The Complete Guide to Internet Terminology

The online revolution has seen the introduction of many new terms and phrases to our shared vocabularies. While some of these are self explanatory, many can be somewhat obscure if you are unfamiliar with them or the context in which they're used. The following glossary includes many common internet terms along with a brief definition and links to further reading.


Add-ons - An add-on (aka plug-in or extension) is a software application that runs within another program for the purpose of changing or enhancing the programs performance. Most web browsers support a variety of add-ons, with some of the more common being Adblock Plus, Google Translator, and Imagus.

Apps - Short for application, an "app" is a program designed to operate within a mobile system. They can be considered "add-ons" for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Two of the most popular operating systems, Apple's iOS and Google's Android, have an increasingly sizable roster of free and paid apps available to users.

Archives/Archiving - Archiving internet data refers to the collection of information, including files, visit numbers or website "hits," and media files. Individual websites and computers often have archives collected over the life of the site or the device. Larger organizations, such as the Internet Archive, collect data from across the internet to create an all encompassing database of internet activity and information.

  • About the Internet Archive: a brief history of the Internet Archive, its archiving ambitions and successes, and its plans for the future.


Blog - A blog is a website consisting of articles, or "posts," typically associated with a single person or organization. Blogs can address a wide range of topics from politics to food culture to the arts. They can be the work of a single author or a group of contributors.

Broadband - A high speed internet connection is known as broadband. There are many different types of broadband, but the term is mostly used to distinguish fast connections to the much slower dial-up connections.

  • Types of Broadband Connections: an overview of the latest and most effective forms of broadband connections, in addition to their history and performance advantages.

Browser - A browser, or web browser, is a software application that allows users to access and browse the web. There are many different browsers available, each with their own design and features. Some of the most popular include Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.

  • Web Browser Features and Risks: a look at some of the most popular web browsers and the security measures users can take to keep them safe on the web.


Cloud Computing - Cloud computing refers to the use of a network of remote servers hosted on the internet to store, manage, and process data. Cloud computing is an alternative to the established practice of storing and processing data on a dedicated server or computing machine.

  • What is Cloud Computing?: an easy to understand introduction to cloud computing, its history, and its growing popularity.

CSS - CSS is an acronym for Cascading Style Sheets. It is a computer language that tells HTML how a webpage should look (as opposed to what information is in it).


Download - Downloading refers to copying data from one computer system to another via a computer network. In general, it refers to copying a file from a remote server onto a user's local machine. A download can be anything from a text file to a feature film.


Ecommerce - Ecommerce refers to the buying and selling of items on the internet. Popular online retailers include Amazon, Etsy, and Ebay.

Email - Email, sometimes written as "e-mail," refers to electronic messages sent between two or more parties. Email normally requires the use of an email service provider such as Gmail, Outlook, or Yahoo. But some people set up their own email servers.

Encryption and Authentication - Encryption and authentication helps ensure that data transmitted over the internet remains secure and protected from possible interception. Authentication ensures that both parties are legitimate, while encryption encodes the data in such a way that it can not be decoded by an unauthorized third party.


Firewall - A firewall is a piece of software that blocks unwanted traffic a computer and intranet. Most modern computers come with a firewall already installed, and there are numerous third party firewall applications available online.

  • What is a Firewall?: a review of firewall technology — how it works and its importance in maintaining online security.


Graymail - Graymail refers to unwanted email messages that do not otherwise meet the criteria of spam. Typically, graymail consists of emails from entities with whom the user has registered or signed up for regular email notifications. Graymail often includes newsletters, mailing lists and membership announcements, and forum updates.


Hashtag - A hashtag (#) is used to label keywords or phrases in a tweet or other social media message. The use of the tag converts these keywords and phrases into active links to a dynamic feed which is updated in real time to list all recent post containing the chosen hashtag. Hashtags are searchable, making it easy for online users to find and monitor trending topics.

HTML - HTML is and acronym for HyperText Markup Language. It is a kind of coding language used to design and create websites. HTML can be considered text-based building blocks, using different commands to tell a browser who to display its data.

  • What is HTML? - a comprehensive tutorial from the University of Washington detailing the history and basic uses of HTML.


IP Address - An IP address is a unique number that identifies a piece of hardware on the Internet. Each computer has a unique IP address, and the IP address, like a phone number, contains information about the location of the computer on the internet.

ISP - ISP is the commonly used acronym for Internet Service Provider, a company that delivers internet access to subscribing customers.


JavaScript - Developed by Netscape, JavaScript is a computer programming language primarily used in the design and development of websites and their content. It is typically included as part of a larger HTML file, where it will be interpreted by the user's browser.


Keywords - Keywords are words or phrases that describe the focus of webpages. They are part of SEO.


