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Web browser basics

Being able to understand the basic functions of a web browser will improve your ability to study effectively and efficiently. This section will show you how to identify and understand common elements found on the web such as links and pop-up windows.

Covered in this section

  • Understanding hardware and software
  • Being able to modify web pages in order to cater for your needs
  • Understanding and becoming familiar with common web related terms
  • How to use certain functions that are applicable to web browsers
  • 25 mins to complete this section

A web browser is the software you use to view the web. Each operating system typically comes with a web browser installed. For example,

  • Microsoft operating systems - Internet Explorer (IE)
  • Macintosh operating systems - Safari

Other web browsers are available as free downloads from Mozilla (Firefox) and Google (Chrome).

Browser buttons

In the table below we describe some of the buttons you will find in two types of browser: IE7 and Chrome. While many buttons are common across many browsers, please be aware that the look of some of these buttons may vary slightly depending on your browser. The terms and functions are however common across all web browser.

Internet Explorer 7 Google Chrome
Back Internet Explorer Back Button Chrome Back Button
Forward Internet Explorer Forward Button Chrome Forward Button

Use the Back and Forward buttons to move between recent pages. Your browser will remember the pages that you have viewed.

Stop Internet Explorer Stop Button Chrome Stop Button

The Stop button cancels a page request - particularly useful if a page is taking a long time to load.

Refresh (or reload) button Internet Explorer Refresh Button Chrome Refresh Button

Sometimes you will want to check the latest view of a page that is constantly updated, such as a forum. This button reloads the page.

Go Internet Explorer Go Button Chrome Go Button

The Go button replaces the 'Refresh' button when you type a new web address. Clicking it will take you to the address you've just typed in. Alternatively press Enter on your keyboard.

Address bar Internet Explorer Address Bar Chrome Address Bar

The area where you type a web address. You do not need to enter the 'http://' part. Make sure you always include the 'www.' part of the address. The 'http://' part will be added automatically once you 'Go' (see below) to the site.

Home button Internet Explorer Home Button Chrome Home Button

The 'home page' is the page that loads first when you start your browser. You can set your homepage to any address you want. Learn how to customise your home page.

Web browser menu Internet Explorer Web Browser Menu Chrome Web Browser Menu

Each menu heading can be accessed by holding Alt and the corresponding key. To access 'File' hold Alt and press F.


Web browsers commonly use 'Tabs' to allow you to have more than one web page open at once. Some links will automatically open in a new tab, however if you

  1. right click on a link then,
  2. choose the 'Open in New Tab' option, you will be able to open the web page in a new tab.
Internet Explorer Tabs

To flick between them, click on the tab that you would like to view. To close a Tab, click on the 'X', which may only appear when you position the cursor over it, or once the tab has been selected.

Scroll bar

The scroll bar appears when a web page is longer than the screen. Use the scroll bar to move up and down within a web page. Either drag the box along the bar or click the arrow on the top or bottom of the bar. If your mouse has a wheel you can also use this to move up and down the page. There may also be a scroll bar to help you view pages wider than the screen, in which case this will allow you to move the screen left and right.

Internet Explorer scroll bar