How do web browsers work? Do we need the only web browser to access the Internet?

How do web browsers work?

Today, Internet users are familiar with the basic functionality of the browser - it helps to connect you with everything on the web. Your browser allows you to shop online, watch videos, upload pictures, play games, and billions more.

A web browser or frequently called a browser is an application software that is installed on a computer to provide access to the World Wide Web. All you have to do is simply type the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) of a webpage in the address bar and the browser will bring the web page on your screen. But, do you ever think that - how does it work on the web platform?

Let's explore it in this article -

What is a web browser?

The browser’s main functionality is to fetch the files from the server and to display them on the screen. It basically displays HTML files containing images, PDF, videos, flashes, etc in an ordered layout. A browser is a group of structured codes that perform plenty of tasks to display a webpage on the screen. These codes are separated into different components according to their tasks performed.

Browsers are existing in the computers since the early spread up of the internet. The first ever browser was named ‘World Wide Web’ created by Tim Berners-Lee on a Next computer in December 1990. It was presented to the number of people at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in March 1991.

Structure of a Browser

Primary components of a browser are -

Networking - Performs implements of HTTP request and response.

User Interface - This consists of a forward and back button, bookmarks, address bar etc. along with the window that displays the requested page.

User Interface backend - It can be used for painting basic images like windows or combo box. The backend exposes only a generic platform independent interface. Beneath it, user interface methods are used by the operating system.

Browser engine - It commands action between the rendering engine and the user interface.

User Interface backend - It can be used for painting basic images like windows or combo box. The backend exposes only a generic platform independent interface. Beneath it, user interface methods are used by the operating system.

Rendering engine - The main function of the rendering engine is to display the content that is requested. For example, if an HTML content is requested, the engine parses CSS and HTML and when the content is parsed, it is displayed on the screen.

JS Interpreter - JavaScript and all other types of scripting are parsed and executed by the inbuilt interpreter.

Data Storage - All types of data, like cookies, are saved locally by the browser. Storage mechanisms like WebSQL, FileSystem, localStorage are also supported by the browser.

Some important terms

Internet connection

Allows you to send and receive data on the web.


Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol are communication protocols that define how data should travel across the web.


Domain Name Servers are like an address book for websites. When you type a web address in your browser, the browser looks at the DNS to find the website's real address before it can retrieve the website. The browser needs to find out which server the website lives on, so it can send HTTP messages to the right place.


Hypertext Transfer Protocol is an application protocol that defines a language for clients and servers to speak to each other.

Component files

A website is made up of many different files. These files come in two main types:

Code files - Websites are built primarily from HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, though you'll meet other technologies a bit later.

Assets - This is a collective name for all the other stuff that makes up a website, such as images, music, video, Word documents, and PDFs.


The entire process followed by a browser from fetching the webpage to displaying it on the screen is called Rendering.

What happens exactly under the hood?

  • World Wide Web works on the client-server model. A user computer works as a client which can receive and send data to the server. When you type a web address into your browser -

  • The browser goes to the DNS server and finds the real address of the server that the website lives on.

  • The browser sends an HTTP request message to the server, asking it to send a copy of the website to the client. This message and all other data sent between the client and the server is sent across your internet connection using TCP/IP.

  • If the server approves the client's request, the server sends the client a "200 OK" message, which means "Of course you can look at that website! Here it is", and then starts sending the website's files to the browser as a series of small chunks called data packets.

  • The browser assembles the small chunks into a complete website and displays it to you.

List of web browsers

Google Chrome - Google Chrome is a Web browser designed for Windows systems. It offers users a minimal design and what Google calls 'sophisticated technology' to make the web faster, safer, and easier on Windows-based PCs. Google Chrome features searching from the address bar, thumbnail views of your favorite pages for quick access, a private browsing function that opens an incognito window when you don't want to save your browsing history.

