Anatomy of a URL

It’s safe to say that one hundred percent of college students in the US utilize the internet in one way or another. Most of us just zip to google and type in “YouTube” or “Facebook” and we are then taken to that website, blissfully unaware of how a URL actually works—or what it even is.


This is an actual breakdown of a URL (or Uniform Resource Locator) with each part named after its specific role. For example here at WCTC we have a media website called the Newsroom, with a full URL of The “http” is the protocol used to retrieve content, and stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol (more on that in a future tip). The rest of the URL is easier to break down in reverse order, starting with .edu. Like .com and .gov, .edu is a top level domain. We won’t get too deep into how DNS works, so let’s use an analogy for the system: a top level domain like .edu is similar to a phonebook: it tells the browser where to find the list of domains.  Domains such as ‘wctc’ are similar to phone numbers, and subdomains like ‘newsroom’ are like extensions.  Typically each subdomain has one or more servers hosting content (for example the newsroom subdomain is likely on a separate server from the www subdomain.  And yes, www can be a subdomain.  Finally to wrap things up, the end of a URL is the filename (and folder, if not in the root directory).

Despite how much was covered, this remains a very abbreviated breakdown. Modern usage is even more complicated than this with the rise of CDNs, parameters, and named anchors in URLs.  Web browsers have also grown adept at hiding or assuming parts of a URL. We encourage you to use this as a springboard to look deeper into how this technology works—after all, it is a technology most of us use every day!

This is a acronym-heavy tip, so here is a quick summary of acronyms involved:


Uniform Resource Locator


HyperText Transfer Protocol


Top Level Domain


Domain Name System


World Wide Web


Content Delivery Network