What is the difference between having WWW or HTTP in the URL? And what is the big deal with HTTPS? Do I even need a WWW in the URL at all? All of these questions are confusing and we are here to set the record straight.
Do we need WWW in the URL at all? No. WWW is not required for your website or to travel through the web. Whether or not you type in WWW into the search bar, you will still be taken to your desired web location. On the other hand, HTTP/HTTPS is required unless you are using QUIC or IPFS which are newer and much less common. Of the billion websites on the internet, most of are utilizing HTTP and HTTPS protocols.
The internet expands everyday with more files, more data, and more websites being created. In order to get to your destination, you need a sophisticated address (URL) system. Let’s explore which parts of the URL are essential and what their function is.
WWW vs HTTP in the URL
Do we need to type WWW and HTTP in the URL? Is one more important than the other. These are all great questions and ones that aren’t always clear. Let’s clear it up.
Both of these neighbors (WWW and HTTP) are part of the URL anatomy. They are components of a web address.
Web addresses have an “anatomy”. Each part serves a slightly different purpose.
Anatomy of a URL
- URL: Uniform Resource Locator or “web address” is an address that navigates to a specific resource (web pages, images, videos, sound files, directories, files etc). The URL is an address and Google (search engine) is like a GPS.
- Protocol: The protocol (also known as scheme) is an identifier that tells the internet how to fetch the resource. A HTTPS would fetch a hypertext page (web page) whereas mail.buildstrong.com would fetch mail form a server (more on this below).
- Subdomain: Subdomains aren’t necessary in the URL, they are optional. They are used to to indicate different content on a site. Subdomains may be useful for search engines to help organize your website into purposes or categories. www.buildstrongmarketing.com indicates a webpage whereas maps.buildstrongmarketing.com would indicate map.
- Domain: This is the part of the URL that indicates an IP location. Webpages and files have locations and the domain tells the browser where to go.
- Top Level Domain: TLD’s help to clarify the expected content on a site. A .COM would indicate a standard website whereas a .GOV would indicate a government website. TLD’s like .COM or .NET are accessible to everyone, whereas TLD’s like .EDU or .GOV require authentication. It’s like visiting a friend at their home and seeing APT 105 at the end of their address. You’d expect to arrive at an apartment and not a University. For more information on choosing the best TLD’s, check out our domain extension article.
- Path: A path or “subdirectory” help to organize different areas of the site. While subdomains at one point were used for this purpose, creating paths are cleaner and easier for search engines to crawl your website and understand what your content is about. If you have a cooking website and you create paths such as /recipes, /cookbooks, /utensils, or /ingredient-lists, search engines will have a very good idea how your site is organized and what your site is about: cooking!
Now that you know what the different elements in a URL are for, let’s dig a little deeper into the HTTP(S)/WWW discussion.
What is HTTP?
HTTP or HyperText Transfer Protocol is a core standard for how the internet is controlled and commanded. There are really two main standards: HTTP and HTML. Because these terms look alike, it’s easy to get confused on which is doing what. To understand HTTP, we must first understand HTML. They are brothers from another mother.
I know I was super confused at one point what any of these web acronyms were. And then a friend much smarter than me explained the details. Here is what you need to know:
The story behind HTML
The internet requires specific languages because all the data is transmitted by computers (machines) and not humans. When you are typing words into your blog or website, your website needs to structure those words in a format that can be transmitted. This structuring of your webpage is called HTML.
HTML takes your normal text and converts into hypertext for other computers to read it correctly. HTML is great because it allows you to create great looking webpages that you know will display correctly on a computer half way around the world.
If we didn’t have a standard protocol for displaying webpages like HTML, everyone’s computer would be left to their own devices—not good. Everyone’s websites would look completely different based on the computer they were viewing it on. We’d have zero confidence in our websites performing well.
With HTML standardizing the way websites look, we need a way to transmit that website properly. Consider it like the a successful hand-off in Football or Rugby.
Your website data (images, text, style, videos, etc) are stored on a server. Think “Go Daddy”. And all that data makes up your website. Some of that data is structured to make pages or posts (HTML) and it all of it needs to be transferred the right way.
Imagine if you wrote a book and told your best friend Becky to return to your other friend Dave; only to find out Becky returned it with all the pages ripped out. The pages all still look fine, but the transfer was a MESS. Well my friends, that’s why we need HTTP.
