CERN's world-first browser reborn: Now you can browse like it's 1990

Sir Tim Berners-Lee's WorldWideWeb browser is recreated as an app.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

A team at Switzerland-based research center CERN has rebuilt WorldWideWeb, the world's first browser created in 1990 for its researchers.   

Earlier this month a group of developers and designers convened at CERN, or The European Organization for Nuclear Research, to rebuild WorldWideWeb in celebration of its 30th anniversary. 

The WorldWideWeb browser was built by Sir Tim Berners-Lee in 1990 on a NeXT machine, following his March 1989 proposal for a 'Mesh' or global hypertext system for CERN that he would later call the World Wide Web. 

The system aimed to address information loss that came with a high turnover and CERN's constantly changing technology. This was an acute problem at CERN that Berners-Lee predicted the world would also face within the next decade.    

Besides the browser, Berners-Lee developed 'httpd', the first hypertext server software for serving up early webpages. 

The WorldWideWeb browser simulator is now available online to view in a modern browser. For anyone curious to know how to use it, the developers have provided written instructions and a video demo

Opening a webpage in the browser involves selecting 'Document' from the menu, then selecting 'Open from full document reference', and typing in a URL such as http://w3c.org. Once inside a document, navigation requires double-clicking links.    

The team who rebuilt Berners-Lee's WorldWideWeb browser documented the five days they spent on the project. A key goal was to get the browser running on a NeXT cube machine they borrowed from CERN's museum.  

The developers used the NeXT computer's NeXTSTEP operating system to replicate the fonts used in the WordWideWeb browser, which were Helvetica, Courier, and Ohlfs. 

SEE: Cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Part of the WorldWideWeb site includes a neat infographic of the web's development since 1989 and key developments leading up to it, covering browsers, new HTML formats, key milestone websites, computers, networks, and formats. 

As noted by the WordWideWeb team, Berners-Lee's browser was also designed to be an editor. 

"At its heart, WorldWideWeb is a word processor …but with links. And just as you can use a word processor purely for reading documents, the real fun comes when you write your own. Especially when you throw hyperlinks into the mix," they explain. 

"Today it's hard to imagine that web browsers might also be used to create webpages. It turned out that people were quite happy to write HTML by hand — something that Tim Berners-Lee and colleagues never expected. 

"They thought that some kind of user interface would be needed for making web pages and links. That's what the WorldWideWeb browser provided. You could open a document in one window and 'mark' it. Then, in a document in another window, you could create a link to the marked page."


The WorldWideWeb browser simulator is now available online to view in a modern browser.

Image: CERN

Previous and related coverage

Tim Berners-Lee wants to fix the web, 30 years on

Can a new deal for the web improve the way governments, businesses and citizens operate online?

Technology that changed us: The 1980s, from MS-DOS to the first GPS satellite

In this 50-year retrospective, we're not just looking at technology year by year, we're looking at technologies that had an impact on us, paved the way for the future, and changed us, in ways good and bad. (Previously: The 1970s)

Inside CERN's datacenter helping the Large Hadron Collider probe the Big Bang: Photos

As well as acting as the hub for a grid of scientific institutions around the world, CERN's datacenter has to cope with vast amounts of raw data from its particle physics experiments.

25 Years: How the Web began

25 years ago there was the Internet, but there was no Web. Then, Tim Berners-Lee proposed creating an Internet-based hypertext system and the Web was on its way.

CERN's souped-up Large Hadron Collider to launch again after Higgs boson hiatus

CERN hopes to find dark matter this year with its refitted LHC, which can produce beams powerful enough to melt a car.

Web inventor Berners-Lee creates a new privacy first way of dealing with the internet

First, Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the web, now he wants to save it.

Happy 29th birthday world wide web: Inventor slams tech giants

Sir Tim Berners-Lee said a few dominant platforms are controlling the world wide web.

Why companies might need to do business across 2 internets in the future TechRepublic

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt predicts the internet will split into US-led and China-led versions, within the next decade.

Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee's startup wants to restore people's control over their data CNET

His project, Solid, is based on "personal empowerment through data."

Editorial standards