How do web servers work?

What happens when you enter in the address field of your browser the URL

First, the browser slices the URL in 3 parts:

Then, the browser contacts a DNS (Domain Name Server) to know the IP address of the computer which full qualified domain name is The domain name server is usually run by your ISP or by your company.

The browser establishes a connection channel with the web server on the computer which IP address was given by the DNS server and requests the document on the host which name is and which virtual path is doc/sample.html. The browser has to specify in the request the host name because many modern web servers (including Abyss Web Server) have the ability to serve more than a one host from a single computer with a single IP address only. This is called virtual hosting. In such a case, the IP address of this computer is associated with more than one domain name.

The server decodes the request and maps the virtual path to a real one, which should match an existing file. The server sends the file to the browser with some useful information such as its last modification time and its MIME type. The MIME type helps the browser decide how to display the received document. In our example, it is a HTML file. So the server sets its MIME type to text/html and the browser understands that it must render it as text.

Sometimes you enter a URL without an explicit filename such as The browser sends the request to the web server as in the previous example. The server detects that the virtual path maps to a directory and not to a file. It searches then in this directory an index file. Index files are usually named index.html or index.htm. If it finds for example index.html, it acts as if the requested URL was If no index file is found, the web server generates a listing of the directory contents and sends it to the browser or reports an error.