Browser Basics

Choosing a Browser

A web browser is how you’re able access the World Wide Web. It takes the code computers use to speak with each other and transforms it into graphics and text we can read. Today, there are several browsers to choose from that all work well. It’s just a matter of preference. An easy way to tell which browser you’re currently using is by looking for the logo in the top left corner.

Here are popular browsers you can download for free:

Internet Explorer logo Microsoft Internet Explorer

Mozilla Firefox logo Mozilla Firefox

Google Chrome logo Google Chrome

Familiarizing Yourself with the Browser

When you first launch your web browser, usually by double-clicking on the icon on your desktop, a predefined web page appears. This page is referred to as your home page or start page. With Firefox, for instance, you may be taken to Google's home page or to a page selected by your Internet Service Provider.


The Toolbar

tool bar

The row of buttons at the top of your browser, known as the toolbar, help you travel through and make the most of your experience on the web. We will use the toolbar for Internet Explorer as an example to show the different functions.


The Address Bar

address bar

This is the address of where you currently are on the web. You can also type the address or URL of a website you want to visit; for example, by typing in and pressing Enter or Return you would be taken to the shopping site eBay, or by typing in and pressing Enter or Return you would be taken to Facebook.

By clicking the small triangle to the right of the Location box, you will get a drop-down list of the most recent websites you've visited. To revisit a site, just click on the address.


The Back and Forward Buttons

back and forward buttons

The Back button (the arrow pointing to the left) returns you to the previous web page you've visited. The Forward button (the arrow pointing to the right) returns you to the page you just came from.


The Home Button

Home button

Home takes you to whichever homepage you've chosen. (If you haven't selected one, it will return you to the default homepage, usually the Microsoft or Google website.) Print lets you make a hard copy of the current page loaded in your browser (if your computer is connected to a printer). Page gives you options for the page you're viewing, such as saving it to your computer, sending it by email, and more. We’ll skip Tools and RSS for now as they go beyond the basics and aren’t necessary at this point.


Refresh, Stop and Search Buttons

Refresh, Stop and Search buttons

Refresh or Reload button (in this example the green arrows) does just that, loads the web page again. Why would you want to do this? Sometimes all of the elements of a web page haven't loaded the first time, because the file transfer was interrupted. Or if you’re viewing a web page that is updated frequently, as may be the case with news, sports scores or financial data, in order to get the most current information you need to refresh the page.

Should you need to stop a page from loading, perhaps because it is taking too long, the Stop button (in this example the red x) stops the browser from loading the current page.

The Search bar is an easy way to conduct a search from whatever page you are currently on, so you would not need to go to a search website such as Google or Yahoo! or Windows Bing as in this example. You would type in your "keyword" and press enter or return or the magnifying glass, as is the example here, and it will take you to a webpage with your search results. The arrow will allow you to customize your search such as changing which search engine you use to narrowing the search to the page you’re on.


Favorites and Tabs

favorites and tabs

Favorites or Bookmarks let you save the addresses of websites you want revisit. In this example you would press the star plus green addition sign to add whatever page you are currently on to your favorites list, which can be accessed by clicking on the star on the left.

When you have multiple web pages open at once, each one is displayed on a separate tab. These tabs make it easy for you to switch between open websites. Quick Tabs provides a miniature visual view (called a thumbnail) of all your open tabs. This makes it easier to find the webpage that you want to view.


The Menu Bar

menu bar

This row of words starting with “File” and ending with “Help” is known as the menu bar. These may vary some depending on which browser you’re in but these offer a selection of things you can do with a web page, such as saving it to your computer or increasing the size of the text on a page. Many of the choices are the same as the buttons on the toolbar, so don't try to learn everything now. Click once on a word to access the drop-down menu, then click on the selection you want to make.


The Access Indicator

access indicatior

All browsers have small graphics that indicate what the browser is doing. When this image is animated, it means that your browser software, known as a client, is accessing data from a remote computer, called a server. The server can be located across town or on another continent. Your browser downloads these remote files to your computer, then displays them on your screen. The speed of this process depends on a number of factors such as the speed of your connection, the size of the files you are downloading, how busy the server is and the traffic on the Internet.


The Status Bar

the status bar

At the bottom of your web browser, you'll find the status bar. You can watch the progress of web page transactions, such as the address of the site you are contacting, whether the host computer has been contacted and the size and number of the files to be downloaded.


The Scroll Bar

the scroll bar

The vertical bar to the right of the browser lets you scroll down and up a web page. You can do this by placing your arrow pointer on the up or down arrows and holding down your left mouse key. You can also place the pointer on the slider control, hold down the left mouse key and drag the slider. Your mouse may also have a scrolling wheel as an alternative way of navigating a long page. If a web page is too wide to fit your screen, a horizontal scroll bar will appear just above the status bar.