Sir Tim Berners-Lee: Sorry About the Slashes

Contributing Editor

web addressSir Tim Berners-Lee, the CERN scientist credited with inventing the World Wide Web, has apologized for the double slash (//) notation that appears at the beginning of every web address:

Really, if you think about it, it doesn’t need the double-slash. I could have designed it not to have the double-slash.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Sir Tim explained that he did not predict the hassle the double slashes would cause when he first devised the web addressing system. The problems identified include:

  • It looks too technical to novice web users.
  • Many users mistakenly refer to it as “backslash-backslash”.
  • It’s one of the biggest causes of URL syntax errors.
  • An unimaginable quantity of printer ink and paper has been wasted on the unnecessary characters.

Fortunately, the slashes have become less of a problem during the past few years since most browsers add “http://” to any address that’s not fully qualified.

However, I think we can all forgive Sir Tim. Perhaps he could have devised a simpler addressing system, but few of us would have jobs if it were not for his foresight and inventiveness almost 30 years ago.

Are the double slashes a problem? Do you have trouble explaining URL notations to your clients? Does Sir Tim really need to apologize?

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  • henrikblunck

    No apology needed. But always nice to know Sir Tim reviews his deeds with fresh insight. :-)
    Well done in all aspects, and you’re forgiven beforehand for anything else you might wonder about. ;-)

  • http://www.simonjobling.com Si

    Just think what we could have done with those extra two characters when trying to reference URLs in tweets?

  • http://debiprasad.net/ Debiprasad

    Before few years, I used to see www appended to every domain. Now we don’t necessarily require www. Similarly we could get rid of that // in future. Something may break during implementing that, but can be possible.

    Anyways, Sir Tim doesn’t need to apologize. He did something great and it’s his greatness that he apologize.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    Like it Si! But could anyone have predicted that a 140-character messaging system would be so important on the web?

  • http://www.escasoaporte.cl alvaro

    I actually think of “www” as a real hassle. Now THAT are wasted characters :) not to mention the myriad of sites that haven’t their servers configured to handle a www-ess domain.

    Alvaro Medina
    http://www.amgweb.cl

  • Wardrop

    To be honest, purely from an aesthetics point of view, the double slash is quite practical as it clearly seperates the protocol from the hostname. If there’s any character he should be sorry about, it’s that damn colon. On that note, it’s technical is probably a good thing, as really, ordinary users shouldn’t be playing around with that part of the URL anyway.

  • W2ttsy

    the most retarded part is allowing MS to press on with its retarded backslash for so long. we have a sharepoint server at work and its \Sharepointsharenamedirectory.

    why couldnt it be nice and have a URL that points to the share so that links in emails dont get screwed up… ah microsoft, how you have to ruin every standard thing with your own proprietary ways…

  • Tom Smith

    Hang on… he has changed his tune… yonks ago he said that it was because you would have to define which bit of the web you wanted to use, like this…

    http:/govnet/www.whitehouse.gov/

    …and this was because the internet wasn’t quite finished and bits were held together with string. The need to identify which network you want has since disappeared and hence the double slashes.

  • http://www.satya-weblog.com/ satya prakash

    I do not feel he should apologies. He did a super wonderful job. and these minor minor point always come. It is great that he still can understand what common people think. He said that novice person feel difficult using ‘//’ .

  • Bleyder

    Sir Tim, there’s no problem.

  • http://www.brothercake.com/ brothercake

    @Alvaro – the idea that a raw domain name should point to the www subdomain is a relatively new one; the original idea was that www was simply the web-facing part of a server which had many other subdomains. There was no way of knowing at the time that http web acccess would come to dominate over other transport protocols.

  • http://www.deanclatworthy.com Dean C

    You’ll never be forgiven for this Sir Tim. Even though I make my living off of the technology you built, I cannot forgive you for making me type these slashes so often on a daily basis.

  • http://larrateguy.com.ar/luisignacio nacholarrateguy

    At that moment he had thought that was the best design, may be looking to have a clear yet technical identification for protocols. There are many desicions from past that make sense in that time – save disk space, save memory, and so on.
    He has no need to apology but that would help the newcomers to understand where are we standing.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a site owner and i don’t have any problems with it so he didn’t have to apologize

  • Anonymous

    I have enough energy to type two slashes :P

  • http://www.edelegate.com jplancaster

    Interesting how some sites written look better with the “http://” than with just the “www.” when dealing with spacing such as in an email’s signature.

  • http://jedicharles.com JediCharles

    If browsers from here on out start allowing http:domain.name to work then the change could be made incrementally. However it would require the cooperation of every software developer to make their software do the same. Or just keep it the way it is, people with any basic amount of intelligence can be taught that the slashes are needed. Perhaps to avoid the problems would be to abandon the backslash key. But then programming languages and regular expressions would break.

  • http://brianswebdesign.com skunkbad

    I think it would be cool if the browser hid the http://. If somebody needed to https:// or ftp:// then they would have to type it, but this problem could be solved at the browser level.

  • JdL

    Why the heck are we still using addresses anymore? Shouldn’t the web be completely search-driven, with favorite sites stored as bookmarks, desktop icons / app-based, etc.? Good grief. Don’t blame Tim. Blame the lack of innovation.

  • imaginethis

    Flog him! Wait… can knights be flogged? o.o

  • Galen

    I don’t really think he needs to stress out about it. I mean seriously, he invented the internet. I think the good he did far outweighs the bad that putting a double-backslash in front of every web address might have done. It’s really kind of funny to me that he being so repentant about something that is really not a problem.

  • http://www.pageaffairs.com/ ralph.m

    I think he should be apologizing for creating the web itself! (Just joking.)

    I think http:// looks kinda nice, really, and heck, someone could apologize for every decision that has ever been made. The fact is, it works, and we should be grateful for that. Anyone who has problems with typing two forward slashes has deeper issues.

    The fact that browsers don’t require you to type http:// makes it all the less an issue for the public. I just wish people would stop saying www before quoting web addresses too!

  • ChrisH

    I’m with those who want to ditch the www too.

    I’m also not impressed with the generic domains .com, .net etc. While the rest of the world took on their country’s domain (eg. .au, .uk), US organisations took the generic domains so now everyone assumes that a generic domain is a US business. Even the US government does it. usa.gov is their address, not usa.gov.us.

    They should get rid of the generic domains, and all US organisations should be forced onto .us domains.

  • http://www.satya-weblog.com/ satya prakash

    I agree with ralph.m.
    USA has occupied .com domain.

  • Robert

    What I can’t forgive is language designers who insist every statement or instruction end with a semicolon. They are not needed, especially not with the tradition of one statement per line.

  • http://www.lbrbsolutions.com Dorsey

    Now that we’ve all supplicated and humbled ourselves before the God of the Internet, lets do a reality check.

    What novice user, or any user for that matter, actually types in a URL anymore? I believe that most people open their browser and enter a business name (or whatever) into the search bar, letting their preferred search engine locate the URL and then simply click the link. When returning to a site, that same browser’s history can be explored, or a bookmark is clicked. After typing in full words, the keyboard is largely ignored.

    In my opinion, modifying the decades old syntax is a good solution to a non-existent problem. It’s nice that Sir Berners-Lee acknowledges that he might have done something different, but who really cares now other than a few geeks?

  • PhilTilson

    I have no problems with the double-slash. Now the people I would really like to bury twenty feet down are the ones that made Unix/Linux so damned unintelligible with helpful application names like ‘grep’, ‘ps’, ‘wc’ – really intuitive! I castigate Microsoft for a lot of things, but at least ‘dir’, ‘filcom’ and ‘copy’ made sense to mere mortals!