What is a Hyperlink?

By Corbin HartwickUpdated on January 18, 2018

Definition of a hyperlink

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “hyperlink” as:

“A highlighted word or picture in a document or web page that you can click on with a computer mouse to go to another place in the same or a different document or web page.”

Okay, so… really, what are hyperlinks?

Hyperlinks are basically words or phrases (called “hypertext”) — or sometimes pictures — that act as shortcuts to parts of a page, other documents, or other website pages. So, for example, instead of scrolling down a lengthy document just to get to a certain section, you may be able to click a hyperlink in the table of contents and immediately skip to that section. Or, you can click a hyperlink on a web page to get to another, related page in the same website, without having to type in its U.R.L. by hand. The World Wide Web doesn’t necessarily need hyperlinks to work, but hyperlinks do make the World Wide Web much easier to browse!

As a real-world parallel, think about when you make a phone call to a company or institution that has an automated phone system. You’re given different options of where you want to go within the system by pushing different buttons; “For [option X], press 1; for [option Y], press 2; for [option Z], press 3”, and so on. You can even press a special sequence of buttons to reach a certain department or person directly. You are using a series of quick shortcuts to find places that would otherwise be tedious to get to.

What do hyperlinks look like?

Generally, something is a hyperlink if you move your mouse cursor over it, and the cursor changes from an arrow to a pointer finger.

You will usually find hyperlinks in one of four forms. The easiest one to spot is a U.R.L. that is fully typed out and highlighted, such as this one:

Another common one you’ll see is a string of text that’s highlighted in some way, denoting that a U.R.L. (and, thus, a hyperlink) is connected to it. It looks like this:

Certain images on the Internet also have U.R.L.s connected to them, allowing you to access hyperlinks by clicking on them. For example, clicking our logo below will take you to our home page.

There are also some advanced hyperlinks that, when you click them, will cause something to happen or appear on a web page (besides just moving to a new place) without having to reload the entire web page.

In general, text hyperlinks are usually underlined and appear in one of two colors:

There are exceptions, of course; some hyperlinks aren’t underlined or in either of these colours (though they usually stand out in some way to differentiate them from other words on the page).

How do hyperlinks work?

Depending on how a hyperlink is set up, it can behave in different ways. These include:

  • Moving your mouse cursor over a hyperlink can give you information on where it leads, and/or cause extra information or a preview of its destination to automatically pop up.
  • Clicking a hyperlink can take you to a specific place within a document or web page, such as right to the end, back to the top, or to a specific section.
  • Clicking a hyperlink can take you to a website from a document, another web page on the same website, or to another website entirely.
  • Clicking a hyperlink on a web page that takes you to another web page may replace the web page that you’re currently on, or open the destination web page in a new window or tab in your web browser.
  • Clicking a hyperlink on a web page may allow you to open or download a file or document.
  • Clicking a hyperlink on a web page may change the web page in some way, such as making a part of it visible that wasn’t before. This may happen without the web page having to reload.