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In computing, a hyperlink is a reference, link, or navigation element in a document to another section of the same document or to another document that may be on or part of a (different) domain.

"An electronic link providing direct access from one distinctively marked place in a hypertext or hypermedia document to another in the same or a different document"[1]

Often abbreviated to "link". Hypertext (meaning "more than just" text) is a form of text typically published on websites that provides a richer functionality than simple text documents by enabling the reader to explore interesting links to other web pages linked to specific words or images within the page. Typically the words or image will be relevant to the linked page, for example wiki.gis.com home page, but badly designed or malicious sites may use obscure links or obfuscated links which make it hard to work out where the link will take you. A site that uses a lot of these obscure links is said to use "Mystery Meat navigation".

Embedded link

Example: The first word of this sentence: ("Example") is a navigation link embedded in a text object -- if the word is clicked, the browser will navigate to a different page.

Inline link

An inline link displays remote content without the need for embedding the content. The remote content may be accessed with or without the user selecting the link. Inline links may display specific parts of the content (e.g. thumbnail, low resolution preview, cropped sections, magnified sections, description text, etc.) and access other parts or the full content when needed, as is the case with print publishing software. This allows for smaller file sizes and quicker response to changes when the full linked content is not needed, as is the case when rearranging a page layout.

Hot area

A hot area (image map in HTML) is an invisible area of the screen that covers a text label or graphical images. A technical description of a hot area is a list of coordinates relating to a specific area on a screen created in order to hyperlink areas of the image to various destinations, disable linking via negative space around irregular shapes, or enable linking via invisible areas. For example, a political map of Africa may have each irregularly shaped country hyperlinked to further information about that country. A separate invisible hot area interface allows for swapping skins or labels within the linked hot areas without repetitive embedding of links in the various skin elements.

Random accessed

Random-accessed linking data are links retrieved from a data base or variable containers in a program when the retrieval function is from user interaction (e.g. dynamic menu from an address book) or non-interactive (e.g. random, calculated) process.

Hardware accessed

A hardware-accessed link is a link that activates directly via an input device (e.g. keyboard, microphone, remote control) without the need or use of a graphical user interface.

Hyperlinks in various technologies

Hyperlinks in HTML

Tim Berners-Lee saw the possibility of using hyperlinks to link any unit of information to any other unit of information over the Internet. Hyperlinks were therefore integral to the creation of the World Wide Web.

Links are specified in HTML using the <a> (anchor) elements.

XLink: Hyperlinks in XML

The W3C Recommendation called XLink describes hyperlinks that offer a far greater degree of functionality than those offered in HTML. These extended links can be multidirectional, linking from, within, and between XML documents. It also describes simple links, which are unidirectional and therefore offer no more functionality than hyperlinks in HTML.

Hyperlinks in other technologies

Hyperlinks are used in the Gopher protocol, e-mails, Text editors, PDF documents, word processing documents, spreadsheets, Apple's HyperCard and many other places.

How hyperlinks work in HTML

A link has two ends, called anchors, and a direction. The link starts at the source anchor and points to the destination anchor. A link from one domain to another is said to be outbound from its source anchor and inbound to its target.

The most common destination anchor is a URL used in the World Wide Web. This can refer to a document, e.g. a webpage, or other resource, or to a position in a webpage. The latter is achieved by means of a HTML element with a "name" or "id" attribute at that position of the HTML document. The URL of the position is the URL of the webpage with "#attribute name" appended — this is a fragment identifier.

When linking to PDF documents from an HTML page the "attribute name" can be replaced with syntax that references a page number or another element of the PDF, for example page=[pageNo] - "#page=386".

Link behavior in web browsers

A Web browser usually displays a hyperlink in some distinguishing way, e.g. in a different colour, font or style. The behaviour and style of links can be specified using the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) language.

In a graphical user interface, the appearance of a mouse cursor may change into a hand motif to indicate a link. In most graphical web browsers, links are displayed in underlined blue text when not cached, but underlined purple text when cached. When the user activates the link (e.g. by clicking on it with the mouse) the browser will display the target of the link. If the target is not an HTML file, depending on the file type and on the browser and its plug-ins, another program may be activated to open the file.

The HTML code contains some or all of the five main characteristics of a link:

  • link destination ("href" pointing to a URL)
  • link label
  • link title
  • link target
  • link class or link id

It uses the HTML element "a" with the attribute "href" (HREF is an abbreviation for "Hypertext REFerence"[2]) and optionally also the attributes "title", "target", and "class" or "id":

<a href="URL" title="link title" target="link target" class="link class">link label</a>

Example: To embed a link into a Page, blogpost, or comment, it may take this form:

<a href="http://wiki.gis.com/">wiki.gis.com</a>

After publishing, the complex link string is reduced to the following for visualization in typical Web browsers:


This contributes to a clean, easy to read text or document.

