Browser, in computer science, a program that enables a computer to locate, download, and display documents containing text, sound, video, graphics, animation, and photographs located on computer networks.
The act of viewing and moving about between documents on computer networks is called browsing. Users browse through documents on open, public-access networks called internets, or on closed networks called intranets. The largest open network is the Internet, a worldwide computer network that provides access to sites on the World Wide Web (WWW, the Web).
Browsers allow users to access Web information by locating documents on remote computers that function as Web servers. A browser downloads information over phone lines to a user’s computer through the user’s modem and then displays the information on the computer. Most browsers can display a variety of text and graphics that may be integrated into such a document, including animation, audio and video. Examples of browsers are Netscape, Internet Explorer, and Mosaic.
Browsers can create the illusion of traveling to an actual location in virtual space (hyperspace) where the document being viewed exists. This virtual location in hyperspace is referred to as a node, or a Web site. The process of virtual travel between Web sites is called navigating.
Documents on networks are called hypertext if the media is text only, or hypermedia if the media includes graphics as well as text. Every hypertext or hypermedia document on an internet has a unique address called a uniform resource locator (URL). Hypertext documents usually contain references to other URLs that appear in bold, underlined, or colored text. The user can connect to the site indicated by the URL by clicking on it. This use of a URL within a Web site is known as a hyperlink. When the user clicks on a hyperlink, the browser moves to this next server and downloads and displays the document targeted by the link. Using this method, browsers can rapidly take users back and forth between different sites.
Common features found in browsers include the ability to automatically designate a Web site to which the browser opens with each use, the option to create directories of favorite or useful Web sites, access to search engines (programs that permit the use of key words to locate information on the Internet, an internet or an intranet), and the ability to screen out certain types of information by blocking access to certain categories of sites.
A browser’s performance depends upon the speed and efficiency of the user’s computer, the type of modem being used, and the bandwidth of the data-transmission medium (the amount of information that can be transmitted per second). Low bandwidth results in slow movement of data between source and recipient, leading to longer transmission times for documents. Browsers may also have difficulty reaching a site during times of heavy traffic on the network or because of high use of the site.
The most commonly used browsers for the Web are available for free or for a small charge and can be downloaded from the Internet. Browsers have become one of the most important tools—ranking with e-mail—for computer network users. They have provided tens of millions of people with a gateway to information and communication through the Internet.