What's a URL?

What's a URL?

A URL, Uniform Resource Locator, Domain Name, or Web Address is your telephone number online. Here's what the parts of a URL mean:


There are other protocols besides http (hyper-text transfer protocol) but it's the only one most of us use most of the time, so "http://" has become sort of generic. And as you know, you usually don't even have to type it, your web browser already knows.

Resource Name

Let's read the parts of your resource name: Sub-Domain, Domain & Top-level Domain (TLD) in reverse order:

Top-Level Domain (TLD)

In addition to the familiar TLDs like .com, .edu, .org, .net, .me, and so on, there are about 1,000 other, less famous choices. The Internet recognizes more countries than the United Nations, so there are about 248 country codes, like .us, .uk and so on. There are also many specialty TLDs, like .plumbing, .ninja, .rocks, .sucks, and many more.

Domain Name

The Domain Name (aka 2nd level domain) is the part that identifies you. Like the "JohnMalkovich" in "JohnMalkovich.com". We refer to buying this name, but we're really renting it, since you have to pay some fee every year if you want to keep it.


The Sub-Domain (aka 3rd level domain) isn't used as much. And www is usually not necessary. You can just say "JohnMalkovich.com".

Many website hosting companies will give you a free subdomain, like glenn.wordpress.com or sell you a domain name, like glennzucman.com.

You can also make your own sub-domains for no extra charge. For example, I bought zucman.com and made separate websites for myself, my mom, and my dad at:

  • glenn.zucman.com
  • sheila.zucman.com
  • joe.zucman.com

File Path

Everything to the left of the / is about getting to your website. Everything to the right of the / is about poking around in your website. We often don't pay too much attention to this. Your site will have a default home page at JohnMalkovich.com and we'll just click around from there.

The elements to the right of the / are how you've organized your content. On my laptop I might make a folder called pix, and put pictures in it. One of my pix might be gatovgallery.jpg. It's the same on the web. Now the full path to my picture is:


You can click on those links to see the photo, download it, share the links, etc.

And even more usefully, the photo located there can be placed on a web page. You could download it and then upload it to another site, but you could also place it from there to any site, like this very post for example:

inside the Gatov Gallery at Long Beach State University

Case Sensitive

Everything to the left of the / is not case-sensitive.
Everything to the right of the / is case-sensitive.


Web Directories

Normally we see these web resources as parts of pages on our laptops, or streams on our phone. As online spaces become more mature, it becomes harder and harder to see the guts. Just as changing your oil is easier on an older car, and harder to get to with a newer car, so the simplicity of the web can get lost in all the pretty tools we have.

Take a look at these 2 web directories from Vanessa Blaylock. She hasn't even put up a web page, instead they're just raw directories of files that you can click on:

You could think of this as a "retro" approach, but in a world where the guts of the machine are hidden by the slick gloss of Snapchat or Instagram, there's a techno-simplicity that's nice in these directories. Definitely not the way most of you would want to show your work, but an interesting option if the aesthetic fits your work.

diagram of the parts of a URL image: Web Know How

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