In computing, a hyperlink, or simply a link, is a digital reference to data that the user can follow or be guided to by clicking or tapping. A hyperlink points to a whole document or to a specific element within a document. Hypertext is text with hyperlinks. The text that is linked from is known as anchor text. A software system that is used for viewing and creating hypertext is a hypertext system, and to create a hyperlink is to hyperlink (or simply to link). A user following hyperlinks is said to navigate or browse the hypertext.
The document containing a hyperlink is known as its source document. For example, in content from Wikipedia or Google Search, many words and terms in the text are hyperlinked to definitions of those terms. Hyperlinks are often used to implement reference mechanisms such as tables of contents, footnotes, bibliographies, indexes, letters, and glossaries.
In some hypertext, hyperlinks can be bidirectional: they can be followed in two directions, so both ends act as anchors and as targets. More complex arrangements exist, such as many-to-many links.
The effect of following a hyperlink may vary with the hypertext system and may sometimes depend on the link itself; for instance, on the World Wide Web most hyperlinks cause the target document to replace the document being displayed, but some are marked to cause the target document to open in a new window (or, perhaps, in a new tab). Another possibility is transclusion, for which the link target is a document fragment that replaces the link anchor within the source document. Not only persons browsing the document may follow hyperlinks. These hyperlinks may also be followed automatically by programs. A program that traverses the hypertext, following each hyperlink and gathering all the retrieved documents is known as a Web spider or crawler.
An inline link displays remote content without the need for embedding the content. The remote content may be accessed with or without the user following the link.
An inline link may display a modified version of the content; for instance, instead of an image, a thumbnail, low resolution preview, cropped section, or magnified section may be shown. The full content is then usually available on demand, as is the case with print publishing software – e.g., with an external link. 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.
An anchor hyperlink (anchor link) is a link bound to a portion of a document, which is often called a fragment. The fragment is generally a portion of text or a heading, though not necessarily. For instance, it may also be a hot area in an image (image map in HTML), a designated, often irregular part of an image.
Fragments are marked with anchors (in any of various ways), which is why a link to a fragment is called an anchor link (that is, a link to an anchor). For example, in XML, the element
<anchor id="name" />" provides anchoring capability (as long as the DTD or schema defines it), and in wiki markup,
((anchor|name)) is a typical example of implementing it. In word processor apps, anchors can be inserted where desired and may be called bookmarks. In URLs, the hash character (#) precedes the name of the anchor for the fragment.
One way to define a hot area in an image is by a list of coordinates that indicate its boundaries. For example, a political map of Africa may have each 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.
Text hyperlink. Hyperlink is embedded into a word or a phrase and makes this text clickable.
Image hyperlink. Hyperlink is embedded into an image and makes this image clickable.
Bookmark hyperlink. Hyperlink is embedded into a text or an image and takes visitors to another part of a web page.
E-mail hyperlink. Hyperlink is embedded into e-mail address and allows visitors to send an e-mail message to this e-mail address.
A fat link (also known as a "one-to-many" link, an "extended link" or a "multi-tailed link") is a hyperlink which leads to multiple endpoints; the link is a set-valued function.
Main article: HTML element § Anchor
Tim Berners-Lee saw the possibility of using hyperlinks to link any information to any other information over the Internet. Hyperlinks were therefore integral to the creation of the World Wide Web. Web pages are written in the hypertext mark-up language HTML.
This is what a hyperlink to the home page of the W3C organization could look like in HTML code:
<a href="https://www.w3.org/">W3C organization website</a>
This HTML code consists of several tags:
Webgraph is a graph, formed from web pages as vertices and hyperlinks, as directed edges.
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, remove linking from, within, and between XML documents. It can also describe simple links, which are unidirectional and therefore offer no more functionality than hyperlinks in HTML.
While wikis may use HTML-type hyperlinks, the use of wiki markup, a set of lightweight markup languages specifically for wikis, provides a simplified syntax for linking pages within wiki environments – in other words, for creating wikilinks.
