URI vs. URL: What’s the Difference?


URI vs. URL: What’s the Difference?

As we increasingly interact with digital resources, the terms “URI” and “URL” are often used interchangeably. However, while they may appear similar at first glance, there are significant distinctions between the two. Understanding URIs and URLs is vital to accessing web resources efficiently. While both serve to identify web resources, their uses and structures vary accordingly.

Understanding the differences between URIs and URLs will allow you to use appropriate terminology. This is helpful when communicating with others in the tech industry and assisting in troubleshooting issues related to web resource access.

No matter your experience level or background in technology, understanding the differences between URIs and URLs is crucial to making informed decisions in today’s business world. Here, we’ll explore their key differences as well as demonstrate their practical uses.

URI vs. URL: Side-By-Side Comparison

DefinitionUniform Resource IdentifierUniform Resource Locator
PurposeIdentifies a resource and differentiates it from othersLocates a resource on the web
IdentifiersIdentifies a resource with a name, location, or bothIdentifies a resource with its location/address
Type of ResourceCan be used for any type of resource, not limited to webpagesSpecifically used for webpages and web-based resources
InterchangeableNot interchangeable with URLOften used interchangeably with URI, though not accurate
ComponentsConsists of Namespace Identifier and Namespace Specific StringConsists of Protocol, Domain Name, and Path to Resource

URI vs. URL: What’s the Difference?

Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs) and Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) are terms that are often encountered when discussing technology and the internet, yet many users need clarification on them. While both terms serve an essential function on the web, users need to recognize their differences as they do not equate. Here are a few key distinctions between URI and URL that will enable you to use both terms more effectively.

Definition and Functionality

URIs and URLs are two separate concepts but they are often interchanged when working on web development projects. There are specific distinctions between them. A URI is a string of characters used to identify names or resources on the internet using specific protocols for retrieval.

A URI refers to resources without specifying their physical locations. In contrast, URLs specify their physical locations as part of an identifier URI scheme. It acts as a unique identifier specifying how to access that resource using specific protocols.

A URI is a more inclusive term than its URL counterpart, as it includes other forms of identification like Uniform Resource Names (URNs). URNs identify resources by name in an invariant fashion without including location details. Hence, making URIs ideal for identifying resources on the internet, while URLs provide ways to locate them.

.com vs .org
URLs identify online resources with their location or address.

©Postmodern Studio/Shutterstock.com


Another distinction between URIs and URLs lies in their syntax. A URI typically consists of various components: scheme, authority, path, query, and fragment.

The scheme indicates the protocol to access a resource, while the authority specifies which server hosts this resource. Path and query both identify where resources reside on a server; fragment specifies a section within an item within that resource.

URL is a subtype of URI which includes three components: scheme, authority, and path. The authority identifies where on a server the resource resides, while the scheme defines how to access it. Path specifies where resources reside on a server, thus making URLs a subset of URIs with fewer components than their full-fledged equivalents.

Use Cases

Uses for both URI and URL differ, with the former serving to identify resources across the internet without specifying their precise locations. URIs become invaluable tools for retrieving resources from multiple locations or if their precise location is optional. For example, they enable the identification of any book across libraries or formats even if its availability varies considerably.

On the other hand, people use URLs to locate a specific resource on the internet, and URLs become indispensable in cases where knowing the exact location of resources is necessary for retrieving them. URLs provide an efficient method for finding particular web pages, images, or videos on any given website. They make it easy to retrieve these resources using web browsers and other software applications by specifying where to find them.


The creators intended URIs to be persistent, which means they can identify resources even after the resources move locations or servers. This makes URIs invaluable in situations where resources are likely to remain available over a prolonged period. For instance, documents or images might still remain accessible through a persistent URI, even when moved across websites or servers.

However, URLs are intended to be inconstant. Since they contain information about where a resource resides, their validity could become obsolete if that resource moves or disappears altogether. Avoid using URLs to identify resources that will remain accessible over an extended period; use them instead to find those expected to become accessible at specific places and times.


A URI may be secure or insecure depending on the protocol used to access its resources. For instance, people typically use HTTPS protocols to access secure resources but can use HTTP to access non-secure resources. Hence, both secure and non-secure resources on the internet can be identified using URIs.

However, using secure protocols like HTTPS is essential to protect personal information and ensure secure connections since third parties can intercept a URL’s location data. Therefore, URLs can also classify as secure or non-secure depending on the protocol used to access them, but their security is generally more critical.

Usage in Web Browsers

As detailed above, a URI allows web browsers to quickly access a resource without specifying its physical location. A URI allows users to identify resources based on name or other characteristics. A URI can be used to access specific pages on a website or launch email clients with specific addresses.

