Web browser

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Mozilla Firefox 57.0 web browser on Windows 10
Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 10
Mobile web browser Dolphin Browser on Android

Web browsers or, in general, browsers ( English [ ˈb Webseitenaʊ̯zə (ɹ) ], to browse , 'rummage, rummage, look around', also 'to graze') are special computer programs for displaying websites on the World Wide Web or generally for documents and data. Browsing through the World Wide Web or successively calling up any hyperlinks as a connection between websites with the help of such a program is also known as Internet surfing. In addition to HTML pages, web browsers can display various other types of documents such as images and PDF documents. Web browsers represent the user interface for web applications .

Browser and web browser

The term “ browsing on the computer ”, borrowed from English, originally only referred to the use of navigation elements (“forward”, “back”, “index” etc.) to read texts or text files. This term was later expanded with the emergence of hypertext , in which one can select certain words that act as cross-references (also called " hyperlinks ") in order to get to another text. Later on, functions for displaying images and so - called reference - sensitive graphics were added , in which one clicks on an area on a computer graphic (for example on a world map ) and thereby arrives at a linked text page (for example about a certain country). There are also PDF browsers for navigation and research in PDF books, magazines, treatises, etc., which can also contain hyperlinks and audiovisual media .


Excerpt from a web browser with an address bar, the buttons page forward and page back and two open tabs

Most of the user interface in today's web browser is typically used to display content. These can be reached by entering them in an address bar. In addition, browsers have a defined start page that is displayed when you open it. B. is an Internet portal or an Internet search engine.

In addition, browsers have buttons with which the user can navigate to previously visited pages and to the home page. The URL of a website can be saved as a bookmark to facilitate further visits to the website.

Most browsers support tabbed browsing , which makes it possible to open multiple pages in different tabs. In addition to these basic functions, browsers can often be equipped with additional functions via plug-ins .

Areas of application

Browsers are used on computers - which in a broader sense also includes mobile devices (such as PDAs or smartphones ). These also have browser software for access to the World Wide Web. The first mobile device browser " PocketWeb " was developed in 1994 at TecO for the Apple Newton . Today's mobile device browsers include Opera Mini , Internet Explorer , Firefox Mobile , Dolphin Browser , Boat Browser , Google Chrome , Apple Safari and Skyfire .

PocketWeb , the first web browser for a mobile device

Due to their widespread use, web browsers have an important function as so-called thin clients of web applications (see layer architecture ).

With the advancing trend towards the Internet and, later, multimedia , the web browser turned into the central application software on today's PC . Today's browsers display content such as computer graphics, music, radio or films and, if necessary, use external components such as Java applets or so-called plug-ins .

In addition, programs or files can be loaded (“ downloaded ”) onto the PC in order to save them there and, if necessary, open or run them at a later point in time.

In particular, the spread of broadband Internet access promoted these central functions of today's web browsers. As a result, the difference to a file manager , which was originally only used to open, copy or delete files, is becoming increasingly blurred . Many file managers today also have browser functions ("file browsers") and can therefore also be used to display documents .

A web browser can often also be used for activities on the local computer, provided that functional units are able to “communicate” with the web browser in accordance with HTTP. The advantage here is that no separate program has to be installed on the computer. Considerations about the security of the respective computer system also play a role.

Many network-compatible devices now have a web interface and can thus be operated with a browser.

More functions

Konqueror , the web browser of the KDE project version 4.11.5

In addition to HTTP, web browsers can use other protocols in the application layer of the TCP / IP reference model , such as FTP . Some web browsers also have functions for e-mail , Usenet or BitTorrent . Others cover these functions through external programs. Today, some browsers (such as Mozilla or Opera ) are delivered as a suite of browsers with integrated functions for e-mail and Usenet, for example. Others, like Internet Explorer and Konqueror , are combined browsers and file managers . In the last few years there has been a countermovement that advocates browsers without such additional functions, such as Galeon and Firefox. However, these can be adapted using installable extensions so that further functions can be carried out with the browser. For example, Firefox can participate in Internet Relay Chat after installing ChatZilla .

