HTTP & WWW: Website URLs Explained

http vs www in URLs

Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and World Wide Web (WWW) are two acronyms widely used online. As you’re probably aware, both concepts have an impact on your day-to-day browsing activities, as they’re an inherent part of all website URLs. However, neither concept is well understood by the vast majority of internet users.

HTTP and WWW were initiated in the late 1980s by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist. His project – the World Wide Web – involved HTTP and WWW working alongside one another, playing crucial roles in the incredible system we take for granted today.

In this post, we’ll introduce the differences between HTTP and WWW. We’ll also highlight how each is used in URLs, and the importance of their use in website domain names. Let’s get started!

HTTP vs. WWW

As mentioned briefly above, HTTP is the standard ‘language’ used to communicate between web browsers and website servers.

WWW stands for World Wide Web, and it’s used mostly as a prefix. However, it does indicate that a given website uses HTTP to communicate.

The main difference between WWW and HTTP is that they refer to different concepts. Simply put, HTTP is the protocol that enables communication online, transferring data from one machine to another. WWW is the set of linked hypertext documents that can be viewed on web browsers (such as Firefox, Google Chrome, and more).

A major similarity, though, is that both HTTP and WWW are used in website URLs.

HTTP vs. WWW in URLs

Within a URL, it’s possible to remove HTTP or WWW. However, the situations in which you would remove one of these elements depends on a few factors.

As we stated above, WWW is a prefix used to indicate that a website is using HTTP to communicate. In fact, you can mix and match prefixes, for example http://example.com or www.example.com.

Both of the above URLs have enough information to communicate between the browser and server, so both will work without any interruptions.

So, what if you do choose to use http://example.com as your URL, but users type in WWW where it isn’t necessary? In the majority of cases, the user will be automatically redirected to your non-WWW domain. This means you can set up a non-WWW site without worry.

Do You Need WWW in URLs?

It’s actually not necessary to use WWW in URLs. It exists for just one purpose – to identify the address as a website. This is not the case with other important URL signifiers, such as a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) server (ftp) or news server (news). As such, WWW may be classified as a subdomain of a larger website.

In most cases, WWW serves no technical purpose. You can create a domain without its presence, and the website will still operate as any website should.

So, why is WWW used so frequently? The use of WWW has been around since the creation of the internet, and its widespread use as a subdomain was largely accidental.

The first web server was nxoc01.cern.ch. When publishing the website, the creators fully intended for info.cern.ch to be their home page, and WWW, as such, was excluded. The Domain Name System (DNS) records for the server were never switched, and the use of WWW became an unintentional standard practice.

As mentioned, it is possible to create a domain without WWW included. Though, there are some considerations to keep in mind.

Domain or Web Address without WWW

In the majority of cases, a user will not have to type WWW to view your web address or domain. However, if you’ve implemented WWW to differentiate between subdomains, it’s important to ensure that your site is configured to provide the appropriate redirects to users.

For some websites, the addition of the WWW in www.example.com may cause a redirect to example.com. For others, it may be two separate pages on the same domain. Your web hosting provider should be able to help you set up to ensure the correct redirects are in place.

WWW and non-WWW for SEO

If you run a website, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) should be a high priority. By having a good SEO strategy in place, you can better ensure your site will rank highly on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), and drive more traffic as a result.

Ultimately, whether you use a WWW or non-WWW domain name has no bearing on your SEO. What does matter, however, is that you choose to stick with one or the other (and not mix both elements).

For SEO purposes, you want to use one URL (either WWW or non-WWW) consistently throughout the website. This means all URLs attached to your domain should have the same designation.

Doing this will ensure your website rankings aren’t split across two different domains (e.g. www.example.com and example.com) but rather applied to your canonical domain only.

To see a step by step example of how to go live with a Domain on WP Engine, we’ve put together this resource: Go Live with a Domain on WP Engine.

There’s no doubt that the more technical aspects of website hosting can be daunting. That’s why you should choose a hosting provider with the knowledge, expertise, and technology to assist you.

WP Engine is a WordPress-focused host that can help you to create a fast, reliable website. To learn more about WP Engine and its many offerings, check out our managed hosting plans!

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