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  1. What Is
June 13, 2016updated 07 Feb 2017 9:21am

What is a browser?

From Sir Tim Berners-Lee's WorldWideWeb, to Google Chrome - CBR explains what the software application does and the history behind it.

By Ellie Burns

Commonly known as a browser, a web browser is a software application that enables users to navigate the World Wide Web.

The primary function of a web browser is to bring information to the user. Once a user puts in a URL (Uniform Resource Locator), the browser looks at the URL prefix to determine how the URL will be interpreted. The most common prefix, HTTP, will retrieve information over the Hypertext Transfer Protocol, while the prefix mailto: will direct the URL to an email application.

In the majority of cases where the https prefix is used, the browser will find the information, retrieve it and display it for the user. The same process of navigation, retrieval and display also applies to the clicking of hyperlinks.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the first web browser, WorldWideWeb, in 1990 as a research project. The first widely used web browser was released in 1993 and was developed by Marc Andreessen.

Dubbed Mosaic, the web browser sparked the internet boom of the 1990s as it was the first World Wide Web system which was easily accessed and used by the average person. Andressen then went on to start his own company, Netscape, where he released the Netscape Navigator in 1994. Influenced by Mosaic, Navigator became the most popular browser on the web, accounting for 90% of all web use at its peak.

What’s the most used browser?

However, Navigator’s time at the top was short lived, with Microsoft bringing out Internet Explorer in 1995, again being heavily influenced by the Mosaic browser. By 2002, Explorer had grabbed 95% of all web use, but that would not stop other companies trying to grab their share of traffic.

Netscape came back in 1995 with what would eventually become Firefox, offering a browser using the open source software model. Firefox 1.0 was officially launched in 2004; a year after Apple’s Safari had its beta release.

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The last major browser release was Google’s Chrome, which hit the market in September 2008. Chrome has seen significant take-up, with the browser overtaking Internet Explorer 8 as the most widely used web browser by December 2011 – though Chrome still had lower usage when compared against the combined usage of all Internet Explorer versions.

By 2012, Chrome had overtaken Explorer to be the most widely used browser.


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