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W3: The ‘World Wide Web’

The World Wide Web (WWW or W3) is a system of interlinked hypertext documents that can be accessed through the Internet with the help of a Web browser. The documents or Web pages available on the Web are composed of text, images, videos, and other multimedia content. One can explore the Web or navigate between the Web pages with the help of hyperlinks. 


The following figure shows a generic representation of the WWW. 
wp image 975277478 - W3: The 'World Wide Web'

The roots of WWW lie in the efforts of Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist and an employee of a European research organization named CERN. Tim Berners-Lee put a proposal in 1989 for creation of a more efficient communication system for CERN. However, later he realized that the concept can be implemented throughout the world and not just locally. 


His proposal included the concept of using hypertext for linking and accessing information on a Web of nodes that the user would browse to search the desired information. In other words, his idea was to connect hyptertext to the Internet which he had suggested in this book ‘Weaving the Web’. While working on his project, he developed the following essential technologies: 

  1. Universal Document Identifier (UDI) – A system of globally unique identifiers for resources on the Web and elsewhere. Today, it is known as the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) and Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) 
  2. HyperText Markup Language (HTML) – The publishing language for a Web page 
  3. Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) – The foundation protocol for data communication over the Web 
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There were several differences between the World Wide Web and other hypertext systems: 

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  • It requires only unidirectional links so that one could link to another resource without any action by the owner of that resource.  
  • The difficulty in implementing Web servers and browsers was significantly reduced through WWW.  
  • The World Wide Web is non-proprietary and hence, it is possible to develop servers and clients independently as well as add extensions without licensing restrictions. 


On April 30 1993, WWW was announced to be free-for-use with no fees. This led to rapid development of Web browsers; the more popular among them was ViolaWWW for Unix and the X Windowing System. Later, with time, many more Web browsers were developed and gained popularity. 


With growing use of the Internet, the thin line between the terms Internet and WWW has almost disappeared and the terms are often used without much distinction. However, technically, the World Wide Web and Internet are not the same. The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks, whereas, the WWW is one of the services that runs on the Internet. That is, Web is a collection of text documents and other resources that have been through hyperlinks and URLs. These documents are loaded on Web servers and accessed through Web browsers. Thus, one can say that the Web is nothing but an application running on the Internet. 

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Viewing a Web Page on WWW 

To view a Web page on the WWW, one needs to type a URL in a Web browser or click a hyperlink on an open Web page. In response, the Web browser initiates a series of communication messages to fetch and display the content on the requested page. This process of using a browser to view Web pages and navigating the pages using hyperlinks was later termed as ‘browsing’ or ‘Web surfing’. Several studies were conducted to evaluate user patterns in accessing Web pages. Around five patterns were identified by this study namely, window surfing, exploratory surfing, evolved surfing, targeted navigation, and bounded navigation. 


WWW Prefix 

The hostnames for servers used www as the prefix to indicate the kind of service they provide. This was similar to using ftp for FTP server and news or nntp for USENET news server. The hostnames appeared as Domain Name System (DNS) subdomain names such as www.sample.com. However, the use of www is not mandatory.  


Many Web servers are set up to use both the domain root sample.com and the www subdomain,  www. sample.com, that refers to the same site. Using subdomain names helps in load balancing of incoming requests to divert them to a cluster of Web servers. When an incomplete domain name is submitted to a Web browser, some Web browsers automatically try to attach the prefix ‘www’ to it and ‘.com’, ’.org’, and ‘.net’ at the end. 

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For example, entering ‘Google’ may be converted to http://www.google.com/. This feature was first observed in the early versions of Mozilla Firefox when it was still known as FireBird. 


World Wide Consortium (W3C) 

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community of Member organizations. It is a place where a full-time staff and public work together to develop Web standards. It is led by Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and CEO Jeffrey Jaffe. The mission of W3C is to lead the Web to its full potential.  



The W3C Internationalization Activity ensures that Web technology works in all languages, scripts, and cultures. W3C’s vision of the Web involves sharing of knowledge, participation, and building trust on a global scale, which can be summarized briefly as, 

  • Web for Rich Interaction 
  • Web of Data and Services 
  • Web of Trust 


To conclude, the Web was initiated as a way to make communication efficient at CERN but it turned out to be a global communication and data interchange mechanism over the Internet. If you haven’t experienced the Web yet, the best thing to do to find out about it is to try it. 

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