Web Browsing Basics

A WEB BROWSER is a program used to view graphical, auditory and textual information over the Internet. The program you are using to view these pages right now is called a web browser.

FILES meant to provide graphical and textual information are assembled in what has become known as the WORLD WIDE WEB, or WWW. These files are written in a special programming language called HYPERTEXT MARKUP LANGUAGE (or HTML). This language tells your web browser how to display the text and graphics on a particular page.

The most common web browsers are NETSCAPE NAVIGATOR or COMMUNICATOR and INTERNET EXPLORER. AOL provides a built-in browser for viewing the WWW. These browsers enable you to see graphics and images, hear audio files, view video files and read text on WEB PAGES. The latest version of these browsers can be downloaded for free.

Each web page has its own unique WEB ADDRESS, or URL, UNIFORM RESOURCE LOCATOR. These URLs tell your browser where to go. They are very similar to your own home address, only more specific. One file, one page, one address. No two URLs are the same.

For example, the URL for the home page of this web site, the Remarkable Ocean World, is www.oceansonline.com. That is the address that you (or someone) typed in to get you to these pages. The specific URL for this specific page, Web Browsing Basics, is www.oceansonline.com/web_browsing_basics.htm. Every page on this web site has a unique URL. You can find the URL for any page at the top of the web browser in the white rectangle marked ADDRESS or LOCATION or URL.

All WEB SITES are associated with something called a DOMAIN. A domain is really the FOUNDATION for a web site. You don't really need to know the details but DOMAIN NAMES are the part of a URL after the WWW. For example, oceansonline.com is the domain name for this web site. Other examples are seanboy.com, microsoft.com, aol.com, fullcoll.edu and so on.

To go from one web page to another, pages are HYPERLINKED, that is, they are linked to one another. HYPERLINKS are typically UNDERLINED and appear as a DIFFERENT COLOR. For example, the URLs mentioned above are underlined and blue. CLICKING on a hyperlink will take you to another page. Many times, the URL is indicated, but more times than not, a word or even a picture is hyperlinked. Sophisticated users know that when they see an undelined word in a different color that they can click on that word to go to another page. (Note: there are many exceptions, so don't be alarmed if things don't quite work that way on any particular web site).

As you move from one web page to another, the FORWARD and BACK buttons on your web browser come in real handy. As you might imagine, it's easy to get buried deep in a web site or to follow links across several web sites. To get back to where you started, simply click on the back button. If you move backwards too far and want to move ahead, click on the forward button. These two NAVIGATION BUTTONS are the two most useful little buttons you will find.

How does this work? Web broswers CACHE or store pages in memory. When you go to a particular page, your MODEM connection DOWNLOADS that page (and all the files it contains) to your web browser.  It's this CACHING that allows you to move backwards and forwards quickly without reloading pages. If you had to reload the pages every time you viewed them, surfing the web would be like walking through quicksand. It would be very very slow! So this feature saves a lot of time.

However, there is a danger in this usefulness. When you return to a web site at a later time or the following day, what get's displayed is the CACHED PAGE. In other words, you may not see the REAL PAGE. If the page has changed, as some of them do on a daily basis, then you will not see the latest page unless you click on RELOAD or REFRESH. This button clears the memory for that page and downloads it from the web site once again. The advantage is that you get today's information, not yesterday's.

ALWAYS hit reload (or refresh) when you come to our course web site, especially when you view the Daily Bulletin page. Get in the habit of refreshing your pages or you will suddenly find yourself days (if not weeks) behind. If you come to a page and it doesn't seem to be changing (and it's one of those pages that should be changing), then hit reload or refresh. If that doesn't work, e-mail me and ask me if the page has changed. This feature is vitally important when getting information through the WWW.

There is a way that you can change the way your browser caches pages. Generally, this feature can be found in PREFERENCES or OPTIONS. Explore the pull-down menus of your browser and set your cache to one (1) day at the most. That way, you can rest assured that you will be viewing the latest information.

Finally, I want to mention BOOKMARKS or FAVORITES. Just like a piece of paper stuck in a book, a bookmark lets you come back to a web page without having to remember and type in the URL. In the pull-down menu of your browser, you will find a choice "Bookmark this page" or  "Add to Favorites" (or something simlar). By selecting this option, the URL is stored automatically by the browser. When you want to return to that page, simply go to bookmarks and select the title for that page. Your browser will go there automatically. Try it with this page.

There are lots of different options with browsers and it's not my intent here to give a complete lesson on using web browsers. Rather, I hope that the information provided here is enough to get you started. As with anything, practice makes perfect. The longer you use web browsers the more familiar they will become. If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me, drc@oceansonline.com.

Surf long and prosper!