You will often hear us talking about browsers and how important they are but for many internet users, what they are and why they matter so much is still a mystery.
So let us explain everything you need to know about browsers but without the technical jargon.
Your browser is like a pair of high powered spectacles that search the internet for websites that you want to visit. Yours may be called Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari, although these are just the most popular ones and there are many many more. Some of us even use several different browsers at a time.
Most internet enabled devices come with one already installed, however browsers are free to download and update so you can chose any one, or even as many as you want.
Like glasses, every browser has a different prescription and will let you see things slightly differently. As we age, our eyesight changes and we need to update our lense prescription and the same applies to browsers.
If you don’t update your browser, your view of the web will not be quite as good as it could be and will be like wearing someone else’s glasses. You may not be able to see things you want to or pages may be distorted and in some cases, new and exciting website features may not even work. You may think a website you have visited is broken or just plain rubbish as nothing seems to work but it may just be that you’re viewing it through an old and out-of-date browser.
Just like glasses, your browser allows the internet to look back at you. Your glasses may have UV, anti-glare lenses to help block out damaging rays or they may be reactive to light and adapt to the current light level. Your browser works in a similar way and filters incoming traffic to protect you from harmful malware, phishing and other online threats.
As new threats are released on to the internet every day (approximately 200,000 per day according to the National Crime Agency) browser software developers also create new updates to counteract them. These are free to install and it is very important that you use them. After all, you wouldn’t wear a pair of old cracked sunglasses at midday, on the hottest day of the year, then look directly at the sun would you?
Browsers also have other useful features and can help us by storing things like our passwords and remembering where we like to shop. They squirrel away our browsing history into little caches that help speed up our online experience. We can also empty our caches if we need to so that only the information we want to keep is stored.
Sometimes a website has new updates on it that you want to see (usually on your own site) and your browser will need refreshing to stop it showing the site it has in its cache. Quite often just using the refresh button (the circular arrow next to the home icon) is enough but occasionally, you may need to press Ctrl + F5 simultaneously to force it to update.
Like wearing bifocal glasses, we can also customise our browsers. You don’t want to have to change glasses to quickly read the back of a packet at the supermarket, so extensions can be added to your browser toolbar (that bit underneath where the current website address goes) so you can quickly access those things that you use more often. This could be anything from a currency convertor to a language translator or maybe you use graphics a lot so you could add an editing extension to your browser? There’s even a radio extension so you can sing along while you work.
With extensions, you don’t have to download any software programmes and you can also access them whenever you login on that browser. This could be on any computer or mobile device.
You can also add Apps to your browser toolbar. These are slightly different and work like direct links to websites. Popular ones are for sites like Amazon, YouTube and news channels. These need to be downloaded.
Your browser also stores cookies. These are little calling cards from websites that you have visited and work like a store loyalty card. They tell the website when you last visited them, what pages you looked at and what you did while you were there. This helps them to provide you with news and special offers that might interest you and can also assist website developers to create more user friendly sites, as they can identify where visitors click away or which pages they didn’t like. These cookies can easily be deleted from your browser via its settings if required.
We hope this helps explain browsers to you but please feel free to ask us any further questions you might have.