A Short Primer on How the Web Works

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It seems like it should be common knowledge, right? I mean, more than 3 billion of us are online every day.

So, how does the web work? Let’s use some simple web browsing to break it down.

When you visit a website such as Entrepreneur.com for instance, the web server hosting that site can be anywhere in the world. For you to find the location of the web server, your device’s browser will first connect to a Domain Name System, commonly referred to as a DNS server. The DNS acts like a phone book, which tells your device the IP address associated with the requested domain name of the web page you want to visit.

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The IP address that the DNS returns to your computer allows your browser to contact the web server that hosts the website you requested.

For example, let’s say you’re in San Francisco, and the Entrepreneur.com site is hosted in New York. The browser in SF contacts the DNS server, which then tells the browser the location of the web server in N.Y. Then, that web server sends that webpage that you requested back to your device through the browser, and voila, you’re surfing the net! (Yes, that term is from the late '90s, but it’s just so good.)

There you have it. To help clarify, let’s break down some terms real quick:

Web server

A web server is a computer that hosts websites. There are companies such as Facebook and Google that have their own web servers, but most companies use a third-party service such as Godaddy, MediaTemple and Cloud9 hosting that charge a service fee to host your site.

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Domain Name System (DNS)

A network of servers that act as phonebooks. They organize and maintain a list of domains and IP addresses, which computers and machines use to recognize different web pages, computers and users.

IP address

A unique number that identifies each unique computer over a certain network.


When viewing a website, your browser will be receiving HTML and CSS from the web server that hosts the site. The web browser translates the HTML and CSS code to create the page that is viewable to an internet user.

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People access the internet all over the world, across a number of devices including laptops, mobile phones, desktops and tablets. Keep in mind, devices range in different dimensions, computing capacity and connection time.