LEOLEO: Literacy Education Online


What is a URL?

Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) are Internet addresses. URLs give Internet users a standard format for sending and receiving a wide variety of information. Understanding URLs will help you figure out what kind of organization or institution the information is coming from. From there, you can decide whether or not the source suits your purposes.

The Four Parts of a URL

URLs are constructed in four sections and look something like this:

type of transfer://servername.domain/directory/subdirectory/filename.filetype

Every URL has the information directly before and after the //, but the last two sections may or may not be present.

  1. type of transfer

    The first part of the URL is an indication of what kind of information is being transferred. Here are the most common types of transfers:

    http: hypertext, the standard format for the World Wide Web

    gopher: gopher format, text only precursor of the Web

    ftp: file transfer protocol, a computer file that can be sent directly to your computer.

    news: newsgroup format.

  2. servername.domain

    The second part of the URL tells you where a Web site resides. This part of the address sometimes includes the name of the machine, the domain (where the computer lives), and the home country of the computer. This part of the URL will show you not only where the information is coming from but whether or not the source is an educational (.edu) institution or commercial (.com) service.

  3. directories and subdirectories

    The third section of the URL shows you the place where the page you are looking for lives. If the directory or subdirectory begins with a tilde (~), looks like a person's name, and follows a directory called "users" or "people," the page is probably living on someone's personal Internet account. For example: http://server.state.edu/~jsmith/mypage.html

  4. filename.filetype

    The final part of the URL specifically names the individual document at which you are looking. Once you click on a link at a home page, you will see a filename appear. Standard file type appears. Standard file types include:

    .html or .htm: hypertext (this is standard for the Web)

    .gif, .jpg, .bmp: image types (formats of visual images)

    .zip, .tar: compressed files (these files will be downloaded onto your hard drive; your computer may not be able to interpret them, and you may need to get an "unzipping" utility)


Kirk, Elizabeth. "Understanding and Decoding URLs."

        http://milton.mse.jhu.edu:8001/research/education/url.html (30 Dec. 1996)

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LEO: Literacy Education Online

This page was adapted from the article "Understanding and Decoding URLs" by Elizabeth Kirk. It was written by Heidi Gomez for the Write Place, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, MN; html tagging was completed by Judith Kilborn. The page may be copied for educational purposes only. If you copy this document, please include our copyright notice and the name of the writer; if you revise it, please add your name to the list of writers.

Updated: 12 January 2005

URL: http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/research/readingurls.html