Get Clues from URLs
URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator.
URLs are basically Internet addresses - the location at which you can find a particular resource.
They look something like this:
You will see them at the top of your Web browser (in the Location box if you use Netscape or the Address box if you use Internet Explorer).
|Use the URL as a clue - it can provide a lot of information about
a resource and your location within it.
A lot can be deduced from a URL before looking at
the actual site itself: for example, look at the information that
can be gleaned from the following URL:
specify the name and address of a resource on the Internet
are hierarchical, reading from left to right
tell you about the way you access the resource, the computer you access
it from and the name of the file you access
give human-readable names to the (hidden) numeric addresses understood
by machines (Internet Protocol (IP) numbers)
make use of the global Domain Name System (DNS) which translates between
the human-readable Internet address and the numeric, machine-readable address
allowing different machines to communicate on the network
can provide information about the organisation (or individual) providing
often contain the geographical location of the server
So just by looking at this URL you can deduce that:
it will take you to a WWW page
it will take you to a server (machine holding the Web site) called "www.bps"
that this server has been registered as belonging to an "organisation"
that the server has been registered in the United kingdom
the URL will take you to a file that someone has called "PSY9_97"
"PSY9_97" has been filed in a directory called "Psych"
the "Psych" directory has been filed within another directory, called "Periodicals"
"Periodicals" has been filed within a directory called "publicat"
You will find a UK Web site belonging to an organisation.
You will find a file, within a directory, within a directory, within a
directory ie. you'll be taken to a page deep within a collection of related
The basic structure of a URL is:
The first part of a URL - before the colon - describes the access method (protocol).
Data can be made available on the Internet via a number of different
||a World Wide Web server (WWW)
||File Transfer Protocol
2) Machine Address
The second part of a URL - after the protocol and //
- tells you about the machine that you are accessing.
This can offer useful clues, since this part of the address sometimes tells you the country in which the machine is located and the nature of the organisation that owns it.
People can name their machines whatever they like - and if they are using the WWW this will be called the server name.
Most organisations use their name within their server name, for example:
is the Internet address of the Harvard University Web server.
The domain name identifies the position of the resource on the Internet. People have to formally apply for a domain name (to their Internet provider or an Internet company) so that no two machines can have the same address on the Internet. Domain names can offer you
useful clues since it can include country codes and organisational codes.
... indicates that the resource is held on an academic
server (.ac) in the United Kingdom (.uk).
Cracking Country Codes
You can sometimes get a clue about the country the server is based in from the country
code. For example:
Note however, that a country code will not always be included in a URL. Many American sites for example,
will not have the country code (.us) in their URL.
Cracking Organisational Codes
You can get clues about the nature of the organisation that owns the server
from the organisation code. For example:
||academic or educational servers
||non-governmental, non-profit making organisations
Note that different countries can have different codes for the same type of organisation. For example, a university server may have a .ac code in the UK (ac is short for "academic") but a .edu code in the USA (edu is short for "educational").
A list of country and organisation codes
is available in the Appendices.
The domain and server names may not always be straightforward
clues about the location and source of the information.
People can call their servers any name they wish
and it is possible for them to register them with domain names that give
For example, it is possible (though perhaps unlikely)
that the URL:
does not point to the site of a hamburger outlet
but to "Old MacDonald's Farm Supplies" !
3) Directories and filenames
After the machine name, between the next set of slashes (/) you will
see the names of directories containing the file you are accessing.
Many Internet resources are organised into directory structures similar
to those found in other computer applications. These can provide
useful clues about the structure of the site.
has a fairly complex directory structure - three
directories are given (publicat, Periodicals and Psych) before you see
the name of the actual file (always at the end on the right hand side of
This is a clue as to the size and complexity of
the site - generally speaking, the more directories, the more complex the
site. Bear in mind that a complex site is not necessarily a high quality site!
This is also a clue that this URL would take you
to a file deep within the site.
Being speculative, this URL probably takes you to a 1997 issue of a
periodical on a subject from the field of psychology.
Practical Hints and Tips
Deleting parts of the URL to learn more
about the site
It can be very useful to delete part of the right hand side of the URL
to see where the new, shorter URL takes you.
By doing this you can get clues as to your location within the site
and the structure of the site.
By deleting URLs from the right hand side to the single slash marks (/) you
will move up the directory tree and see how the file is embedded in the
For example, look what happens if you delete part of the following URL:
||an online article
||this is an online article
||the contents page of issue 13 of a journal
||the article is in issue 13 of this journal
||the home page of an e-journal
||the article is contained in this journal
You can delete part of the URL by putting your cursor
at the end of the URL in the "location box" and pressing the "back" or
"delete" key until you reach the slash (/), then press the "Return" key.
Delete from the right, up to the slashes in the
This technique can be especially useful for long URLs.
Finding the Home Page of a Web site
A home page is the front page of a Web site - the equivalent of the cover of a book - and as such can offer useful information such as the title, author and a summary of what the site is about. Hyperlinks on the WWW often drop you right in the middle of a site as opposed to at the home page. This can make it difficult to work out where you are. It is good practice to look at the home page of a site before you use it, just to ascertain exactly what it is you are looking at. URLs can help with this - the root of a URL will often take you to the home page. It won't always work - but try deleting the file names and directory names on the right of the URL and then hit the return key (make sure your new URL ends with either / or html or htm). This may take you to the home page of the site. For example:
This can be especially useful when you are looking at search engine results,
which often take you deep within Web sites rather than to the home pages.
|The British Monarchy Web site|
|http://www.royal.gov.uk/family/diana.htm ||A page deep within the site|
|http://www.royal.gov.uk/ ||The home page |
URLs ending in:
are often home pages
The tilde ~ sign
In some URLs you will see the tilde sign which looks like this:
Use the tilde as a clue!
Most Web servers use the ~ symbol to represent the personal
directories of individuals.
If the URL contains a tilde then be aware that you are probably (although
not definitely) looking at a personal page with personal opinions rather
than an official site giving the official line.
However, this does not mean that the information is necessarily of poor
For example the following Web page has a tilde in the URL:
The page is located on a University of Bristol server, but is NOT an official
page of the University - it is the personal page of a member of staff.
Some URLs will have the word "PURL" located in the early part of the URL.
PURL stands for Persistent Uniform Resource Locator. For
A PURL is a clue that the owner of the resource is
committed to keeping the site stable and persistently available via a given
To obtain a PURL the owner has had to register
the site with an intermediary PURL service. If for any reason the
site moves addresses the owner registers the change of address with the
PURL service which then redirects any users to the new URL.
A PURL address should not lead you to a dead link
and should mean that the same URL will always point to the same resource
even if, behind the scenes, the resource has been moved from server to
Home | Contents | Quality | Content Criteria | Form Criteria | Process Criteria | Examples | Try it Out
8 of 52 | Previous | Next