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Table of contents
1.
Introduction
2.
What is a URL?
2.1.
Components of a URL
2.2.
Example
3.
What is a URI?
3.1.
Components of a URI
3.2.
A URI typically includes:
3.3.
Example
4.
Comparing URL and URI
5.
Frequently Asked Questions 
5.1.
Can a URI be a URL?
5.2.
When should I use a URN instead of a URL?
5.3.
How do URLs and URIs work together in web applications?
6.
Conclusion
Last Updated: Mar 27, 2024
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Difference Between URI and URL

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Introduction

In the field of web development and internet communication, understanding the concepts of URLs and URIs is crucial. While these acronyms are often mistakenly used as synonyms, they have distinct definitions and roles. 

Difference Between URI and URL

This article will clarify and distinguish between URL and URI, detailing their functionalities, definitions, and key differences. By the end of this exploration, you will have a comprehensive understanding of these fundamental terms and their importance in the digital landscape.

What is a URL?

A URL (Uniform Resource Locator) serves as a specific type of identifier for accessing resources on the internet. It is a reference point that guides users and systems to a particular resource, such as a webpage, a file, or an image. URLs are integral to web navigation, enabling browsers to fetch and display content from the web.

Components of a URL

URLs consist of several components, each serving a distinct purpose:

  • Scheme: This part, often known as the protocol (e.g., http, https), specifies how the resource should be accessed.
     
  • Host: This section identifies the server hosting the resource, usually given as a domain name (e.g., www.example.com).
     
  • Port: An optional component that specifies the port number on the host, used to access the resource (e.g., :80 for HTTP).
     
  • Path: It indicates the specific location of the resource within the host (e.g., /folder/page.html).
     
  • Query String: An optional part, starting with a question mark (?), used to pass parameters or data to the resource.
     
  • Fragment: Another optional section, starting with a hash (#), used to navigate to a specific part of the resource.

Example

Consider the URL https://www.example.com:80/path?query#fragment. Here:

https is the scheme.

www.example.com is the host.

:80 is the port.

/path is the path.

?query is the query string.

#fragment is the fragment.

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What is a URI?

A URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) serves as a standard for identifying resources. Unlike a URL, which provides a means to locate a resource, a URI broadly identifies or names a resource. It includes URLs and URNs (Uniform Resource Names) as subsets. A URI can either locate a resource, name it, or both. This makes URIs a fundamental concept in web technologies, as they provide a universal system for resource identification.

Components of a URI

URIs can be classified into two main categories:

  • URLs (Uniform Resource Locators): As discussed earlier, URLs locate resources on the internet.
     
  • URNs (Uniform Resource Names): These identify resources by name in a namespace, without specifying a location. An example is an ISBN for a book.

A URI typically includes:

  • Scheme: Similar to a URL, it indicates the protocol or method used for accessing or identifying the resource.
     
  • Scheme-Specific Part: This varies depending on whether the URI is a URL or a URN. For a URL, it includes the host, port, path, etc., while for a URN, it contains the namespace-specific string.

Example

For a URL-based URI: https://www.example.com/page.html

https is the scheme.

www.example.com/page.html is the scheme-specific part.

For a URN-based URI: urn:isbn:0451450523

urn is the scheme.

isbn:0451450523 is the scheme-specific part, identifying a specific book by its ISBN.

Comparing URL and URI

Now, let's delve into a comparison table highlighting the key differences between URLs and URIs.

Aspect URL (Uniform Resource Locator) URI (Uniform Resource Identifier)
Definition A specific type of URI that locates a resource on the internet. A standard for identifying a resource, which can be a URL (location) or a URN (name).
Function To locate and access resources on the web. To identify a resource, either by location (URL) or name (URN).
Components Scheme, host, port, path, query string, fragment. Scheme and scheme-specific part, which varies for URLs and URNs.
Example http://www.example.com/page.html http://www.example.com/page.html (as a URL), urn:isbn:0451450523 (as a URN)
Usage Predominantly used in web browsers for navigating web pages. Used in a broader range of applications for identifying resources, including web technologies and beyond.

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Frequently Asked Questions 

Can a URI be a URL?

Yes, a URI can be a URL. In fact, all URLs are URIs, but not all URIs are URLs. A URL is a specific type of URI that not only names a resource but also provides a means to locate it. For example, https://www.example.com is both a URI and a URL, as it identifies a resource on the internet and provides a location for accessing it.

When should I use a URN instead of a URL?

A URN should be used when you need to identify a resource by name, without implying its location or how to retrieve it. This is particularly useful for resources whose locations might change over time. For instance, an ISBN number for a book (urn:isbn:0451450523) is a URN that uniquely identifies the book regardless of where it is stored.

How do URLs and URIs work together in web applications?

In web applications, URLs and URIs work together to facilitate resource identification and access. URLs, being a subset of URIs, are commonly used to locate and retrieve web resources. URIs provide a more general framework for resource identification, which can include URLs for web resources or URNs for naming resources in a specific namespace. This combination ensures that resources can be both uniquely identified and accessed efficiently in web environments.

Conclusion

In summary, URLs and URIs are fundamental concepts in the world of web development and internet communication. While URLs focus on locating and accessing web resources, URIs offer a broader framework for resource identification, encompassing both URLs and URNs. Understanding these concepts and their differences is crucial for anyone working with web technologies or navigating the digital landscape.

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