The syntax and appearance of wikilinks may vary. Ward Cunningham's original wiki software, the WikiWikiWeb used CamelCase for this purpose. CamelCase was also used in the early version of Wikipedia and is still used in some wikis, such as TiddlyWiki, Trac, and PmWiki. A common markup syntax is the use of double square brackets around the term to be wikilinked. For example, the input "[[zebras]]" is converted by wiki software using this markup syntax to a link to a zebras article. Hyperlinks used in wikis are commonly classified as follows:
Wikilinks are visibly distinct from other text, and if an internal wikilink leads to a page that does not yet exist, it usually has a different specific visual appearance. For example, in Wikipedia wikilinks are displayed in blue, except those that link to pages that do not yet exist, which are instead shown in red. Another possibility for linking is to display a highlighted clickable question mark after the wikilinked term.
Main article: Hyperlinks in virtual worlds
Hyperlinks are being implemented in various 3D virtual world networks, including those that use the OpenSimulator and Open Cobalt platforms.
Main article: Digital preservation
Permalinks are URLs that are intended to remain unchanged for many years into the future, yielding hyperlinks that are less susceptible to link rot. Permalinks are often rendered simply, that is, as friendly URLs, so as to be easy for people to type and remember. Permalinks are used in order to point and redirect readers to the same Web page, blog post or any online digital media.
The scientific literature is a place where link persistence is crucial to the public knowledge. A 2013 study in BMC Bioinformatics analyzed 15,000 links in abstracts from Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science citation index, founding that the median lifespan of Web pages was 9.3 years, and just 62% were archived. The median lifespan of a Web page constitutes high-degree variable, but its order of magnitude usually is of some months.
The term "link" 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 1945 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.
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 proprietary worldwide computer network, and advocated the creation of such a network. Though Nelson's Xanadu Corporation was eventually funded by Autodesk in the 1980s, it never created this proprietary public-access 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), with NLS. Ben Shneiderman working with graduate student Dan Ostroff designed and implemented the highlighted link in the HyperTIES system in 1983. HyperTIES was used to produce the world's first electronic journal, the July 1988 Communications of the ACM, which was cited as the source for the link concept in Tim Berners-Lee's Spring 1989 manifesto for the Web. In 1988, Ben Shneiderman and Greg Kearsley used HyperTIES to publish "Hypertext Hands-On!", the world's first electronic book.
Released in 1987 for the Apple Macintosh, the database program HyperCard allowed for hyperlinking between various pages within a document, as well as to other documents and separate applications on the same computer. In 1990, Windows Help, which was introduced with Microsoft Windows 3.0, had widespread use of hyperlinks to link different pages in a single help file together; in addition, it had a visually different kind of hyperlink that caused a popup help message to appear when clicked, usually to give definitions of terms introduced on the help page. The first widely used open protocol that included hyperlinks from any Internet site to any other Internet site was the Gopher protocol from 1991. It was soon eclipsed by HTML after the 1993 release of the Mosaic browser (which could handle Gopher links as well as HTML links). HTML's advantage was the ability to mix graphics, text, and hyperlinks, unlike Gopher, which just had menu-structured text and hyperlinks.
Main article: Copyright aspects of hyperlinking and framing
While hyperlinking among webpages is an intrinsic feature of the web, some websites object to being linked by other websites; some have claimed that linking to them is not allowed without permission.
Contentious in particular are deep links, which do not point to a site's home page or other entry point designated by the site owner, but to content elsewhere, allowing the user to bypass the site's own designated flow, and inline links, which incorporate the content in question into the pages of the linking site, making it seem part of the linking site's own content unless an explicit attribution is added.
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, Karin Spaink was initially convicted in this way of copyright infringement by linking, although this ruling was overturned in 2003. The courts that advocate this view 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' in Taiwan.
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.
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 (e.g., gambling illegal in the US) or infringing (e.g., illegal MP3 copies). Several courts have found that merely linking to someone else's website, even if by bypassing commercial advertising, is not copyright or trademark infringement, regardless of how much someone else might object. Linking to illegal or infringing content can be sufficiently problematic to give rise to legal liability. Compare for a summary of the current status of US copyright law as to hyperlinking, see the discussion regarding the Arriba Soft and Perfect 10 cases.
Somewhat controversially, Vuestar Technologies has tried to enforce patents applied for by its owner, Ronald Neville Langford, around the world relating to search techniques using hyperlinked images to other websites or web pages.