The World Wide Web (WWW), commonly known as the Web, is an information space where documents and other web resources are identified by Uniform Resource Locators (URLs, such as https://www.all80s.co.uk/), which may be interlinked by hypertext, and are accessible via the Internet. The resources of the WWW may be accessed by users via a software application called a web browser.
English scientist Tim Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the World Wide Web while working for CERN in March 1989 by submitting Information Management: A Proposal and writing the first web browser in 1990. The browser was released outside CERN in 1991, first to other research institutions starting in January 1991 and to the general public on the Internet in August 1991. The World Wide Web has been central to the development of the Information Age and is the primary tool billions of people use to interact on the Internet.
Web resources may be any type of downloadable media, but web pages are hypertext media which have been formatted in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). Such formatting allows for embedded hyperlinks which contain URLs and permit users to easily navigate to other web resources. In addition to text, web pages may contain images, video, audio, and software components that are rendered in the user’s web browser as coherent pages of multimedia content.
Multiple web resources with a common theme, a common domain name, or both, make up a website. Websites are stored in computers which are running a program called a web server which responds to requests made over the Internet from web browsers running on users’ computers. Website content can be largely provided by a publisher, or interactively where users contribute content or the content depends upon the users or their actions. Websites may be provided for myriad informative, entertainment, commercial, governmental, or non-governmental reasons.
Tim Berners-Lee‘s vision of a global hyperlinked information system became a possibility by the second half of the 1980s. By 1985, the global Internet began to proliferate in Europe and the Domain Name System (upon which the Uniform Resource Locator is built) came into being. In 1988 the first direct IP connection between Europe and North America was made and Berners-Lee began to openly discuss the possibility of a web-like system at CERN.
While working at CERN, Berners-Lee became frustrated with the inefficiencies and difficulties posed by finding information stored on different computers. On March 12, 1989, he submitted a memorandum, titled “Information Management: A Proposal”, to the management at CERN for a system called “Mesh” that referenced ENQUIRE, a database and software project he had built in 1980, which used the term “web” and described a more elaborate information management system based on links embedded in readable text: “Imagine, then, the references in this document all being associated with the network address of the thing to which they referred, so that while reading this document you could skip to them with a click of the mouse.” Such a system, he explained, could be referred to using one of the existing meanings of the word hypertext, a term that he says was coined in the 1950s. There is no reason, the proposal continues, why such hypertext links could not encompass multimedia documents including graphics, speech and video, so that Berners-Lee goes on to use the term hypermedia.
With help from his colleague and fellow hypertext enthusiast Robert Cailliau he published a more formal proposal on 12 November 1990 to build a “Hypertext project” called “WorldWideWeb” (one word) as a “web” of “hypertext documents” to be viewed by “browsers” using a client–server architecture. At this point HTML and HTTP had already been in development for about two months and the first Web server was about a month from completing its first successful test. This proposal estimated that a read-only web would be developed within three months and that it would take six months to achieve “the creation of new links and new material by readers, [so that] authorship becomes universal” as well as “the automatic notification of a reader when new material of interest to him/her has become available”. While the read-only goal was met, accessible authorship of web content took longer to mature, with the wiki concept, WebDAV, blogs, Web 2.0 and RSS/Atom.
The proposal was modelled after the SGML reader Dynatext by Electronic Book Technology, a spin-off from the Institute for Research in Information and Scholarship at Brown University. The Dynatext system, licensed by CERN, was a key player in the extension of SGML ISO 8879:1986 to Hypermedia within HyTime, but it was considered too expensive and had an inappropriate licensing policy for use in the general high energy physics community, namely a fee for each document and each document alteration. A NeXT Computer was used by Berners-Lee as the world’s first web server and also to write the first web browser, WorldWideWeb, in 1990. By Christmas 1990, Berners-Lee had built all the tools necessary for a working Web: the first web browser (which was a web editor as well) and the first web server. The first web site, which described the project itself, was published on 20 December 1990.
The first web page may be lost, but Paul Jones of UNC-Chapel Hill in North Carolina announced in May 2013 that Berners-Lee gave him what he says is the oldest known web page during a 1991 visit to UNC. Jones stored it on a magneto-optical drive and on his NeXT computer. On 6 August 1991, Berners-Lee published a short summary of the World Wide Web project on the newsgroup alt.hypertext. This date is sometimes confused with the public availability of the first web servers, which had occurred months earlier. As another example of such confusion, several news media reported that the first photo on the Web was published by Berners-Lee in 1992, an image of the CERN house band Les Horribles Cernettes taken by Silvano de Gennaro; Gennaro has disclaimed this story, writing that media were “totally distorting our words for the sake of cheap sensationalism”.
The first server outside Europe was installed at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) in Palo Alto, California, to host the SPIRES-HEP database. Accounts differ substantially as to the date of this event. The World Wide Web Consortium’s timeline says December 1992, whereas SLAC itself claims December 1991, as does a W3C document titled A Little History of the World Wide Web.
The underlying concept of hypertext originated in previous projects from the 1960s, such as the Hypertext Editing System (HES) at Brown University, Ted Nelson‘s Project Xanadu, and Douglas Engelbart‘s oN-Line System (NLS). Both Nelson and Engelbart were in turn inspired by Vannevar Bush‘s microfilm-based memex, which was described in the 1945 essay “As We May Think“.
Berners-Lee’s breakthrough was to marry hypertext to the Internet. In his book Weaving The Web, he explains that he had repeatedly suggested that a marriage between the two technologies was possible to members of both technical communities, but when no one took up his invitation, he finally assumed the project himself. In the process, he developed three essential technologies:
- a system of globally unique identifiers for resources on the Web and elsewhere, the universal document identifier (UDI), later known as uniform resource locator (URL) and uniform resource identifier (URI);
- the publishing language HyperText Markup Language (HTML);
- the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP).
The World Wide Web had several differences from other hypertext systems available at the time. The Web required only unidirectional links rather than bidirectional ones, making it possible for someone to link to another resource without action by the owner of that resource. It also significantly reduced the difficulty of implementing web servers and browsers (in comparison to earlier systems), but in turn presented the chronic problem of link rot. Unlike predecessors such as HyperCard, the World Wide Web was non-proprietary, making it possible to develop servers and clients independently and to add extensions without licensing restrictions.
The scheme specifiers
https:// at the start of a web URI refer to Hypertext Transfer Protocol or HTTP Secure, respectively. They specify the communication protocol to use for the request and response. The HTTP protocol is fundamental to the operation of the World Wide Web, and the added encryption layer in HTTPS is essential when browsers send or retrieve confidential data, such as passwords or banking information. Web browsers usually automatically prepend http:// to user-entered URIs, if omitted.
Another creation that changed the world, Born in The 1980s.