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I love the appearance of traditional url's, because the www in front of them eases and speeds up my understanding that there's definitely a certain web adress.

But is there any established guideline for formatting url not only for web, e.g. brochures, posters? May be you've heard of some research that proves the better UX due to the url format?

We all know, for example, that telephone numbers have quite established formatting guidelines.

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    I wonder this myself quite often. I think it depends at least in part on the familiarity of the domain extension. For example, it's quite obvious that burger.com is a website, whereas burger.biz is much more uncertain to me (could be a poorly chosen brand name). – Dom Jun 17 '15 at 23:16
  • Dom, in this case it might not be prettier but it's pretty much understandable when you go for http:// burger.biz :) – Mathijs Segers Jun 18 '15 at 8:34
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    What does this have to do with graphic design? Maybe you should've posted this in User Experience? – Lie Ryan Jun 18 '15 at 12:27
  • I'd love to hear more about the design aspect of this assuming both URLs work. – Hanna Jun 18 '15 at 22:57
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    There's been a lot of advice to check: actually, ask. Ask someone who works on the website and knows. If I just checked, I might think that ait.ie works and redirects to www.ait.ie. In fact, it doesn't. Firefox sees that ait.ie doesn't work, and redirects to www.ait.ie for me. Not all browsers do that. – TRiG Jun 19 '15 at 0:41
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www. may have valid technical reasons for being used.

When a server is configured it must be set up to use http://www.example.com and http://example.com. It is completely possible that www.example.com loads the site and example.com does not. They are two, different, separate, addresses. This is all controlled by the server. Both addresses may work, or one address may be forwarded to the other. The forwarding could be done from any domain, it just so happens that it's common the www. address will forward to the non-www address or vice versa. In today's age, most hosting providers configure this and the www. is not mandatory. They configure the forwarding automatically for their customers. However, you should check your server before removing the www. from any marketing materials, or even before adding the www..

From a design standpoint, it's a matter of preference. If the sites loads with or without the www. then using it is your choice. As @Dom mentions in his comment above I find the suffix plays a large role. example.com, example.net, example.org are all pretty clear. However, once you enter second or third tier suffixes it can be less clear, especially to audiences that aren't traditionally online audiences (seniors, non-tech organizations, etc). Adding the www. to more rarely used suffixes is always helpful.

I almost always drop the www. for first tier domains and almost always include them for second or third tier domains. But that's just my preference.

I'd also point out that phone numbers have changed. I now must dial 10 digits to make a local call, for decades it was only 7 digits, before that it was 5 digits. They may change slowly, but they do change formats :) Of course, thanks to smart phones I now only know my own phone number and can't ever remember anyone else's. :)

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    "However, you should check your server before removing the www. from any marketing materials." You should also check whether "www.yourdomain.com" loads or not before putting www on anything. As you say, it's all about the server configuration, so it's entirely possible that http://example.org works while http://www.example.org doesn't. – Joshua Taylor Jun 18 '15 at 0:42
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    This misses one consideration: there are some sites for which including or leaving out WWW both work fine, but only one is correct. Take the Australian Business Register site for an example: abr.gov.au and www.abr.gov.au both load the site. However, every WWW URL redirects to the non-WWW version's home page. So, https://abr.gov.au/About-us/ (without the WWW) works, but https://www.abr.gov.au/About-us/ (with the WWW) redirects you to the no-WWW site's homepage. – doppelgreener Jun 18 '15 at 4:14
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    To all commenters... Nowhere did I state both with the www. and without the www have to go to the same site. I merely stated in today's age most hosting companies configure it that way. I also expressly stated to check your server. Not sure where all the backlash is coming from :) – Scott Jun 18 '15 at 4:17
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    @Scott I'm not trying to provide backlash, just stating something that could bring more rigour to your advice. It can take a bit more than a cursory check of the web server. Take this stuff as constructive criticism to act on! – doppelgreener Jun 18 '15 at 4:17
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    Technical reason was simply if your going to name your webserver something its logical to name it webserver (or www ) this is fine but assumes you have other servers and only one webserver. There is and never was any technical reason for it to be called www – joojaa Jun 18 '15 at 5:51
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www.example.com and example.com are two different addresses.