Another important function that web browsers have is logging into user accounts on the Internet. For this purpose, the user is requested to enter a user name and a password in an input mask, whereby the characters of the password are usually not displayed in the browser window. For the most secure communication possible with a computer network , some web browsers have built-in extended security functions with additional authentication factors , such as those based on the standards of the FIDO alliance .

Special browsers

Text based browser

The text-based web browser Lynx

Some browsers can still only display simple text. Such browsers are also called text-based browsers . In most cases, they make it possible to save computer graphics documents or display them with external programs. Text browsers are particularly suitable for quick research, as images, advertisements and the like are not loaded at all. Examples of text-based browsers are links , line mode browsers , ELinks, Lynx and w3m . Opera can mimic a text browser .

Offline browser

Offline browsers work offline, i.e. without an internet connection. You only use local content or local copies of web content. The main areas of application are computers that are not internet-enabled. Special programs such as wget or HTTrack are required to produce suitable offline copies of websites . Many standard web browsers can also be switched to offline mode, whereby they then load their data (if available) from the so-called browser cache . Browser caches are also used so that pages that have already been viewed do not have to be downloaded again the next time you visit.


Graphical representation of the development of the web browser

Tim Berners-Lee , a pioneer of hypertext , developed the first web browser and editor under the name WorldWideWeb (later Nexus) on a NeXT workstation at CERN near Geneva (Switzerland) from 1989 onwards. Stored graphics did not open automatically, but had to be clicked first. In November 1990 he commissioned Nicola Pellow with the development of the minimalist Line Mode Browser , which could only display text but ran on "practically all" computers. At Christmas 1990 both browsers were ready for presentation. In August 1991, Berners-Lee made the project and both browsers public in the newsgroup . alt.hypertext


After the inadequate WWW / Nexus, the browser NCSA Mosaic , a software with a graphical user interface (GUI) and a fully automatic page design that originally ran on Unix, but was soon ported to Apple Macintosh and Windows , became more widespread. Version 1.0 of Mosaic, for Microsoft Windows, was released on November 11, 1993.


Marc Andreessen , head of the Mosaics development team, recognized the commercial opportunities of the Internet and founded Netscape Communications . The company launched its Navigator in October 1994. Compared to NCSA Mosaic , it was an improved web browser with faster page loading. Netscape spread very quickly, replacing Mosaic almost entirely; for several years he became a leader in the rapid growth of the Internet. The company was bought by AOL (America Online) in late 1998 . New versions of Netscape (Netscape 6.0, Netscape 7.0) had only modest success. Netscape 6.0 in particular became a failure. On March 1, 2008, further development and support were discontinued.

Internet Explorer

Due to the success of the Netscape Navigator , Microsoft, which until then had underestimated the Internet, released its Internet Explorer in 1995, which was not developed in-house but was purchased by Spyglass (NCSA Mosaic). With the appearance of Internet Explorer , cutthroat competition began between the browser manufacturers Microsoft and Netscape (see browser war ).

Microsoft was able to take advantage of the competitive advantage of being the manufacturer of the Windows operating system and also to deliver the in-house browser with every installation of the operating system, so that it was used immediately as a matter of course. This competitive advantage led to the decision of BrowserChoice.eu by the EU in December 2009 to introduce browser selection in the Microsoft Windows operating system.

One consequence of this competition was the widespread use of both browsers. On the other hand, the competition between Microsoft and Netscape meant that the two companies integrated a large number of self-invented extensions into their programs in their competition for market share, which were initially not supported by the respective competing product. Ultimately, Microsoft succeeded in largely ousting its competitor Netscape from the market.

Mozilla Firefox

Netscape responded to its loss of market share by transforming itself into an open source project. The Internet suite was further developed under the new name Mozilla .

