What is a web browser, and what different types are there?

What is a web browser, and what different types are there?

November 15, 2023 privacy 0
A web browser is a software program that gives you access to websites. But with so many different web browser types available, it might be difficult to choose the right one for you. Check out our overview of the most popular web browsers to easily select the one that best suits your needs.

Contents What is a web browser? A brief history of web browsers How do web browsers work? What’s the difference between a browser and a search engine? Types of web browsers Google Chrome Microsoft Edge Safari Mozilla Firefox Opera Brave Tor Vivaldi Maxthon Comparison of web browsers Which web browser should you use? Privacy Speed Features FAQ
What is a web browser?

A web browser is a software application that allows you to access and navigate web pages on the internet. It displays websites on your computer screen and helps you interact with them by clicking on links or entering text. The most popular web browsers are Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge.

A brief history of web browsers

The first browsers ever created are either no longer in use or have undergone major changes. Browser history begins in 1990, when Tim Berners-Lee created the first browser called the WorldWideWeb — it was the only browser and the only way to access the web. Next came Lynx, the text-based browser that couldn’t display any graphic content, followed by Mosaic, which already allowed images embedded in text. In 1994, Netscape Navigator was released, capitalizing on Mosaic’s capabilities. Soon after, in 1995, Microsoft introduced its first web browser, Internet Explorer, making web surfing even easier. Two years later, the so-called browser wars began, with the newly released Opera going head-to-head with Internet Explorer and Navigator. The year 2003 saw the release of Apple Safari, the default browser for macOS and iOS, followed by Mozilla Firefox in 2004. In 2008, Google launched Chrome, which took the browser market by storm. Seven years later, Microsoft replaced Internet Explorer with Edge to counter Google Chrome’s popularity. However, Google Chrome is still the most popular browser worldwide — as of August 2023, it accounts for 63.56 percent of the global web browser market share, with Safari a distant second, and Edge and Firefox even further behind.

How do web browsers work?

A web browser works by retrieving resources from a web server and displaying them on your computer screen. These resources, mostly web pages, are identified by URLs and include text, images, videos, and other content. Web browsers use the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) to request these web pages and display them to you. Web browsers function by translating Hypertext markup language (HTML) and Extensible Markup Language (XML) code into a viewable web page. The browser fetches this code from a web server, interprets it, and creates a visible web page on the screen of your device.

What’s the difference between a browser and a search engine?

Browsers and search engines serve different purposes. Web browsers (Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Microsoft Internet Explorer) allow you to view, locate, and access websites, while search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) are particular websites that provide you with search results that you can access via a web browser. Think of a search engine as a map, and a web browser as a car. You use a car to reach a particular location, just like you use a web browser to navigate to a specific web page on the internet. You also need a map to find the specific location just like you need a search engine to help you reach the web page you want. You can type in a specific domain name into the URL (address) bar, and the browser will take you to that website. However, modern web browsers have built-in search functionality, so you can simply type in a search query (a phrase) instead of a domain name. The browser sends the query to the search engine, which processes the query, conducts a search, and provides a list of results (web pages). The browser then displays these search results and, once you click on the one you’ve selected, takes you to the web page.

Types of web browsers

There are mainstream web browsers like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Apple Safari, and privacy-focused ones like the Tor browser. There are also mobile browsers, such as Mobile Safari for iOS devices and Chrome for Android devices. If you are still wondering which type is best for you, check out the details about each of the most popular web browsers below:

Google Chrome

Google Chrome wins over most users with its user-friendly interface and high loading speed. It’s a secure web browser, offering seamless integration with Google services. Pros: Speed. Fast loading speed and good stability. Safety and security. The “safe browsing” feature flags websites without HTTPS encryption as “not secure.” Comes with file download scanning and malware blocklist warnings. Availability. Available across all operating systems. User friendliness. A stylish design and intuitive interface. Customization. The biggest library of extensions for customized browsing. Integration with Google services. Allows signing in with your Google account and easy to synchronize across all devices. Some Google services are accessible from the browser. Cons: Privacy concerns. Google can track and process your data. Resource-intensive. A relatively high CPU/RAM consumption. } subtitle={} button={{ href: ‘https://nordvpn.com/download/chrome-extension/’, text: , }} secondButton={{ href: ‘/what-is-a-vpn/’, text: , }} />

Microsoft Edge

Microsoft Edge is the default web browser for the Windows operating system, so go for it if you need close integration with Windows 10 and 11 as well as Microsoft services. It’s a fast browser that offers additional features for convenient browsing. Pros: High connection and loading speed. Lots of built-in features. Web Note allows you to annotate web pages, Collections lets you organize and save web content, and Reading View strips away ads and other distractions. Offers an AI-powered Bing chatbot. Privacy settings are very clear. Security features help to protect from phishing and malware. Offers third-party tracking prevention features. Compatible with most Google Chrome extensions. Cons: Collects browsing history and favorites. Limited extension library compared to Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.


