What’s With The WWW?

January 9th, 2008 by Andrew

Why do we still need the “www” in front of domain names? Most sites allow users to access their site whether or not they include the “www.” For example, here on my site, if you go to www.amwhalen.com, you’ll be automatically redirected to amwhalen.com. But first, before I get into reasons why I don’t like “www”, I need to get into a few reasons why the “www” is there in the first place.

Multiple servers for multiple purposes

When you access a web site with a web browser, you’re connecting to a server somewhere out there that gives you the HTML content of the site you want to see. Accessing www.domain.com for example, is sort of like saying “connect to the server named ‘www’ at domain.com.” If I had a server that wasn’t a web server, but instead acted as a multiplayer gaming server, I might call it “gaming.domain.com.” Spreading services across multiple servers means that you can configure each server for a specific task. Using nice names or “subdomains” for these servers makes it easy to remember what each one handles.

One server for multiple purposes

Let’s say i can only afford to have one server, and it’s at domain.com. I want to run a web server, a gaming server, and also have tools like SSH and FTP access. Can I run this all from the same server? Yes. How? Because different services use different ports. For example, when you go to access “domain.com”, your web browser is secretly accessing “domain.com:80”, but doesn’t tell you. The 80 is the port that a web server normally runs on. A gaming server might run on port 23765, and the other services have their own ports as well. So domain.com can have multiple services without having to use multiple servers or subdomains, since the single server can tell what’s trying to access it by the port number.

Computers are smarter than people

Despite all the different ways of accessing a server, I would think that the most common by far, is to access it to view a web site. When I type “domain.com” into my web browser, I expect to see a web site, not a “server not found” error. Some sites, such as elms.edu don’t seem to get this. You have to go to www.elms.edu to get to their site. Excluding the “www” in this case will leave you stranded on a “Loading…” page. This is just confusing to people, even me. Since their server at elms.edu knows a person is trying to access their web site (remember the secret port 80?), why can’t the elms.edu server redirect the request to the www.elms.edu server?

The way it should be

Since many people associate “www” with web sites, we’ll unfortunately need to keep that around, otherwise we’d have mass confusion. What we can do, is redirect people to “domain.com” when they try to access “www.domain.com” or vice-versa. That way, everyone’s happy.

Why I don’t like “www”

To me, “www.domain.com” is redundant and ugly. The server knows I’m trying to access web content if I’m going to domain.com in my web browser, so the “www” is unnecessary. I feel it’s much cleaner and easier to remember as “domain.com.” As a bonus, it’s also 4 less characters to type, so I’ll get there faster. It’s just people-friendly. Let the servers do the hard work of finding the web server for me. Isn’t that what servers are for, to serve us?

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