However, URLs must be precisely entered in a web browser in order to locate resources on the internet. URLs provide essential access information. They inform people where a resource resides, making it easy to reach it quickly and efficiently. Therefore, URLs can only be used to access resources if they provide their locations.


URI and URL differ significantly in extensibility. URI is more adaptable as it can identify resources across various protocols such as FTP, HTTP, HTTPS, etc. URIs are particularly useful when the resource can be accessed using multiple protocols according to user preferences and needs. For example, you can use them to identify an image or video across formats or locations.

However, URLs are less extensible since they only identify resources using one protocol. For instance, an HTTP-based URL cannot be used to locate resources using the FTP protocol. Therefore, URLs are less flexible than URIs and typically can only be used to locate resources accessible using specific protocols.


Another key distinction between URIs and URLs lies in their roles as authorities. A URI allows one to locate and identify resources without providing details on who owns or manages them. A URI can easily identify news articles published across multiple websites or publishers.

On the other hand, URLs must provide details regarding who owns and controls a resource. As its location is essential to its retrieval, authorities must also possess the authority necessary to locate it on a server. URLs are often used to locate resources located on specific servers or websites.


Interpretations of URI and URL also vary. Depending on its use in context, different interpretations could emerge for either term. For instance, a URI can be used to identify both internet resources and local files on a local computer. This makes them much more flexible than URLs and usable across a range of applications.

On the other hand, URLs have an extremely specific interpretation, as they can only be used to locate resources online. Therefore, URLs are less flexible than URIs and should only be used in web development and other instances where resource location is key.

free music websites
URLs can only be used to locate resources online, while URIs can locate resources on a local machine.

©Sharaf Maksumov/Shutterstock.com

URI vs. URL: 10 Must-Know Facts

  • URI and URL are two different terms within web development. Respectively, they are Uniform Resource Identifier and Uniform Resource Locator.
  • URI and URL differ primarily in that a URI identifies names or resources on the internet. A URL is an extension of a URI, which includes network location information as well as any protocol required for access.
  • A URI cannot contain an actual link. A URL is an abbreviated form of URI that includes network location and access protocol information.
  • URIs may be used to refer to resources not hosted online, while URLs are strictly meant for internet resources.
  • URIs can also be used for identification, such as identifying an email address or file on a local machine; while URLs provide access to resources on the internet.
  • When creating web applications, appropriate URI or URLs must be utilized to identify resources for user access accurately.
  • URLs and URIs are frequently employed with HTTP, the protocol used for transmitting data over the internet.
  • HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol and serves as the primary communication protocol between web browsers and servers.
  • Web APIs use URLs and URIs as communication mechanisms between multiple web apps, enabling them to communicate and share resources efficiently.
  • Developers working with web APIs must ensure they use the appropriate URIs and URLs to access resources and follow all protocols necessary for data transmission.

URI vs. URL: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?

The debate between URI vs. URL boils down to their respective uses and contexts. Both play an essential part in web development, each having its own distinct set of advantages and disadvantages.

URLs are ideal for directing users to specific resources within a web application, providing easy navigation and SEO benefits. However, their limited ability to provide contextual data beyond domain and path can limit certain use cases.

On the other hand, URIs provide a more inclusive means to identify resources on the web. They can include additional context beyond domain and path identifiers — for instance, query parameters or fragment identifiers. Thus, making them more flexible and suited for scenarios such as API endpoints or resource identification within distributed systems.

When it comes to choosing between URI vs. URL for web applications, the decision ultimately depends on your unique needs. Suppose the primary goal is user experience and search engine optimization. In that case, URLs may be ideal, whereas if more flexibility and context identification are desired within an app, then URIs might be preferable.

Overall, both URI and URL offer unique strengths and weaknesses for web development projects, so it is vital to gain an understanding of their differences and use cases before making informed decisions about web application creation. By carefully considering each client’s individual requirements and goals for their web app development project, developers can select an approach best tailored to meet them while creating an excellent user experience.

URI vs. URL: What’s the Difference? FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Can a URL be a URI?

Yes, it is a specific form of URI that includes its network location and access protocol information.

Why is it important to understand the difference between URI and URL?

Understanding the differences between URI and URLs can be extremely helpful as they frequently need clarification. Being aware of their distinct definitions helps ensure the correct terminology is used throughout technical documentation and communications.

What is the main purpose of a URI?

A URI serves to identify a resource, such as a website page, image file, or file. They’re used as an easy way for computers and humans to navigate to these resources in an understandable manner.

What is the main purpose of a URL?

URLs serve the purpose of locating resources online. They contain details regarding both network location and protocol to allow web browsers and other applications to access them easily.

Can a URI include a URL?

Yes, a URI may include a URL as one of its components — for instance, as part of its network location component. In contrast, other components specify additional information about the resource being identified.

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