Diagram a URL

Today, if you want to go to a website, you often type a name and let your search engine or browser find it for you. Most people do not type out or consider the entire website address, also known as the uniform resource locator or URL. However, your success as a college student and critical thinker will rely on your understanding of how URLs work. We can look at the parts of a URL just as we could a sentence. Sentences have nouns, verbs, and objects. URLs have protocols, domain names, paths, and slugs. 

Let's look at a sample URL from the Mapping Prejudice Project in Minnesota: https://www.mappingprejudice.org/resources/index.html

Screenshot of mapping prejudice project website. Text includes Mapping Prejudice at the top, Resources in the center  and Press, Video and Further Reading on the bottom.


Broken down into its component parts it has:

  • https:// - hyper text transfer protocol secure, the scheme
  • www - world wide web - called a subdomain, but often not used today
  • mappingprejudice - a domain name or host, 
  • .org - the domain suffix
  • resources - this is a path or directory
  • index.html - this is a slug

http vs https

  • http and https are called schemes, that is they are the accepted ways, or protocols, for how information is stored, requested, and received on the internet. There are other schemes, such as ftp, but http and https are the most common.
  • Hyper text is text that has other information attached to it with what we call links. Links allow you to access other resources by clicking a mouse or touching a pad.
  • Why are there two ways (https and https) for the internet to communicate? Consider this video: https://youtu.be/rROgWTfA5qE

Questions: Navigate to your college website: is it http or https? Is your favorite website for news http: or https:? 

Domain names

  • Domain names use regular words to help us find internet addresses. Often the domain name will tell us what person, group, or institution is responsible for the website, but not always. For example, the University of Minnesota directs and hosts the Mapping Prejudice website. Note that we do not see the University of Minnesota domain (umn.edu) anywhere in the mappingprejudice.org URL . We need to read the "About" section of the site to learn it is associated with the University of Minnesota. To look up who owns a website see In Depth below. 
  • Anytime you have problem with a website, check to see if its home domain name (sometimes called the root domain) is working. If the root domain name is working, then you can trouble shoot other aspects of the link. 

Did you know?
Domain extensions — the .org, .edu, and .com endings of URLs — used to be useful for evaluating the credibility of websites: no longer. Websites can have any extension they want. Did you notice that domain extensions are largely meaningless when deciding if a website has credible information? We need to investigate the information on the site itself now.  


The characters after the domain extension and set apart with a backslash "/" is the URL path. Often, the path tells you the file system of the website you are on. In our example "/resources/" is our path. Paths can show the file system of the website, such as in this example -http://website.org/path1/path2/history.html- 

Or the path may only reflect how the website is organized. If a website fails, you can test the failure by testing the paths, starting with the domain. So, to trouble shoot our example, we'd start with http://website.org and then add website.org/path1 followed by website.org/path1/path2 . 


The final path is the slug, and it normally shows you what format of the web page you are viewing. Most URLs end in .html or .htm, which which are standard web pages. There are many other document types that display on the web, such a .pdf or asx. Slugs are often the file name of the web page, and are often the title of the web page. For example, newspapers often put the title of the article in the URL: such as https://www.startribune.com/target-will-join-walmart-best-buy-in-requiring-masks-in-stores/ "Target Will Join Walmart, Best Buy In Requiring Masks In Stores. 

Did you know?
In general, URLs contain no capital letters, diacritical marks (such as accent marks), and few punctuation marks, such as !. If you see punctuation marks at the end of a URL, it's likely there in error and will cause the link to fail. For example, " https://www.wolframalpha.com/examples/mathematics/statistics.  " contains a period at the end of the link, which causes the website wolfram alpha to show you an error page. 

Resource created by Jack Norton, Normandale Community College.