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* URLs. Part I: Deconstructing web addresses
What can a web address, or URL (Uniform Resource Locator), reveal about an information source? How can the URL help when surfing the web or finding information on a company's website?
A URL is a standardized web address that tells your browser (Microsoft Internet Explorer or one of the others) where to find a specific web resource. For a more detailed definition, see Wikipedia's definition at its URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Url.
In the Wikipedia URL above, http:// denotes the protocol. Http is standard for most common web sites. Wikipedia.org is the official domain name of the organization. The entire part between the double slashes and the first single slash, en.wikipedia.org, is the host server name. The remaining part, /wiki/Url, designates the path to the specific page on that host.
URLs often end with the page name itself, such as publications.htm in this URL: http://www.eipertinfo.com/publications.htm. If a URL is typed without any specific page at the end, the browser will be sent to the default page (often index.htm or default.htm) set by the host server. For example, http://www.eipertinfo.com/ leads to the default home page for the site, http://www.eipertinfo.com/default.htm.
Most domain owners add one or more component to the left of the domain name. The conventional addition is www, but is not necessary. Organizations may have several host servers with various names. Two examples are http://www.altavista.com and http://babelfish.altavista.com.
Some domains have a very complex site with multiple hosts. For example, noaa.gov is the domain for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), and its main home page address is http://www.noaa.gov. There are, however, many other host names used by noaa.gov. The default home page for the host site of the National Hurricane Center host site is http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/, for the National Marine Fisheries, http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/, and for the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, http://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/.
Modern browsers often allow you to type in less than a full URL (e.g. your browser may insert the http:// for you should you leave it out), and host servers may allow shortcuts (e.g. Wikipedia's host server will give you its home page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page when you type only http://wikipedia.org). If in doubt, however, type in the full form of the address provided.
When typing a URL in a browser, put it in the Address bar on the browser, not the Search bar. A common mistake among unsophisticated users is treating the Search bar on the browser as the Address bar. It may take you to where you're going - but in a more roundabout way.
Cultivating the habit of being attentive to URLs can be very useful. If you get to a page by clicking a link, and don't know where you are, the URL of the current page can be found by looking at the address box at the top of the browser. The host name portion of the URL can verify the source of the page, expecially if the page itself has inadequate (or fraudulent) labeling. As an example, the URL of this page, http://www.publicaffairs.noaa.gov/grounders/disasterresponse.html, confirms that this document in on an official NOAA site.
Security is a good reason to check the URL. Looking at the URL of a site makes sure that you're at the correct site before personal information is sent via a form on the page. But make sure that you keep your software up-to-date. Until a recent security update from Microsoft, Internet Explorer contained a vulnerability that could allow an attacker to misrepresent the location of a web page in the browser's address bar.
Sometimes, you may want to see the URL of the target of a link before actually clicking on it. To do this, hold your cursor over the link (until it looks like a pointing finger), and read the status bar at the bottom of the browser. If there is no status bar, you may need to turn on this feature at "View" in the brower menu.
If a page has many links, and you're not sure which if any will be useful to you, this can be a quick way of scanning the links to learn something about the target pages, without actually opening each one. Reading the URL in the status bar will give you an indication of who is hosting the information on the link's target page, for example, and whether it is on the same site or a different site.
Next month: Part II: URL Tips - how your knowledge of the structure of URLs can help when problems arise
*** Contact Sue Eipert (firstname.lastname@example.org) at Eipert Information Services for customized research of proprietary business and sci/tech databases, as well as the Internet, for marketing, R&D, strategic planning or litigation support. ***
Copyright © 2004 Sue Eipert