World Wide Web (WWW) Definition

March 25, 2024

The World Wide Web, often abbreviated as WWW or referred to simply as the web, is an information system in which documents and other web resources are identified by Uniform Resource Locators (URLs). These URLs may be interlinked by hypertext links and are accessible over the internet. Users access the web through web browsers, and they transmit data using the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) or its secure variant, HTTPS.

The World Wide Web was invented in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist working at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research). His invention was initially devised to meet the demand for automated information sharing between scientists in universities and institutes around the world.

What Is the Difference Between the WWW and the Internet?

Many people often use the World Wide Web (WWW) and the Internet interchangeably, but they represent distinctly different concepts.

The internet is a vast network of networks, a global infrastructure connecting millions of computers across the world, allowing them to communicate with one another. This communication happens through a standardized set of protocols (rules for transmitting data), such as the Internet Protocol (IP) and the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). Essentially, the internet is the backbone that provides the basic infrastructure for data exchange and connectivity, supporting a wide array of services such as email, file transfer, and the World Wide Web.

On the other hand, the World Wide Web is one of the services that operates on the internet. It utilizes the Internet's infrastructure to share information through web pages, which are documents formatted in Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) and accessed via browsers.

How Does the World Wide Web Work?

The World Wide Web works through a series of interconnected steps involving various technologies and protocols.

1. Requesting a Web Page

It all begins when a user enters a URL into a web browser or clicks on a hyperlink. The URL specifies the location of a web resource on a server. The browser parses the URL to determine the protocol (usually HTTP or HTTPS), the server's domain name, and the specific path to the resource on the server.

2. Domain Name System (DNS) Lookup

The browser must translate the server's domain name into an IP address, which is used to locate the server on the Internet. This is achieved through the Domain Name System (DNS), a global, distributed directory service. The browser sends a request to a DNS server, which either responds with the corresponding IP address or forwards the request to another DNS server until the address is found.

3. Establishing a Connection

Once the IP address is obtained, the browser initiates a connection to the server. This involves a handshake process to ensure secure communication, especially if the HTTPS protocol is used. The connection is established over the internet using the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), which guarantees that data packets are sent, received, and assembled in the correct order.

4. Sending the HTTP Request

After establishing a connection, the browser sends an HTTP request to the server, asking for the web resource identified by the URL. This request includes details such as the type of request (GET to retrieve content, POST to submit data, etc.), the specific resource being requested, and additional headers that provide information about the browser and the types of content it can handle.

5. Server Response and Rendering the Web Page

The server receives and processes the HTTP request. If the resource is available and the request is valid, the server responds with an HTTP response, which includes the requested content (usually an HTML document) and a status code (e.g., 200 OK for success). The browser then parses the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, requesting additional resources like images, stylesheets, or scripts as needed. These resources may require additional DNS lookups and HTTP requests. Finally, the browser renders the web page for the user to view. This rendering process involves constructing the Document Object Model (DOM) from the HTML, applying CSS styles, and executing JavaScript to dynamically modify the page.

Evolution of the World Wide Web

The evolution of the World Wide Web can be traced through several key phases, each marked by significant technological advancements and changes in how people access, create, and interact with online content. Here's a broad overview:

Web 1.0 (The Static Web)

This phase began with Tim Berners-Lee's invention of the web at CERN in 1989, and it lasted through the 1990s. Web 1.0 is often characterized as the "read-only" web, where most users were content consumers rather than producers. Websites were mostly static HTML pages that offered information without interactive features. Early browsers like Mosaic and Netscape Navigator made it easier for people to navigate the web, but the creation of web content was primarily in the hands of web developers and organizations.

Web 2.0 (The Social Web)

Starting in the early 2000s, the web transformed into what is commonly called Web 2.0. The rise of user-generated content, interactivity, and social networking defines this era. Technologies such as AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) allowed for the creation of dynamic web applications that could update content without reloading the entire page, significantly improving the user experience. Platforms like Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter empowered users to create, share, and collaborate on content like never before. The distinction between web consumers and producers blurred, and the web became a platform for social interaction and user-driven content.

Web 3.0 (The Semantic Web)

This iteration of the web aims to make content not only readable by humans but also understandable by machines, enabling a more intelligent and interconnected web experience. Web 3.0 is characterized by the ability of computers to analyze all the data on the web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. Technologies like RDF (Resource Description Framework), SPARQL (a query language for databases), and OWL (Web Ontology Language) are central to this vision. Additionally, Web 3.0 is often associated with the integration of artificial intelligence, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), and blockchain technologies, promising a more immersive, secure, and personalized web experience.

Web 4.0 (The Intelligent or Symbiotic Web)

While not fully defined, the future of the web is envisioned as even more intelligent and autonomous, with advanced AI, machine learning, and IoT (Internet of Things) integration making the web an integral part of our physical world. These advancements could lead to a more intuitive and seamless interaction between humans and the digital environment, where the web understands individual preferences and needs, making recommendations and performing tasks with minimal human input.

Anastazija is an experienced content writer with knowledge and passion for cloud computing, information technology, and online security. At phoenixNAP, she focuses on answering burning questions about ensuring data robustness and security for all participants in the digital landscape.