Mozilla Firefox - Mozilla Firefox is a free, open-source, cross-platform, Web browser developed by the Mozilla Corp. and hundreds of volunteers. Mozilla Corp. is responsible for the browser, where volunteers and enthusiasts have created many of the plugins available for the browser. Firefox offers support for many standards including HTML, HTML, XML, XHTML, CSS, ECMAScript (JavaScript), DTD, XSL, SVG, XPath and PNG images. The browser can also be used on a variety of operating systems such as Windows, Mac OSX, BeOS, FreeBSD, Linux, and others.

Microsoft Internet Explorer - Internet Explorer (formerly Microsoft Internet Explorer and Windows Internet Explorer, commonly abbreviated IE or MSIE) is a series of graphical web browsers developed by Microsoft and included in the Microsoft Windows line of operating systems, starting in 1995. It was first released as part of the add-on package Plus! for Windows 95 that year. Later versions were available as free downloads, or in service packs, and included in the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) service releases of Windows 95 and later versions of Windows. The browser is discontinued but still maintained.

Opera - Opera is an international Web browser, developed in Norway. It is available for Windows 3.x and Windows 9x/NT/2000/XP/2003 in four different languages. It also supports for BitTorrents, support for a wide variety of image, audio, and video formats, as well as enhanced HTML features, JavaScript, server push capabilities, Opera email, voice technology, and client-side image mapping.

Netscape - The first commercial Web browser was Netscape. The latest version is available for Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows 98 SE and Windows ME.  Netscape Browser 8x is the next-generation release of Netscape's venerable and once extremely popular Web browser.

Do you need a browser to access the Internet?

With your web browser out of action or otherwise unusable, you might have feared an end to your web usage. But in truth, the World Wide Web is only one aspect of the internet, and you don’t even need a browser to get online. Sure, it makes it easier to engage with social networks and online stores, but these aside, other tools can overcome the lack of a browser, even if it’s just to download the files to install a new one.

Although it is much more difficult and cumbersome, it is still possible to connect to certain sections of websites without using a browser.

Using FTP

File Transfer Protocol is not used much by average users today, but it was very common in the age before the Web. You can connect to a server, look around in its file system, and download any files you might want. The Mozilla FTP server may not be accessible, Most operating systems come with a command line FTP tool, but you can also just type an ftp:// address into your file manager's address bar.

Checking email with a Mailbox

Install a mailbox program. If you have a stable Internet connection and a working email account, you can use a third-party mailbox program to access your email without using a browser. Any email account should do Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! – anything that would access through a browser.

File downloading

Use an instant-messaging service. Like text messages but they don't cost money. It's also possible to send files over instant messaging, though you still need to know who to contact. If you use Linux, then you might have an IM client like Pidgin or Thunderbird already installed. On Windows, you're probably out of luck.

Use BitTorrent to download files. BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file-sharing program. Instead of a way of communicating with a central server, BitTorrent reaches out to your peers (people just like you!). It's a great way to download files quickly. Although it has earned its reputation as a piracy tool, there are many files that can be legally torrented, including some browsers. You'll need to find it first, though - which might be hard without a browser.

Try using Telnet to download files. Despite its name, telnet has nothing to do with telephone lines. It's just a simple, two-way text communications protocol, mostly used for command-line applications. While it's technically possible to download stuff over telnet, it's not common to actually do this.

The Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP) is an application protocol that moves Usenet news articles-net news-between news servers. People also use it to read and post articles by end user client applications.

Use non-browser tools to download files and access limited sites. There are many non-browser tools that use the Web. Some file explorers will download files if given a Web address.



Today, Chrome still rules desktop browsers while Safari owns the mobile browsing market. However, there still is no defined winner. The browser wars are still going strong and fragmentation is a more prevalent issue than ever due to the frequent updates and releases of different browser versions and operating systems.

Browsers preferences are also largely dependant on demographics including age, country, and even job. Browsers continually update versions hoping to be the next Google Chrome, there’s no saying when one will finally surpass its popularity or when another company creates their own browser to enter the mix. In fact, with Firefox’s recent Quantum version, more and more users and considering making the switch in favor of a faster browsing experience.

Let us know what is your favorite web browser in the comments below. Thank you!

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