Updated: 12/31/2020 by Computer Hope

Alternatively referred to as a web browser or Internet browser, a browser is a software program to present and explore content on the World Wide Web. These pieces of content, including pictures, videos, and web pages, are connected using hyperlinks and classified with URIs (Uniform Resource Identifiers). This page is an example of a web page that can be viewed using a browser.

There have been many different web browsers that have come and gone over the years. The first, named WorldWideWeb (later changed to Nexus), was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990. However, the first graphical browser and widely used browser that help bring popularity to the Internet was NCSA Mosaic.

List of current Internet browsers

Where can I download a different browser?

The following links open in a new window. Once downloaded, you'll need to open your download folder and start the install for the browser to be installed on your computer. If you need help finding the download, see: Where are the files I downloaded using my web browser?


As long as your computer meets the browser requirements, your computer can have more than one (or all) of the above browser installed.

What happens when you first open a browser?

When you first open your Internet browser, if you're connected to the Internet it loads your homepage or show a start screen with your favorite pages. Once open, you can browse the Internet by following hyperlinks or use a search engine to search for what you would like to find.


If you changed your browser settings, it may also open the last opened web pages or all the tabs you had opened when it was last closed.

What is needed for a browser to work?

A browser needs a computer, smartphone, or tablet that meets the system requirements with a working Internet or intranet connection that allows it to connect to other computers. If there is no Internet connection, you'll get an error.

Why do I get errors in my browser?

While using the browser it may encounter many different errors. Typically you'll get an HTTP status code as an error. For example, while browsing you may get a 404 error, which indicates the page you're attempting to access no longer exists. See the following list for a full list of HTTP status error codes and their meanings.

Each browser has a navigation toolbar that helps you find your way around the Internet. As seen in the images below, the navigation toolbar has undergone significant changes to streamline its appearance and functionality. However, the toolbar is likely never going to lose the navigation arrows and address bar.

Internet browser bar evolution

Overview of browser bar buttons, menus, and functions

As we mentioned in the previous section, over time, many Internet browser buttons and options have either been moved or done away with completely. Consequently, some of the options mentioned below may not be immediately visible on your browser.


In certain browsers, pressing Alt on your keyboard shows hidden options.

Settings (menu)

Nearly all modern browsers today have moved advanced options and features in the upper-right or left corner of the browser window. Each browser's menu button is different:

For example, Internet Explorer uses IE tools button (gear icon), Chrome uses Chrome settings button (kebab menu), Firefox uses Firefox menu button (hamburger menu), and Opera uses the Opera menu button icon.


The back button visits the previous page that referred you to the page you are currently viewing. This button often resembles an arrow pointing to the left.


The forward button moves you forward a page. It only works if you have previously used the back button. If you have not gone back, and your browser shows a forward button, it will be grayed out.


The stop button no longer exists in the majority of modern web browsers. However, its function (to stop a web page from loading) may still be executed by pressing Esc.

Refresh (reload)

As you browse the Internet the browser cache's data it downloads, meaning they store some or all parts of each page you visit on your computer. This feature is useful as it allows users to not have to download the full page each time they visit the same site. On some sites, you may want to refresh the page to get the latest version (e.g., on a news site). The Refresh button can also be used to reload a page that failed to load because of an error.


Press the F5 or Ctrl+R to refresh the page from the keyboard. If the F5 key is not working, you can also do a force reload by pressing Ctrl+F5 in Windows or on an Apple computer press Command+R.


The Home button is used to return users to their default web page; the same page that loads when the browser is first opened.


In the past, the Search button opened the default search page or execute a search on the text found in the address or URL text field. Today's browsers have what is called an omnibox, which is a search function built into the address bar.


This function is used to make the browser window a fullscreen; temporarily removing the toolbar, buttons, and address bar. Often, this view mode may be toggled on and off by pressing the F11 on your keyboard.


This feature allows users to view the pages that have been visited since the browser history was last cleared or created. All your saved pages are stored in your Internet cache.


The shortcut key for history for most browsers is Ctrl+H.

Favorites (bookmarks)

This folder stores websites or pages chosen by the user. The term "Favorites" is used with Microsoft Internet Explorer; in other browsers this may be known as bookmarks or a hotlist.


This feature, although no longer a button and may be accessed through the main settings menu or pressing Ctrl+P on the keyboard.

Font (size)

This button no longer exists but was used to increase or decrease the size of a font; an option now covered by the zoom feature.


On modern browsers, holding down Ctrl and pressing either the "+" (plus key) or "-" (minus key) zooms in or out, increasing and decreasing the size of font and images. To reset the zoom function to its default size, press Ctrl+0 (zero) at the same time.


Used to open a user's preferred e-mail program. Today, this option is no longer found in browsers.


Used to open and edit the web page you are currently viewing in an HTML editor. Today, no longer found in browsers.

ActiveX, Address bar, BHO, Bookmark, Browse, Cookie, Cross-browser, Internet, Internet terms, Konqueror, Lynx, Mosaic, Netscape, Omnibox, Plug-In, SeaMonkey, Tabbed browsing, Web, Web design terms