ELI5: what is the difference between a link and a hyperlink?

Links and hyperlinks allow us to navigate the world wide web, helping us to find and access different pages, sites and resources.

The difference between a link and a hyperlink is subtle. So much so, that the two terms are often used interchangeably. You won’t lose anyone’s understanding for accidentally using the ‘wrong’ term. Nevertheless, there is a slight difference.

So, just what is the difference between a link and a hyperlink?


What is a link?

A link is an address that helps you access different servers and find websites and resources online. A link can be referred to simply as a web address. As such, some people say that a link is the same as a URL.

URL: Uniform Resource Locator. The address that specifies the location of a resource on the internet.

Links show you the address of the site or page that it leads to. Indeed, clearly showing you this address is their purpose. You could write a link down on a piece of paper with a pen, and it’d still be a link.

For example, this is a link: https://www.parkersoftware.com

Link control is a server control. This means that the request to visit the resource the link refers to goes to the server, before redirecting to the site.


What is a hyperlink?

A hyperlink, like a link, takes you to a different part of the internet — a different website, a page within the same website, or an online resource.  

Hyperlinks are found within webpages, and you click on them to be taken to the resource they connect to. Rather than listing the URL of the resource, however, hyperlinks can take many forms. They can be an icon or graphic, but most commonly, they use anchor text.

Anchor text: clickable text/words used in a hyperlink. Anchor text is the thing you click to follow the hyperlink to the address or resource it points to.

For example, this is a hyperlink: Parker Software homepage

Hyperlinks are a HTML control. This means that clicking on them takes you straight to the target site, rather than routing a request through the server.

HTML: HyperText Markup Language. The standard programming language used for creating web pages.


Key difference

All hyperlinks are links. But not all links are hyperlinks.

The main difference between a link and a hyperlink is what you see.

What you see with a hyperlink is anchor text. That is, some text on the current webpage that (usually) relates to the content of the linked resource. With a link, meanwhile, you see the address of the linked page.


Beware

Sometimes, people disguise hyperlinks as links. For example, you’ll see a link to a web address that you know or trust. But, instead of taking you there, that fake link is instead acting as anchor text for a hyperlink. And the hyperlink takes you to a different website than the one the text suggests.

This can be dangerous, as it can mean you unknowingly click through to malicious sites.


tL;DR: What is the difference between a link and a hyperlink?

The difference between a link and a hyperlink is subtle and, for many, unnoticeable. Often, the term ‘link’ is used to refer to a hyperlink.

Crucially, both links and hyperlinks are all about navigating the world wide web, connecting pages and people.