It is only a common convention for web servers to be configured such that both variants work the same. This convention is not universal, and some web sites will be set up only to respond to one or the other.

You need to confirm with whoever is in charge of the web site, which is acceptable to use. You may also want to see whether the site's listing in Google search shows the "www." or not, as this may indicate the site's preferred address.

If both are acceptable to use, I personally would prefer the variant without the "www." because I find this to be redundant, especially if there is a ".com" at the end which makes it highly recognisable as a web address even without a "www.".

There is no standard that says that one or the other should be used, only conventions and trends. The trends change over time, and I believe it's fair to say there is a gradual trend toward not having the "www." at the start of web addresses.

Here's some light-hearted debate on whether "www." should be used:

http://no-www.org/

http://www.yes-www.org/

http://www.www.extra-www.org/

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    I realise this is largely the same as the other answer but I've attempted to explain it using the simplest terms I could for non-technical people, hope it's useful. – thomasrutter Jun 18 '15 at 2:24
  • no-www.org appears to be down at the moment, but it's still listed in Google so I guess it's temporary? – thomasrutter Jun 19 '15 at 0:30
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    "especially if there is a .com at the end" - what if it's one of those fancy new gTLDs that few people will recognize? – immibis Jun 19 '15 at 11:26
  • To me, that is an argument not to use those new gTLDs, particularly for a domain that needs to appear in marketing. It would seem weird to me to use a new, slick gTLD which removes the need for the old fashioned ".com", and then to add the even more old fashioned "www.", just so people recognize it's a domain name. – thomasrutter Jun 20 '15 at 14:33
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To add more technical background to the existing answers: Why would there be differences in DNS between www.example.com and example.comin the first place? There are many cases when one does not enter an A (or AAAA) record, but instead a CNAME record pointing to something like www42.provider.example.net. This way, a migration of www42.provider.example.net to another IP address can be handled purely within the example.net zone. (With Arecords everywhere, all sites hosted on that one server would have to be adjusted!)

However, with example.com there are certainly already many other DNS records associated (SOA, NS, MX, possibly also TXTfor SPF), and the DNS specification does not allow CNAMEand other record types to be mixed! Therefore, example.com would require an A (and/or AAAA) record for functionality, thus defying the above-mentioned purpose of central configuration.

  • What's the A AAAA stuff about? – Hanna Jun 18 '15 at 22:53
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    It's part of the way DNS works. Assuming you know that DNS servers are the way that a computer asks "what is the IP address of this hostname?". Well there is more than one record you can retrieve for each hostname (A, MX, and special purpose ones like PTR, TXT etc). The "A" record is the IP address for IPv4 connections and the "AAAA" record is the IP address for IPv6 connections. MX is a record of where mail for this host should be sent (allowing mail addressed to a host to go to a different IP address as general connections to this host), TXT is various text-based information, etc. – thomasrutter Jun 19 '15 at 0:27
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Coming from a solutions architect perspective, I have never seen a guideline. But there is a good technical reason for making your site at runtime use "www.", and it's all about DNS (avoiding collision with SOA and NS records). So while you might want to share content that says "go to http://mysite.us" the actual hosting should be on "www.mysite.us".

Depending on where/how the site is deployed you can get into situations where users cannot reach the site if it is on "http://mysite.us". The DNS spec has records for different types of servers (MX for mail, etc) but it does not have one for HTTP servers so we are stuck with using an actual subdomain to tell the world "this is for a website". Several hosting providers offer "DNS forwarding" which will let you declare "anyone that connects to http://mysite.us will be directed to http://www.mysite.us" but what they are actually doing is setting up a minified web server that issues a 301/302/307 to get the user where they want to be.