The web browser was later outsourced and initially called Phoenix , later Firefox . It is supplemented by the Thunderbird e-mail client , while Mozilla still had an integrated e-mail client. The versions 1.0 of Firefox and Thunderbird appeared after a long beta phase in December 2004.

While the Mozilla developers had previously been careful as possible all major Internet functions such as web browser, email client, address book and HTML editor in one package (Mozilla Application Suite) together, they sought later, the publication of individual, mutually independent components of . The goal of the development was a faster program start and lower memory and computing time utilization. At the same time, the development of the individual components should be expanded and promoted.

Mozilla Firefox took over the web browser function . The e-mail function has been outsourced under the name Mozilla Thunderbird , the calendar is further developed under the name Mozilla Sunbird and the HTML editor initially as Nvu, now as BlueGriffon . The official Mozilla Application Suite 1.7 was only provided with security updates. However, a community project has been working on the further development of the application suite under the name SeaMonkey since mid-2005 .


The browser Opera appeared in the first version in 1996. Opera is available for a variety of operating systems and user languages. Opera was one of the first browsers to firmly integrate tabs and a pop-up blocker.

Nintendo's Wii game consoles and Nintendo DS use the Opera browser to provide Internet services. Also put Sony , Loewe and soon Samsung in the emerging fusion of TV and Internet operators.

In 2013, when Opera jumped from version 12.17 to 15, it replaced its Presto HTML renderer with Google's new Blink engine and also made a paradigm shift by restricting the extensive range of functions.


Safari is an Apple browser . It was published in January 2003 and has been the standard browser since Mac OS X Panther (10.3), replacing Internet Explorer , which was used until then . Versions 3.0 to 6 were also available for Windows. Safari is also used on iOS on mobile devices . The HTML rendering engine WebKit is based on the KHTML library of the KDE project, which Apple adapted to its own needs and made available to free developers as open source again. Safari was one of the first browsers to pass the Acid3 test.

Google Chrome

On September 2, 2008, Google released the Chrome web browser as a beta version for Windows . The first stable version was released in December 2008. Chrome is available for Windows, Linux , macOS , iOS, and Android .

Microsoft Edge

On March 30, 2015, Microsoft released the browser Microsoft Edge (code name Spartan ) as a preliminary version, the final version appeared together with Windows 10 on August 27, 2015. Microsoft Edge replaced Internet Explorer , which is still integrated into Windows.


Vivaldi is a browser from the small company Vivaldi Technologies , which Opera co-founder Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner founded after leaving the company in 2013 in order to connect to Opera version 12.17 for demanding or professional users and, above all, its line of dialogue with the user community to develop further. On January 27, 2015, the first of four previous versions was published as a functional “Technical Preview”, followed on November 3, 2015 by the first of three beta releases . Finally, on April 4, 2016, the official Release 1.0 was launched.

Compatibility and standards compliance

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) organizes the standardization of the technologies relating to the World Wide Web . In the past and still today, these standards were only partially implemented or expanded by some browser manufacturers. This makes the programming of browser-independent web applications difficult and time-consuming due to the high test effort. The standard conformity of a browser can be checked with the acid tests .

Furthermore, more than 5 percent of clearly outdated browser versions of Internet Explorer are still used worldwide in random samples that are not unequivocally representative. In Germany the picture is different, here (older) Firefox versions are more common.

Reliable web designers should therefore point out the downward compatibility of a website in terms of good accessibility and display quality in the offer and also test the finished product .

Market shares and their measurement

The picture shows the most used browser according to statistic from StatCounter according to countries 9/2019. The statistics for March 2020 are available via the following web link:

The actual spread of a web browser cannot be determined with absolute certainty. Different providers publish statistics on the spread of web browsers on the basis of different, often quite limited, databases. Since the general distribution rate of a browser is influenced by a wide variety of factors, these statistics have different meaning and sometimes come to very different, apparently contradicting results. The distribution of a browser fluctuates depending on the subject area of ​​a website called up, the region of origin of the calling person and the time of the measurement. For example, users can be bound to the use of a specified web browser at their workplace, but privately prefer and use a different browser. Various events also lead to strong fluctuations. The market share increases when a new major version is released or decreases when a security hole becomes known.

