Search engine

Updated: 02/27/2019 by Computer Hope
Illustration: Using a Search engine.

A search engine is software, usually accessed on the Internet, that searches a database of information according to the user's query. The engine provides a list of results that best match what the user is trying to find. Today, there are many different search engines available on the Internet, each with their own abilities and features. The first search engine ever developed is considered Archie, which was used to search for FTP files and the first text-based search engine is considered Veronica. Today, the most popular and well-known search engine is Google. Other popular search engines include AOL, Ask.com, Baidu, Bing, and Yahoo.

How to access a search engine

For users, a search engine is accessed through a browser on their computer, smartphone, tablet, or another device. Today, most new browsers use an omnibox, which is a text box at the top of the browser that shows the address and is where you can also search on the Internet. You can also visit one of the major search engines home page to perform a search.

How a search engine works

Because large search engines contain millions and sometimes billions of pages, many search engines not only search the pages but also display the results depending on their importance. This importance is commonly determined by using various algorithms.

Visual search engine example

As illustrated in the image on the right, the source of all search engine data is a spider or crawler, which automatically visits pages and indexes their contents.

Once a page is crawled, the data contained in the page is processed and indexed. Often, this can involve the steps below.

  • Strip out stop words.
  • Record the remaining words in the page and the frequency they occur.
  • Record links to other pages.
  • Record information about any images, audio, and embedded media on the page.

The data collected above is used to rank the page and is the primary method a search engine uses to determine if a page should be shown and in what order.

Finally, once the data is processed, it is broken up into one or more files, moved to different computers, or loaded into memory where it can be accessed when a search is performed.

Do all search engines give the same results?

Not necessarily. Search engines use proprietary algorithms to index and correlate data, so every search engine has its own approach to finding what you're trying to find. Its results may be based on where you're located, what else you've searched for, and what results were preferred by other users searching for the same thing, for example. Each search engines will weigh these factors in a unique way, and offer you different results.

What is the best search engine?

There isn't one search engine that is better than all the others. Some people could argue that Google's search engine is the best and it is probably the most popular and well-known. Often, if someone asks how to do something, or what something is, another person will suggest they "Google it." "Google," used as a verb, means to search for results using the Google search engine.

Microsoft's Bing search engine is also popular and used by many people. Bing does an excellent job of finding information and answering questions. Yahoo's search engine, while not quite as popular as it used to be, still does an excellent job of searching for information.

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