Most people don't look in the address bar anyway in my experience, and leaving off "www" in conversation and marketing materials is shorter, but in the end users should land on "www.something.something", as "www" should be an actual server.

Type in your address bar "apple.com" or "microsoft.com" or "ibm.com" and notice how you are redirected to a "www" host.

  • +1 for interesting technical insight. Could you please expand on the "collsion" part? If you have an A record for example.com, the browser will resolve to the correct IP, the web server will receive the full URL (and therefore make the decision on which page to serve) – WoJ Jun 19 '15 at 11:00
  • One problem could be that the hosting server restricts the number of subdomains you can have. My server does! So I don't use www.mysite.com as a subdomain, I just have the URL with www in the DNS point to mysite.com, freeing up a slot for one more real subdomain. – Mr Lister Jun 20 '15 at 10:04
  • but it does not have one for HTTP servers so we are stuck with using an actual subdomain to tell the world "this is for a website" why do you need to though? Just responding on port 80 is enough. Your A record for the domain can just point to your web server - unless you are wanting different services to point to different addresses (such as web and ... pop3?) in which case you are still not forced to exclusively use "www" for web - you can use subdomains for the other services, or even different domains. Users often leave off "www", you don't want your website to fail when they do. – thomasrutter Jul 8 '15 at 0:46
  • I mean, apple.com and microsoft.com etc still run a web server on the A record for their domain, in order for that redirect to work. Since all it does is redirect it doesn't have to do much work, but it shows they have no problem running a web server task on the machine(s) that their A record(s) point to. Their decision to redirect to "www" is more likely to just be a marketing decision, which is fine, and redirecting from the non-www version is a very appropriate choice in that situation. – thomasrutter Jul 8 '15 at 0:54
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To explain what the differences are.

example.com is the domain name. www in this case (www.example.com) is the subdomain www. in the configuration people actually have to direct both www and subdomain-less to the same resources (web files) Also keeping SEO in mind it's important only one of these is leading and the other should direct to the leading one.

That being said, people tend to type www. in front of everything just because they're used to it, nowadays in commercials and such you see less of the www. and I suggest you should refrain from using it unless necessary so we can get rid of this in the future.

Of course there might be some sense to adding the www, since it stands for world wide web, but the protocols will do enough, http(s) vs http or others for different applications.

more info and technical reasons: https://serverfault.com/questions/286132/why-do-we-still-use-www-in-urls

In my opinion you should just refrain from it since it's something redundant and typing less is always better.

0

www.foo.com is not strictly speaking a URL. It's a relative domain name.

It means this: start with your local domains, falling back to the root if you can't find anything there and traverse through com and foo to get to www. It doesn't say what records to grab from that domain though or what you would do with those records if you did retrieve them.

Most commonly the record of interest is an address record which allows the domain name to be used as a hostname to refer to a machine. There are other kinds of DNS records though.

The www is just the last name in the chain, and it is completely arbitrary. There's a convention of naming the host of the primary Web server for a domain www but that is just a convenience for humans, not something meant to be recognizable to machines. Even then, there are things you can do with machines running webservers other than requesting Web pages from them.

So, not all web servers are named www and just naming one doesn't say what you want to do with it anyway.

That's where URL come in. They tell you how to get to something. They start by telling you how to get it, then where.

How is specified as a "sheme" and for the web, the scheme is either http for regular requests or https for secure requests. Then a separator :// then a hostname telling you where the web server is (maybe a DNS name, maybe something else like an I address or a locally defined name) then a path indicating where the pages is on the web server. (There are a bunch of details I'm skipping over).

It is generally considered good practice to allow www but not encourage it by pointing the address records of both the base domain and that plus www at we servers meant to act as public facing entry points, and then to favour the non www name.

If you want to provide a proper URL that unambiguously shows that you are referring to a website, provide a full URL.

http://example.ca/

https://myexample.foo.org/

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