When the cursor hovers over a link, depending on the browser and/or graphical user interface, some informative text about the link can be shown:

  • It pops up, not in a regular window, but in a special hover box, which disappears when the cursor is moved away (sometimes it disappears anyway after a few seconds, and reappears when the cursor is moved away and back). Mozilla Firefox, IE, Opera, and many other web browsers all show the URL.
  • In addition, the URL is commonly shown in the status bar.

Normally, a link will open in the current frame or window, but sites that use frames and multiple windows for navigation can add a special "target" attribute to specify where the link will be loaded. Windows can be named upon creation, and that identifier can be used to refer to it later in the browsing session. If no current window exists with that name, a new window will be created using the ID.

Creation of new windows is probably the most common use of the "target" attribute. In order to prevent accidental reuse of a window, the special window names "_blank" and "_new" are usually available, and will always cause a new window to be created. It is especially common to see this type of link when one large website links to an external page. The intention in that case is to ensure that the person browsing is aware that there is no endorsement of the site being linked to by the site that was linked from. However, the attribute is sometimes overused and can sometimes cause many windows to be created even while browsing a single site.

Another special page name is "_top", which causes any frames in the current window to be cleared away so that browsing can continue in the full window.

History of the hyperlink

The term "hyperlink" was coined in 1965 (or possibly 1964) by Ted Nelson at the start of Project Xanadu. Nelson had been inspired by "As We May Think," a popular essay by Vannevar Bush. In the essay, Bush described a microfilm-based machine (the Memex) in which one could link any two pages of information into a "trail" of related information, and then scroll back and forth among pages in a trail as if they were on a single microfilm reel. The closest contemporary analogy would be to build a list of bookmarks to topically related Web pages and then allow the user to scroll forward and backward through the list.

In a series of books and articles published from 1964 through 1980, Nelson transposed Bush's concept of automated cross-referencing into the computer context, made it applicable to specific text strings rather than whole pages, generalized it from a local desk-sized machine to a theoretical worldwide computer network, and advocated the creation of such a network. Meanwhile, working independently, a team led by Douglas Engelbart (with Jeff Rulifson as chief programmer) was the first to implement the hyperlink concept for scrolling within a single document (1966), and soon after for connecting between paragraphs within separate documents (1968). See NLS.

Legal issues

While hyperlinking among pages of Internet content has long been considered an intrinsic feature of the Internet, some websites have claimed that linking to them is not allowed without permission.

In certain jurisdictions it is or has been held that hyperlinks are not merely references or citations, but are devices for copying web pages. In the Netherlands, for example, Karin Spaink was initially convicted of copyright infringement for linking, although this ruling was overturned in 2003. The courts that advocate it see the mere publication of a hyperlink that connects to illegal material to be an illegal act in itself, regardless of whether referencing illegal material is illegal. In 2004, Josephine Ho was acquitted of 'hyperlinks that corrupt traditional values'. [3]

In 2000, British Telecom sued Prodigy claiming that Prodigy infringed its patent (U.S. Patent 4,873,662) on web hyperlinks. After litigation, a court found for Prodigy, ruling that British Telecom's patent did not cover web hyperlinks. [4]

In United States jurisprudence, there is a distinction between the mere act of linking to someone else's website, and linking to content that is illegal or infringing.[5] Several courts have found that merely linking to someone else's website is not copyright or trademark infringement, regardless of how much that someone else might object.[6] [7] [8]. Linking to illegal or infringing content can be sufficiently problematic to give rise to legal liability.[9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

See also

  • Object hyperlinking
  • Overlinking
  • Underlinking
  • Internal link
  • HTML element
  • Xenu's Link Sleuth — checks Web sites for broken hyperlinks


  1. Hyperlink: retrieved September 12, 2008, from hyperlink http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hyperlink
  2. Tim Berners-Lee, Making a Server ("HREF" is for "hypertext reference")
  3. The prosecution of Taiwan sexuality researcher and activist Josephine Ho
  4. CNET News.com, Hyperlink patent case fails to click. August 23, 2002.
  5. Cybertelecom :: Legal to Link?
  6. Ford Motor Company v. 2600 Enterprises, 177 F.Supp.2d 611 (EDMi Dec. 20, 2001)
  7. American Civil Liberties Union v. Miller, 977 F.Supp. 1228 (ND Ga. 1997)
  8. Ticketmaster Corp. v. Tickets.Com, Inc., No. 99-07654 (CD Calif. Mar. 27, 2000)
  9. Intellectual Reserve v. Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Inc., 75 FSupp2d 1290 (D Utah 1999)
  10. Universal City Studios Inc v Reimerdes, 111 FSupp2d 294 (DCNY 2000)
  11. Comcast of Illinoi X LLC v. Hightech Elec. Inc., District Court for the Northern District of Illinoi, Decision of July 28, 2004, 03 C 3231
  12. WebTVWire.com, Linking to Infringing Video is probably Illegal in the US. December 10, 2006.
  13. Compare Perfect 10 v. Google, Decision of February 21, 2006, Case No. CV 04-9484 AHM (CD Cal. 2/21/06), CRI 2006, 76-88 No liability for thumbnail links to infringing content]

External links