Designed specifically for Apple devices, Safari offers seamless integration on Mac, iPhone, and iPad. It’s also energy efficient. Pros: Good performance and fast loading speed. Seamless integration with Apple devices. Built-in tools limit cross-site tracking and third-party cookies and protect users from hacks. Energy efficient. Cons: Optimized for Apple’s ecosystem. Limited customization features. Limited data synchronization options. Fewer add-ons and extensions available.

Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla Firefox might appeal to you if you’re looking for strong privacy protection features and customization options. Pros: Customization options thorough add-ons and extensions. Strong privacy protection features. Blocks many forms of cross-site tracking. Less inclined to track your browsing activities. Offers a good extension library. Goes easy on resource usage. Compatible across devices and syncs data seamlessly. Cons: Slower compared to other top web browsers. Extensions may also slow it down.


The Opera browser is for you if you want unique privacy features and easy access to messaging apps. Pros: Offers built-in privacy features. Fairly well customizable. Has a turbo mode and battery saver mode. Cons: Interface might look cluttered. Not as fast as Chrome or Firefox. Offers less community support.


You can try Brave if you want your browser to improve your privacy and web browsing speed. Pros: A minimalist interface. Automatically blocks ads from other networks, cross-site trackers, third-party cookies, fingerprinting, bounce tracking, some types of malware, and phishing attempts. Light on system resources. One of the few browsers that offer access to onion sites. Cons: Runs its own ad network. Has a limited user base.


The Tor browser is probably the best browser for privacy, but it has a poor reputation due to its associations with the dark web. Pros: Hides your IP address and browsing history. Encrypts your traffic for private browsing. One of the few browsers that offer access to onion sites. Cons: Encrypts your traffic multiple times, so your connection may be slower than normal. Loading speed might also be slower. Some services block Tor or restrict Tor users’ access to certain resources.


You might like Vivaldi because of the high level of customization. But keep in mind that it requires a certain level of technical know-how. Pros: Highly customizable interface and functionality. Feature rich, includes tab stacking, note-taking, web panels, and mouse gestures. Does not track users. Offers robust privacy settings and features. Cons: Rather complex and better suited for technical users. Has a smaller user base. Might be resource intensive, especially with many tabs or customizations.


You might enjoy Maxthon with its cloud-based features if you want an alternative to a mainstream browser. Pros: Cloud services allow you to sync your data across multiple devices to easily switch between them, including mobile devices. It’s relatively light on system resources. It offers built-in features like resource sniffers, night mode, a screen capture tool, and a built-in blockchain wallet. Cons: Not widely known or used. Some websites and apps might not be well-optimized for Maxthon.

Comparison of web browsers

Which web browser should you use?

Your browser choice depends on your needs. Do you prioritize privacy, speed, or browser features that improve your web browsing experience? Consider web browsers based on the following priorities.

1. Privacy

If privacy is your main priority, consider: The Tor browser Brave Mozilla Firefox Safari

2. Speed

If speed is your main concern, you should try: Google Chrome Brave Safari

3. Features

If the number of features and customization is your main target, you should consider: Vivaldi Mozilla Firefox Google Chrome

PRO TIP: If you are not sure which browser to choose, try using multiple browsers to see which one is best for you. You might discover that different browsers are best suited for different tasks and keep several of them in rotation.

It’s difficult to say how many web browsers there are because the landscape of the tech world is rapidly evolving, but the number is well into three digits. New browsers regularly come into play, while older ones become obsolete. Some new browsers exist for only a short period of time, while others, like Chrome or Safari, carry on. ), }, { question: ‘How to choose a browser on an iPhone’, answer: ( To change your default browser on an iPhone, follow these steps:

Go to “Settings” and scroll down until you find the browser app. Tap the app, then tap “Default browser app.” Select a web browser to set it as default. A tick will appear and confirm it’s the default. ), }, { question: ‘How to choose which browser opens links’, answer: ( To change your default browser on Windows 11, follow these easy instructions:

Go to “Start” > “Settings” > “Apps” > “Default apps.” Scroll down to your preferred browser and click on it. You will see a list of file types and link types that the browser can open. Make sure HTTP and HTTPS types are set to your preferred browser.

To change your default browser on Windows 10, take these steps:

Go to “Start” > “Settings” > “Apps” > “Default apps.” Scroll down to the “Web browser” section to see the current default browser. You will see a list of file types and link types that the browser can open. Make sure HTTP and HTTPS types are set to your preferred browser. ), }, ]} />

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