LAMP - LAMP is the commonly used acronym for the four basic software technologies used to create a fully functional website: Linux (operating system), Apache (web server software), MySQL (database management system) and PHP (web scripting language). Sometimes, Perl or Python is indicated instead of PHP.

Link - Links are typically pieces of text embedded in larger bodies of content which, when clicked, take the user to a different web page or website. As a general rule they are highlighted in blue and underlined. However, they can be any color and don't have to be underlined. Images can also serve as links to other pages or online destinations.


Malware - Malware is software specifically designed to damage or disrupt a computer system. There are many different types of malware, but the most common are designed to access and collect sensitive data or to force access into a protected computer system.

Meta Tag - A meta tag is an HTML tag that contains specific information about a web page. Meta tags typically contain an abbreviated description of the page's subject matter and other information. Meta tags are used by search engines to index web pages and filter online content, and do not appear in the user's browser display.


Name Server - A fundamental part of the Domain Name System (DNS), a name server is used to translate a website's domain name into an IP address. Put simply, name servers convert human-readable addresses into computer-readable addresses. For example, when you type in a request is sent to a name server, which returns the IP address of the site itself.

Network Ports - A network port is a way of telling a computer what kind of process is being used. For example, port 80 is commonly used for HTML. Similarly, port 21 is used for FTP.

Network Router - A network router connects two or more computers to an internet connection, allowing multiple users to access the internet and move data between connected computing devices.

  • What is a Router?: a basic explanation of routers and their uses in both home and business environments.



P2P - P2P stands for "peer-to-peer." A P2P network allows two or more computers to communicate directly without having to use a router or other centralized server.

Phishing - Phishing refers to a type of online scam where criminals pose as representatives of legitimate businesses or organizations in order to obtain sensitive user information. Some of the more common phishing scams involve the imitation of popular websites (Facebook, Amazon, PayPal, etc) by slightly altering the spelling or structure of the original site's web address. When a user lands on the false site, either by accident or via an embedded link, they will find a page carefully constructed to resemble the authentic website destination. Users are then prompted to enter their personal data, which is ultimately collected by a criminal organization.



Reciprocal Links - Reciprocal links are mutually agreed upon links between to websites. For example, site A embeds an active link to site B, which in return embeds an active link back to site A. Reciprocal links are typically used to establish a relationship between websites and to boost search engine ranking. As a result of webmasters using reciprocal links to attempt to manipulate search engine ratings, Google and other search engines are actively discouraging the use of reciprocal link building, penalizing websites that abuse them.


SEO - SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. It is an expansive endeavor to make web pages rank as highly as possible in search engines.

Social Media - Social Media refers to various websites and applications whose main purpose is to support and facilitate online social networking. The most popular examples of social media include Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit.

  • The History of Social Networking: an in depth look at the history of online social networking, from early platforms like BBS and Compuserve to the rising prominence of Facebook and Twitter.

Spam/Spamming - Spam typically refers to unsolicited junk mail and blog comments. Spam can consist of legitimate advertisements for products and services, or may be part of an online scamming operation. Spamming refers to the bulk dissemination of spam posts, or the repetitive posting of spam on public forums.


Tag - Tags are a formatting tool used in HTML and XML markup languages to indicate how content will be displayed on a given web page. Tags are commonly used to indicate headers, fonts, line breaks, tables, etc. For example, if you want a portion of a sentence to appear emphasized on a web page you would markup the content as follows: "if you want a portion of a sentence to appear <em>emphasized</em> on a web page you would markup the content as follows."

Telnet - Telnet is a user command and TCP/IP protocol that allows one to remotely access another computer. Using a Unix server and a text-based interface one can gain access to certain resources on an off-site computer system, including the home directory, email accounts, and FTP files.


URL - URL is an acronym for Uniform Resource Locator. A URL indicates the location of a web page or other kinds of data on the web, allowing users to quickly and accurately access online content.

  • What is a URL?: a basic explanation of what URLs are and how they work.



Website - A website is a virtual location on the internet typically consisting of one or more web pages.

Wiki - Derived from the Hawaiian phrase "Wiki Wiki," meaning fast or quick, a wiki is any website that allows or encourages users to add or modify online content. The most recognizable example of a wiki is Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia edited and maintained through the collaborative efforts of the site's visitors.




Zone Files - Zone files are simple text files stored on name servers containing the identifying data pertaining to specific domain names. Each zone file contains a complete DNS record of the domain name in question, including a full mapping of the domain name to its related IP address. Zone files are easily altered or modified, which can result in a website being rendered unresponsive or redirected to a spam or malware infected spoofing site. Consequently, zone files need to stored on highly secure servers.

Further Reading and Resources

We have more guides, tutorials, and infographics related to websites and the internet:

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