Overall, browser statistics only give a rough distribution and possibly trends, as each statistic is only based on the evaluation of the log files of selected websites and there is no undisputed representative selection of websites to be used for this.

The measurements are usually based on the so-called User Agent - Headers performed with the browser is identified and can be sent this on every request to the server. In practically all browsers, this identifier can be changed by the user.

According to Netmarketshare, the global market shares of desktop browsers as of July 2018 and September 2019 are as follows:

Browser 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
Chrome 68.5 61.6 58.5 47.6 27.6 19.1 16.4 18.7
Internet Explorer 6.1 12.0 19.1 31.4 53.0 58.3 56.7 53.8
Firefox 8.7 11.0 11.8 10.0 11.8 15.7 19.3 20.3
Microsoft Edge 5.9 4.2 5.6 4.8 1.0 0 0 0
Apple Safari 4.4 3.8 3.4 4.3 4.9 5.4 5.6 5.0
Opera 1.4 1.5 1.2 1.5 1.3 1.1 1.6 1.6
Other 5.0 5.9 0.4 0.4 0.4 0.4 0.4 0.6

If the browser in the meanwhile very frequently used mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets etc. is also taken into account, according to the statistics published by Netmarketshare, the following picture emerges for September 2019:
Chrome 66%, Safari 19%, Firefox 4%, Internet Explorer 2, 6%, Edge 2.5%, QQ Browser 1.4% etc.

The distribution according to statistics from StatCounter of the various browsers on mobile devices is available here. The selection of the display can be edited.

Web links

Commons : Web browser  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Web browser  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Grammatically incorrect a browser on a mobile device is often "mobile browser" called, which is an improper translation: the substantivized English adjective "mobile" ( German  mobile was) to "mobile device" ( English mobile ). In the case of “mobile browser”, however, it is translated as an adjective, which means that the reference is no longer correct: it is not the browser that is mobile, but the end device is mobile (or a mobile device).
  2. PocketWeb. TecO , accessed on January 7, 2011 .
  3. ^ S. Gessler, A. Kotulla: PDAs as mobile WWW browsers. Proc. of 2nd International WWW Conference, Chicago, Oct. 1994. doi: 10.1016 / 0169-7552 (95) 00093-6
  4. ^ Robert Cailliau: A Little History of the World Wide Web. CERN / W3C, 1995, accessed July 24, 2010 .
  5. Tim Berners-Lee: Re: Qualifiers on Hypertext links… Usenet message . August 6, 1991, accessed on July 28, 2010 (English): "We have a prototype hypertext editor for the NeXT, and a browser for line mode terminals which runs on almost anything."
  6. Microsoft Corporation: Choose your web browser (s) ( Memento from December 16, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  7. Statcounter statistics of the worldwide browser versions calculated over a year . statcounter.com. November 8, 2015. Accessed November 8, 2015.
  8. Statcounter statistics of the browser versions used in Germany without taking Rapid Cycling into account, calculated over a year . statcounter.com. November 8, 2015. Accessed November 8, 2015.
  9. Statcounter statistics of the browser versions used in Germany calculated over a year . statcounter.com. November 8, 2015. Accessed November 8, 2015.
  10. [ limited preview in the Google book search Principles of Web Design: The Web Warrior Series] . Joel Sklar. 2015. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  11. Top Browsers Per Country, March 2020. statcounter.com, March 2020, accessed on April 18, 2020 .
  12. Desktop Browser Market Share. netmarketshare.com, accessed October 20, 2019 .
  13. ^ Browser Market Share. netmarketshare.com, accessed October 20, 2019 .
  14. Browser Market Share Worldwide - Sept 2019. statcounter.com, accessed on December 9, 2019 .
  15. Mobile & Tablet Browser Market Share Worldwide - Dec 2019. © StatCounter, accessed on December 10, 2019 .