This article was written in 2013. It might or it might not be outdated. And it could be that the layout breaks. If that’s the case please let me know.

What is the web?

A while ago I was having a very interesting discussion with the incredible Ron Kersic about the web. We always have discussions about the web. We don’t really talk about other things. But every time I mention the layers of the web – html, css and javascript, or, the way I like to call them recently: content, typography, layout and paint — he tells me I forget a layer. And that’s HTTP.

We concluded that we are talking about different things when we talk about the web. When I talk about the web, I talk about HTML (and optional CSS and JavaScript) that’s being served to a browser via a URL. I don’t consider a native app built with these technologies to be part of the web. But Ron does. Is the browser an essential part of the web? And is HTML an essential part of the web? Or does the simple fact that web technologies are used define an app as a part of the web? Or is the URL the only thing that really defines something as a part of the web.


  1. Interesting you bring this up. Some recent work I have been involved with has touched on similar thoughts. According to Sir Tim Berners Lee’s intent, a browser was just a way to view (and edit) the web. So, the web was envisioned as a place separate the the vehicle (browser) we use to traverse it.

    But original intent does not necessarily mean that is what we consider it today.

    • Erwin Ouwejan
    • #

    For me, the web is all that communicates over TCP/IP… LAN / WAN or the used protocol does not really matter.

    • Ron Kersic
    • #

    Oh darn, you remembered… ;)

    Yes, I happily admit to consider the web being build from URIs, HTML and HTTP. And instead of HTML I’d really like to include any hypermedia type.

    For all their admitted awesomeness, browsers as a client with which to retrieve, view and navigate resources rely do not figure in this equation.

    Discussing this does make for a great background to a evening of Sushi though… ;)


    • Vasilis
    • #

    If I read these comments correctly — and if I consider them to be a reflection of all the other opinions out there — the definition of the web varies from person to person. It seems only the URL is a part of all our definitions.

    So. The things I talk about on this site are very specific design issues and solutions for a very specific stack of hypermedia types. Damn. That sounds much more complicated that ‘the web’!

    • Cyriel
    • #

    I think the best definition for ‘The Web’ is ‘anything built on top of any technology authored and sanctioned by the W3C and transported through any technology authored and sanctioned by the IETF’

    • Vasilis
    • #

    Cyriel: so a webpage with a Silverlight video, a Flash banner and a Webp image is just partly web? Not sure I like the mandatory use of organisations in the description of the web.