What is a URL?

We have all heard the term URL, but what is it exactly? Is it the same as a domain name or a link? And why are some URLs so long?
Man and woman in kitchen looking at laptop
A URL is the address that takes you where you want to go online
Today we explain what a URL is and what it is used for.

What is the actual meaning of URL?

“URL” stands for “Uniform Resource Locator” – which we admit is not a very self-explanatory name! In a nutshell, this means that the URL is a standard that is used in locating and calling up internet pages. In other words, a web address. And like any address, a URL consists of several elements.

The parts of a URL

Let’s look at a URL example: the address of this blog post, https://www.mail.com/blog/posts/what-is-a-url/110/
  1. Protocol: In this case “https”, which is a secure network protocol. Other protocols include “http”, “mailto”, and “FTP”.
  2. Domain name: In this case, “mail.com” which is the address of our homepage.
  3. Path: Directions to a specific page within a domain – for example, adding “/blog/” to the mail.com domain takes us to our blog start page, while “/posts/what-is-a-url/110/” leads to this specific article. (For anyone who’s ever wondered, the number at the end of our blog URLs gives the location of the post in our content management system.)

URL vs. link

In everyday speech, “URL” and “link” are often used interchangeably. Strictly speaking, however, they are different – a link describes the function, which is to take you from one place on the internet to another, while the URL describes the location itself, the place you want to go. “Link” is actually short for “hyperlink”, which sometimes might just appear as a clickable interface like this – blog – while the URL itself remains hidden. Often when you hover over a hyperlink with your mouse curser, the URL behind the link will be displayed.

Why are some URLs so long?

As we saw in our example above, more elements often get added to a URL to direct us to the specific path of a page on a website. In addition to this, some web pages are dynamic – they change as we interact with them, e.g. by performing a search or filling out a form. In the case of a search, this might lead to “/search/query?q=term“ being added to the end of the existing URL.  In other cases, there may be an internal page jump that adds /#more_text/ to a URL. Other URLs are made longer by tracking codes that let the webpage owner monitor interactions on their site – like if there is a special offer and they want to know how many people click the “Sale” button.

URL shorteners

No one wants to share or post a URL that’s 50 characters of alphabet soup. So there are URL shorteners that will create a shorter URL for you to use in a publication, social media post, blog, etc. They all work along the same principle – you simply enter your long URL and a much shorter redirect link is created. Copy and paste this shorter link into the desired location, and when your readers click on it they will be taken to the original long URL. Google URL Shortener was perhaps the best known tool of this sort, but other free options today include bitly and clicky.me. However, URL shorteners can be abused by spammers to redirect to malware links, so they have fallen out of favor among some users.

We hope this post answered all your questions about URLs! Why not leave us some feedback below?

Images: 1&1/Shutterstock
 

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