2. The web and web browsers

The web has revolutionised today’s society and is now an essential tool used for accessing information and communicating with each other.

What is the web?

The web is a collection of hypertext pages, documents and other resources that can be located by a uniform resource locator (URL) using a web browser (described in the next section). An essential technology in web publishing is Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). HTML allows authors to tag or mark up their content in order to control how the content is displayed in a web browser. Using HTML, authors can add hyperlinks to their content, linking or referring to other web pages, objects, and files.

Surface, invisible and dark web

The surface web includes websites and pages that are indexed by web search engines. This indexing process uses internet bots, sometimes known as web crawlers or spiders. The indexed, and therefore searchable, web represents a minority of the overall content on the web. The invisible web includes websites and pages which are not indexed by web search engines. Non-indexed websites include:

  • pay-walled or password protected content
  • material stored within databases
  • financial and medical information
  • email content
  • unlinked or private content
  • archived websites.

Many of the websites and databases you will access as part of your studies exist in the invisible web. For instance, many library databases cannot be searched on the web by users without library access as the contents are pay-walled.

The so-called dark web is made up of anonymous websites (with masked Internet Protocol addresses) that are only accessible by those using specific software.

Video How Google Search works (YouTube, 5m15s)

Web browsers

A web browser is an application you can use on your computer or mobile device that provides a graphical interface for navigating the web and viewing web pages. Popular web browsers include Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, Apple’s Safari, and Opera, though since 2012 Chrome has become the dominant browser.

Video Browsers market share history, 1993-present (YouTube, 30s)

Web browser compatibility at Charles Sturt University

Websites and learning platforms at Charles Sturt University are only compatible with certain browsers. For instance, some versions of Internet Explorer are incompatible with csu.edu.au. For the best user experience and security, you may need to use a specific browser and ensure that it is upgraded to the latest available browser version.

Check your browser version using the following:

  • Browser Checker – this link is also available via the Check compatibility section on the Brightspace Support page on Charles Sturt University Support section of website.
  • Web browser compatibility can also be found in the Recommended computer standards page, which also shows recommended computer operating systems, memory and network speeds.

Decorative If an application or Charles Sturt University website is not working on your browser, one of the first things you can try is reopening the website or application in a different browser.

Browser settings

Decorative Check your knowledge

Browser settings or preferences, control how your browser operates. By changing your browser settings you can control:

  • default homepage
  • bookmarks bar
  • default search engine
  • security settings
  • password settings where your downloads are saved.

Clearing your cache

Web browsers automatically store (cache) website information in order to make your browsing experience faster the next time you visit a particular site.

Decorative If your browser or a website you are viewing is not working as expected, clear your browser’s history. This will delete the stored website information and may result in your issue being fixed. Refreshing your cache regularly also helps to protect your privacy.


Web browsers sometimes automatically block pop-up windows. TechTerms defines pop-up windows as “a type of window that opens without the user selecting ‘New Window’ from a program’s File menu”. While most pop-ups are advertisements, sometimes you will need to interact with a pop-up window. Please see the instructions on how to configure your browser to allow pop-ups.


Cookies are a small piece of data inserted by a web page into your browser. Cookies allow websites to remember you when you next visit the website. By using cookies, websites can improve your user experience, for instance by remembering your website settings from session to session.

Some types of cookies, including third-party tracking cookies, have been criticised for infringing on user’s privacy and enabling marketing companies to build sophisticated customer profiles on internet users. Tracking cookies can store large amounts of data about your browsing habits, including which websites you have visited, time spent on websites, and links clicked.

Video Watch Gary Kovacs discuss internet tracking in Tracking the trackers (6m40s). Were you surprised by how many sites were tracking Gary’s internet usage by the end of the day?

Browser extensions & add-ons

You can extend the functionality of your web browser by using browser extensions or add-ons. Extensions can:

  • change the appearance or accessibility of your browser
  • allow you to interact with other apps or software from your web browser
  • protect your privacy
  • run specific tasks (e.g. take a screenshot, check your spelling).

Decorative Consider installing a browser extension to stop internet tracking. Privacy Badger is available for Chrome, Firefox and Opera. Disconnect and uBlock are available for most browsers.

Further information


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Digital Skills: Security and Safety Copyright © 2023 by Charles Sturt University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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