Search Engines and Web Browsers Are Not the Same: Here’s the Difference


We have recently seen a lot of comments on social media where users confuse search engines and web browsers. We thought this could be a good opportunity to help educate users about the real differences between search engines and web browsers.

I have seen many comments referring to DuckDuckGo where the topic under review was about changing web browsers. Search engines like DuckDuckGo are certainly alternatives to search engines like Google and Bing, but they are not web browsers.

For example, Google has a web browser and a search engine, Chrome and Google Search. Just because you’re using DuckDuckGo on Chrome doesn’t mean you’ve knocked Google out of the equation. If your goal is to remove Google from your search and web history, then you will need to use DuckDuckGo on another web browser, like Brave or Firefox.

Here are the main differences

Search engine

Just let me “Google” that.

There are many search engines available including Google, DuckDuckGo, StartPage, Bing, etc. Search engines are made up of three different functions:

  • The search algorithm: Algorithm is the code under the search engine that indexes websites and web pages and matches them to the keywords you entered into the search engine. If you type in “how to cook lasagna” the search engine will crawl the index for those keywords and hopefully give you the matching results.
  • The robot : Crawlers are bots (think an ant colony) that crawl websites on the Internet and bring back their data to be indexed. Websites like ours use keywords to attract crawlers to add to the index for you to find us.
  • Index: As we have already seen, the index is the library that the robot and the algorithm compile. The index is made up of URLs that are provided to you in a visual form. When you have searched for “how to cook lasagna” your results will display the titles of web pages that should be relevant to how to cook lasagna.
Search Engines and Web Browsers Are Not the Same: Here's the Difference
Look for all the things!

Web browsers

Web browsers are software applications that you install on your computer to retrieve information from websites or web servers. Some of the early web browsers included Netscape and Internet Explorer. These have given way to Chrome, Edge (based on Chromium) and Firefox.

Without web browsers, search engines wouldn’t work. You need something like Chrome, Firefox, Brave, Vivaldi, or Edge in order to use a search engine to find web pages. The four attributes of a web browser are:

  1. Browsers use a graphical interface with which you interact. Without the GUI, you would not be able to see the web pages.
  2. Browsers interpret the HTML code and formatting of web pages to present you with static or dynamic results. Websites are made up of HTML and JavaScript, which browsers then turn into visual components.
  3. Browsers communicate with Internet service providers using the TCP / IP and HTTP / HTTPS protocols.
  4. Browsers use an address / search bar where you can go directly to a web page if you know the URL or search for it if you don’t.

This was a brief explanation of the differences between a web browser and a search engine. Hope this has been helpful for those of you who have been confused by the topic. The best way to think about this is that you can’t use a search engine without a web browser. Here is another good resource on the subject.

And if you think switching from Google Search to DuckDuckGo while using Chrome is preventing Google from looking at you, it isn’t. You will need to quit Chrome to maximize your distance from Google. Check out our alternatives to Google Chrome here. And tell us what you think of our MeWe page by joining the MeWe social network.

Last updated June 26, 2021.


Rosemary S. Bishop