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URL Components

What is a URL?

A URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is a specific type of URI (Universal Resource Identifier). A URL normally locates an existing resource on the Internet. A URL is used when a web client makes a request to a server for a resource. This topic is a summary of URLs and URIs. If you need to know more, the concepts of the URI and the URL are defined by the Internet Society and IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) Request for Comments document RFC 2396, Uniform Resource Identifiers (URI): Generic Syntax (

Website URL


Briefly, a URI is defined as any character string that identifies a resource. A URL is defined as those URIs that identify a resource by its location or by the means used to access it, rather than by a name or other attribute of the resource. A newer form of the resource identifier, the IRI (Internationalized Resource Identifier), permits the use of characters and formats that are suitable for national languages other than English. An IRI can be used in place of a URI or URL when the applications involved with the request and response support IRIs.

Your guide to understanding website URLs (3 key parts)

Throughout the next few sections, we’ll look at the three most important parts of a URL for regular users. Combined, they should answer the question: “What is a website URL?”

1. The protocol

Consider the following URL:

The easiest part of this address to overlook is the very first part. You’re probably so used to seeing http:// and https:// at the beginning of every URL that you don’t give it a second thought. However, this element – the URL’s ‘protocol’ – is more important than you might think. The protocol tells your browser how to communicate with a web site’s server, in order to send and retrieve information. In other words, it’s what enables a URL to work in the first place. Traditionally, most sites have used Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), and you’ll still see this version across the web. However, there’s been a recent move towards widespread adoption of Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS). While this protocol does essentially the same thing as HTTP, it’s a much more secure option that encrypts the data sent back and forth between the browser and server. That’s why most browsers give it a green security padlock:


Fortunately, making sure your own site runs on HTTPS is simple if you’re a WordPress user. For more information, check out our guide to implementing HTTPS. All you’ll need is free Let’s Encrypt certificate, and the (also free) Really Simple SSL plugin.

2. The domain name

Let’s go back to the full URL for a moment:

The next part is the most identifiable element of a web address – the ‘domain name’. In this case, it’s (our website!). A domain name is an identifier for a specific site, which will generally bring you straight to the home page if nothing else is added to the end of it.Of course, a domain name is actually made up of two smaller parts. There’s the name of the website in question, then the Top-Level Domain (TLD). The latter term refers to the designator (among others) at the end of the domain name.

When you’re setting up a new site, it pays to spend some time carefully considering the domain name you’ll use. It should be unique and attention-grabbing, but at the same time clear and easy to remember. If you need help coming up with a strong domain name for your WordPress site, you can use a generator such as Domain Wheel to get ideas and see what’s available:


Domain Wheel

Your choice of TLD matters as well. For many sites, sticking with .com is the best option. It’s the TLD internet users are most familiar with and are usually expecting, which means it will be easiest for them to remember. However, you can also benefit from choosing a TLD that’s a better fit for your niche or field. There are actually hundreds of TLD options (many of which are region- or industry-specific), so there’s plenty of choices if you want to venture beyond a simple .com.

3. The path

If you just wanted to visit our website’s front page, all you would need are the protocol and the domain name: But each individual page or file on a website also has its own URL. Once again, here’s what it looks like:

The part after the TLD is known as the ‘path’. This is because it directs the browser to a specific page on the website. In this case, it leads first to our blog, then to a particular post: How to Automatically Find and Fix Broken Links in WordPress. The very last part is also sometimes called a URL ‘slug’. As a WordPress user, you actually have a lot of control over what the paths for your URLs look like. WordPress enables you to make changes to your ‘permalinks’, or the individual links to each page and post. You can find this option in your dashboard by going to Settings > Permalinks:



For more information about IRIs, see Internationalized Resource Identifiers (IRIs). A URL for HTTP (or HTTPS) is normally made up of three or four components:

  1. A scheme. The scheme identifies the protocol to be used to access the resource on the Internet. It can be HTTP (without SSL) or HTTPS (with SSL).
  2. A host. The hostname identifies the host that holds the resource. For example, A server provides services in the name of the host, but hosts and servers do not have a one-to-one mapping. Refer to Hostnames. Hostnames can also be followed by a port number. Refer to Port numbers. Well-known port numbers for a service are normally omitted from the URL. Most servers use the well-known port numbers for HTTP and HTTPS, so most HTTP URLs omit the port number.
  3. A path. The path identifies the specific resource in the host that the web client wants to access. For example, /software/htp/cics/index.html.
  4. A query string. If a query string is used, it follows the path component and provides a string of information that the resource can use for some purpose (for example, as parameters for a search or as data to be processed). The query string is usually a string of name and value pairs; for example, term=bluebird. Name and value pairs are separated from each other by an ampersand (&); for example, term=bluebird&source=browser-search.

The scheme and host components of a URL are not defined as case-sensitive, but the path and query string are case-sensitive. Typically, the whole URL is specified in lowercase. The components of the URL are combined and delimited as follows:

  • The scheme is followed by a colon and two forward slashes.
  • If a port number is specified, that number follows the hostname, separated by a colon.
  • The pathname begins with a single forward slash.
  • If a query string is specified, it is preceded by a question mark.

Figure 1. The syntax of an HTTP URL

>>-http://--+-host name--+--+---------+--/--path component------>
            '-IP address-'  '-:--port-'                      

   '-?--query string-'   

Here is an example of an HTTP URL:

With a port number specified, the URL is:


A URL can be followed by a fragment identifier. The separator used between the URL and the fragment identifier is the # character. A fragment identifier is used to point a web browser to a reference or function in the item that it has just retrieved. For example, if the URL identifies an HTML page, a fragment identifier can be used to indicate a subsection within the page, using the ID of the subsection. In this case, the web browser typically displays the page to the user so that the subsection is visible.

The action taken by the web browser for a fragment identifier differs depending on the media type of the item and the defined meaning of the fragment identifier for that media type. Other protocols, such as File Transfer Protocol (FTP) or Gopher, also use URLs. The URLs used by these protocols might have a different syntax to the one used for HTTP.

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