Web Addresses: Include http:// and www.?

Christine Hug
(Language Update, Volume 4, Number 4, 2007, page 17)

In a word: Yes.

We write about Web sites and other Internet sources so often now that some people wonder if it is necessary to include the http:// and the www. when citing one. The best practice is to include both. This article will tell you what the Internet Engineering Task Force, the World Wide Web Consortium and the Treasury Board of Canada have to say on the matter.

Background on URLs

Before we talk about how to write Web addresses, a little information about them. Here are some of the parts that make up a URL (Uniform Resource Locator). For more about URLs see URIs, URLs, and URNs: Clarifications and Recommendations 1.0 – classical.

Example 1 of a URL


Example 2 of a URL


  • telnet:// = scheme
  • crazylands.org:6969 = authority (host:port)

Types of schemes

Not every URL uses the same scheme. While http is one scheme commonly seen in the mainstream media, others exist. Here are some examples:

  • ftp
  • https
  • gopher
  • telnet

(See URI scheme for a longer list of schemes.) Once you know that the http is a scheme and that the scheme is a part of the URL, including the http:// in the URL becomes the obvious choice.


The www of a URL is called a path segment (or dot segment). Path segments are part of the authority element of a URL. You should include the www because although many companies register both www and non-www domains, not all do. For example, at the time of writing, "www.newseum.org" will bring you to a Web site, but "newseum.org" will not. Some Web sites operate in two Internet domains: one has the " www" and another omits it. For example, http://site.com/ and http://www.site.com/ may access the same Web site. Although many sites redirect users to the non-www address (or vice versa), users may not be able to reach it if you omit the www. So if you choose to omit it, you should check that the non-www address links to the site you want your readers to reach.

What do the authorities say?

The Common Look and Feel for the Internet 2.0 Standards and Guidelines issued by the Treasury Board have no rule to include or exclude the http:// from URLs so long as the links work (Common Look and Feel for the Internet 2.0). The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) (URI Specifications) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) (Uniform Resource Identifier (URI): Generic Syntax) include the http:// in their URLs.

Why include the http://?

The main reason to include a URL in your text is so that your reader can access that resource. To help your reader do that, the URL should be clear, explicit, unambiguous and complete. For sheer clarity (so your readers do not make a false assumption) and consistency (if your text contains other kinds of URLs in addition to Web pages, you should provide the scheme for all of them), the best practice is to write the URL with the http:// as in Translation Bureau (http://www.btb.gc.ca).

While you should include all segments of a URL, you may wish to omit the http:// sometimes for space reasons, for aesthetic reasons or because the URL will not be clickable (on a billboard, for example). If you feel you must omit it, you should do so only if

  • your text will not contain other URLs using schemes other than the http scheme;
  • the authority element of each URL in your text begins with the www path segment; and
  • you omit it for all URLs in your text (be consistent).

For long URLs that must be broken with spaces to wrap onto another line, we second the IETF’s advice to add "<" and ">" as wrappers just before and just after the URL to clearly show where it begins and ends (see Appendix C. Delimiting a URI in Context Uniform Resource Identifier (URI): Generic Syntax). This tells readers that it is all one URL. Where to split the URL? Split it at the end of an element, usually before or after a period (.), question mark (?), hash mark (#), commercial at (@) or slash (/). Do not split by adding a hyphen. Because some URLs contain hyphens, splitting a URL with another one can cause confusion for your reader.

Example of a URL too long for just one line broken just after a slash: .

Best practice

The http:// and the www are part of the URL. Include them.

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