The story behind HTTP
HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is the protocol for transferring your webpages from your server to another person/client/computer. Think of HTML like a letter and HTTP like UPS. HTTP delivers your letter to old aunt Edna properly and securely. Without HTML, your letter might look totally wonky and without HTTP your letter might never arrive or it might be missing fonts and images.
HTML and HTTP are like peanut butter and jelly—they need each other. We won’t get overly technical on HTTP in this article, but you should know that typing HTTP is like calling up a delivery service to carry your website content across the world.
Because HTTP is the delivery protocol for all resources like HTML, images, query results, files, it requires a road to travel on. Typically, these roads are called TCP/IP sockets.
We can get into the weeds really quickly at this point, so we’ll stop and say that HTTP is necessary for information to travel between two destinations on the web.
What about HTTPS? Is that different HTTP?
Yes. It’s the same concept of travel, but it’s a secure form of travel. Think of HTTP like a taxicab in New York and think of HTTPS like an armored presidential tank. Both will get you from point A to B, but will do so with maximum security.
Fore more information on the HTTP/HTTPS, check our in-depth guide.
Why do we need WWW before the domain name?
In most cases, you will no longer be required to type WWW in the search address bar. WWW is a subdomain that is no longer needed. There might be some really old websites who haven’t updated their website since 1988 that could require www, but you are unlikely to encounter these websites.
In the internet beginnings, we weren’t as sophisticated. Every website on the internet had very specific intentions. In the old days, you knew exactly where you were being taken by the web address. If you saw a WWW, you’d be taken to website with information. If you saw an FTP, you’d be taken a file transfer hub. And if you saw MAIL, you’d know it was a mail server.
We didn’t have awesome GIF’s or hilarious MEME’s yet. It was painfully boring; web pages were mostly text and small images.
Things were pretty cut and dry in the early days and at that time, it was helpful. If you saw WWW, then you knew you were going to a website. But that’s all changed now. The internet has grown smarter and faster. There are millions of websites created every year.
Nowadays, you longer need WWW before the domain name. HTTP/HTTP(S) is necessary for server transportation, HTML is necessary for website formatting, domain extensions are necessary for website context (.GOV, .COM, .EDU), and domain names are essential for website destination. But WWW, it’s just not necessary. Sorry WWW, your time has set.
We can thank Sir Tim Berners-Lee for creating the World Wide Web program in 1989. It became synonymous with the internet. But, it’s no longer needed. Thanks to smarter web browsers, we can type in the name of the website and the domain extension (.COM) and the internet will guide us where we need to go.
Should I drop the WWW when typing in the address bar?
Yes. It’s unnecessary and you are doing too much work. Every popular browser in the world (Google, Bing, Safari, Explorer, etc) all will take you to your destination with or without typing WWW. It’s not needed.
I see typing WWW in the address bar like I see using the full Zip Code in the United States. You know what I’m talking about, those 4 digits that follow a zip code 60504-7050. You can use it, but 99% of the time it’s not necessary. There are some cases where this might be necessary, but in most instances, it’s not required.
Why does WWW disappear from the URL when I type it? Modern browsers are smart enough to take you to the desired web address based on the domain (Food52) and the top level domain (.COM).
If you type www.food52.com into the browser, you’ll be taken to https://food52.com. This particular website doesn’t have a subdomain like WWW. The browser is smart enough to strip the WWW from the URL and take you where you want to go. Next time you search for something on the web, look at the search results and you’ll see a mix of sites that use WWW and others that don’t.
Whether or not you type WWW in the search browser won’t matter.
Should I add a WWW to my domain name? If you don’t have a WWW in your name already, don’t worry about adding it now. It doesn’t add any value to the URL that search engines require for search engine optimization.
If you really want to add WWW to your domain name, you can log into your host panel and create a subdomain. If you aren’t sure how navigate your host panel, contact your hosting tech support and then can guide you through the process.
Should I take WWW out of my domain if it’s no longer needed? No. As we stated above, modern browsers will take care of website navigation as long as it has a domain name, protocol, top-level-domain, and sub-directories (if applicable).
If you decide to take WWW out of your domain name, you’ll need to redirect all the pages through a 301 redirect. Website users won’t notice this subtle change, but search engines will understand what you’re trying to accomplish. You’ll technically have two different domains with the same content, so a redirect ensures that you don’t get hit with duplicate content penalties.
Is HTTPS better than HTTP? Yes. The “S” in HTTPS signifies SECURE. Browsers have started to signal sites with an HTTPS as unsafe. We’ve written all about HTTPS in this beginners guide and how to add the S to your HTTP.