Iris Classon
Iris Classon - In Love with Code

‘Stupid’ Question 27: What is a Web Browser?

[To celebrate my first year of programming I will ask a ‘stupid’ questions daily on my blog for a year, to make sure I learn at least 365 new things during my second year as a developer]

What is a Web Browser? Logos from the most popular browsers

I have a three-day long Web Browser discussion coming up now (Q27-30) based on the great discussion we had last night on Twitter about web browser support. Basically I asked

Can devs refuse to create a web app that works in IE for clients? And how much can such a constraint affect the app acceptance?

As with the dropbox question ‘Stupid’ Question 22: Is it OK to use dropbox to store and share confidential client documents? Is this safe/good practice? I got an overwhelming amount of great responses. I’ll get to the developer question, but not today, as I want to format the post properly. But this question (what is a broswer) is very important to answer so everybody can join in on the discussion. You would maybe think that most people know what a browser is, or that at least developer would know- but I’m not to sure about that. And since I love ‘stupid’ questions I’ll gladly be the one to ask!

And according to this youtube video, a few people would like some clarifying ;)

It’s a program. Or software application if we want to use fancier words. What it does it allows you to fetch information on the internet by using an address, URI (the one you type in the address field). The program them goes to that address and gets the information for you by letting the information travel as small data packages. The packages contain binary code and the destination address (binary code is a way of representing text or computer processing instructions by only using the digits 1 and 0 to represent the two states of Charge - No Charge / On - Off).

Once you get the information comes back it is presented to you and displayed on the screen. A better word is that the information is ‘rendered’ – rendering is when the information is read and pieced together to create an image. The part of the program that does this is the web browser engine (also called rendering engine and layout engine). This engine is embedded (which means it is built into the program and plays an integral part) in the Web Browser.

If you want you can have a look at an opens source (opens source: free redistribution and access to the code/project) web browser engine such as Gecko, the Web Browser Forefox’s rendering engine.


Leave a comment (via email)
Anders Holmström
8/19/2012 3:23:02 AM
Finally I get a chance to toot my own horn! If you want a simplified explanation of binary, I actually have a blog post on the subject:

I think a lot of developers really would benefit from understanding the way HTTP works. Pluralsight has a great intro course on it. It's a really simple protocol which also makes it so useful. I'm looking forward to the other posts in this series. 
8/19/2012 3:43:26 AM
Lolled at the vid :)  Especially at the smart asses who opened their mouths to show how much they didn't  know .....roflmao .......them the trollz that give poor Iris such a hard time :) 

"It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” -Mark Twain

Btw if you really want to know what a browser does? Join me here we are building one , its free btw :) Build a browser

Hopes Iris dont wak me for hijacking her question...........:) 
David Negron
8/19/2012 4:24:04 AM
Wow that video is a serious dose of reality.

Other resources from Webopedia:
What is a browser?
How Do Web Browsers Work? 
Iris Classon
8/19/2012 4:31:55 AM
Reply to: Anders Holmström
That's a great post! Really, really good! I'll share that with a few students if you don't mind :) 
Iris Classon
8/19/2012 4:33:01 AM
Reply to: Mark
I looked into building one, but seemed like it would take lot of time :P , thanks for the link - will absolutely check it out! 
Iris Classon
8/19/2012 4:33:46 AM
Reply to: David Negron
Good articles for some more in depth reading! 
8/19/2012 4:56:32 AM
Reply to: Anders Holmström
 Pluralsight has a great intro course on it. 
Syncfusion published free ebook 'HTTP Succinctly', also by K. Scott Allen: 
Iris Classon
8/19/2012 5:00:41 AM
Reply to: Jarek
I started watching that tutorial yesterday actually, Scott is very good and the tutorial is perfect! I'll check out the book, thank you! 
Anders Holmström
8/19/2012 5:31:46 AM
Reply to: Iris Classon
Thanks, I'm glad you like it! Go ahead and use it any way you like. It's BY-NC-SA. 
James Curran
8/20/2012 10:09:33 AM
I'd offer one change.... Technically, the browser is just the second half of your definition --- It just renders a file that it is given.  The actual reading of the file, whether it's on your local computer or on some remote computer, is actually done by the operating system.   I think it's important to a proper understanding of what's going on, that you break the association that a browser can only read from the Internet, and even more importantly, that the Internet can only be access from a browser. 

Last modified on 2012-08-18