet browser, it’s easy to switch
Do you have to use the browser that’s preinstalled on your device? Our blog connects the dots.

What is a browser? A definition

To put it simply, a web browser is a computer program that lets you access information on the internet. Browser software displays the content of an internet page – e.g. text, images or videos. The browser also has additional functions, like helping you download files from the internet or saving page information so you can return to webpages that you have bookmarked. In other words, a web browser is what makes it possible to surf the web on our laptops, phones or other devices.

Default browser

Laptop, tablet or smartphone – any device that is meant to connect to the internet will come equipped with a browser. This is known as the default browser. Apple products like MacBooks and iPhones have the Safari browser preinstalled; Android devices will come with Google Chrome or the manufacturer's own browser, like Samsung Internet; while a new Windows device will have MS Edge as its default browser. You’ll find your preinstalled browser in the Start menu or taskbar (bottom of the screen) of a Windows computer. On a smartphone, you’ll find your browser in your app overview. If you’d prefer to use a different browser, it is possible to install additional internet browser programs on your device, and even to change your default browser to reflect your preferences.

How to switch your default web browser

Probably the easiest way to switch default browsers is in the browser itself. If the browser you’d like it use is not preinstalled, you will have to go to the manufacturer’s download page and install it on your device. Then open your preferred browser and go to the settings to set it as the default. To do this in Mozilla Firefox, for example, click the settings icon (three lines) in the upper right and select Options. In the General section, click Make default.
Screenshot of default browser settings in Firefox
In most programs, click Make default to set your preferred internet browser

The principle will be similar in other browsers: In both MS Edge and Google Chrome, click the three-dot icon in the upper right and then Settings > Default browser > Make default.

What’s the best web browser?

Each web browser has strengths and weaknesses and which one you like best will be a matter of personal taste. Simply choose a reputable and secure program and surf with it for a few days to see if it lives up to your expectation. If you’d like use the mail.com MailCheck add-on for one-click email login in your browser, please see our browser recommendations.

History of the browser

For some of us it may be hard to remember a time before we could easily surf the net, but the fact is that the internet used to look very different. Before computer pioneer Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web (WWW) in 1989 and introduced the first web browser the following year, websites as we know them did not exist. Before this, the “internet” was a series of interconnected networks run by research facilities, corporations and other institutions, and computer skills and codes were required to access it.

Once the WWW was available to the general public, it did not take long for the first programs to appear that let us use it – Mosaic in 1993 and Netscape in 1994, for example. These new browsers brought more features we take for granted today, like images and search engines. One of the earliest web browsers, Opera, is still around today, while Netscape eventually morphed into Mozilla Firefox. Microsoft introduced its Internet Explorer browser in 1995 and it became the world’s most widely used browser by 1999. However, the Internet Explorer will finally be completely discontinued and go out of support as of June 15, 2022 – truly the end of an era.

If you are interested in seeing what the earliest version of the World Wide Web looked like, you can check out the World Wide Web Rebuild project by Berners-Lee’s former employer CERN.

We hope you enjoyed reading more about browsers! If so, please give us a thumbs-up below.

Images: 1&1/Andres Ayrton

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