How does the World Wide Web work?

Hypertext Markup Language

The information presented in the WWW is written in the hypertext markup language or HTML. This is not a programming language, but rather a formatting language. It is like a primitive word processor where the formatting is done by typing in commands (called tags) instead of using a mouse to click, highlight, and drag. Documents on the Web are called home pages, pages, or sites.

To look at the HTML tags that created the page you are looking at now, pull down the View menu and click on Page Source (for Netscape Navigator) or Source (for Internet Explorer.)


Seeing content on the World Wide Web requires a browser program. This program is guided by HTML code to gather photos, text and audio into a web pages that appear on the computer screen.

Two well known ones used today are Netscape Navigator at and Microsoft Internet Explorer at

To surf in Netscape, use tutorials on navigation and bookmarks


The Uniform Resource Locator is the address of an Internet document. To reach the site of a document, the URL is typed in the location section of the browser.

To go to an online tour of the White House, type in

Each part of the address means something:

http:// describes the method of communication (the protocol) that this address will use to send information over the Internet. The type referred to here is HyperText Transfer Protocol (http). Another example of a protocol is ftp://

The next section,, is a set of identifiers that together make up the domain name of the address. The identifiers are separated by periods called "dots". These words coordinate with the numerical IP address for that site (4 sets of numbers separated by dots as in Most WWW sites usually choose to use words instead of numbers, however.

www means the site is part of the World Wide Web. Even if the site is part of the web, these 3 letters will not always show up.

whitehouse is the main part of the domain name. It must be purchased and no two Internet domain names can be alike.

.gov is the broad category that the owner of the domain name falls under. There are many such categories including the ones below. To see all of the top-level domain names and their counts as of January, 2002 visit the Internet Software Consortium

Identifier Meaning
.comcomercial organization
.edu educational institution
.gov governent facility
.int international organization
.mil US military facility
.net networking organization
.org nonprofit organization
.us United States
.au Australia
.ca Canada
.jp Japan

WH/glimpse/tour/html/ are the directories and subdirectories under which this site is stored.

index.html is actual web page that contains the tour information.


Any word or phrase in a browser that is underlined is a link to another document. Putting a cursor on them will cause a hand to appear. Clicking on them will bring a new page to the screen. If the hand appears over a graphic or a portion of one, clicking there will also bring in a new site.

Click on the underlined words in this sentence to go to the Smithsonian Institution Home Page. Once there you can click and connect for hours and never leave this wonderful site!
Categorized Directories and Search Engines

These sites help users find information in the almost limitless reaches of the Internet. At directory sites the user finds his topic by choosing from several large categories. Once in that category, he chooses from sub-categories, then sub-sub-categories, and so on until he finds his topic.

Yahoo is one of the oldest and best known directories at .
At a search engine site the user types in several words that describe their topic. Using those words, the search engine uses its huge network of references to find locations related to those words and then lists them by how likely they are to be the site you want.
Google is a reliable and extremely fast search engine at
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