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HTML Basics: Hyperlink Syntax – Absolute, Relative and Root-relative

My new book Sams Teach Yourself Microsoft Expression Web 3 in 24 Hours is nearing completion (just finished final review of the first 10 chapters last night). The book is a revision of the original for the new version of Expression Web and in the rewriting process I also added some new content to help the readers better understand the sometimes confusing and mysterious world of web code. These additions were mostly brought forth by questions and comments from readers as is the case with the excerpt below about hyperlink syntax.

I chose this excerpt because it is relevant not only to people who use Expression Web 3 but to anyone who does anything on the web. When I started out in this field I was often confused about why there were three different types of hyperlinks and how and when to use them. Well, here is a straight forward explanation with examples:

Absolute, Relative and Root-relative Hyperlinks – an explanation

As you are creating hyperlinks in Expression Web 3, you will notice that the syntax of the link address in the Code view changes depending on what you link to. There are actually three different ways of writing a hyperlink address, all of which are used for different purposes:

Absolute Hyperlinks

Absolute hyperlinks are complete addresses that contain all the elements of a URL. They always start with some version of http:// followed by the domain name (for example, and optionally a page/folder. Absolute hyperlinks are used when linking to pages outside of the current site that have a different domain name.

Relative Hyperlinks

Relative hyperlinks are addresses that are relative to the current domain or location. They only contain the name of the target page prefixed with any necessary folder moves (for example, default.html). The browser sees that this is a relative hyperlink and adds the domain and folder location of the current page to the beginning of the link to complete it. If you use relative hyperlinks and you want to navigate from a page stored in one folder to a page stored in a different folder you add the folder prefixes to the hyperlink. For instance, a relative link from a page in Folder 1 to a page in Folder 2 would be ../Folder 2/page.html, where the ../ tells the browser you want to go out of the current folder and into a new one. When you create hyperlinks between pages in Expression Web 3, they are always inserted as relative links so that the application can easily update them if you choose to move files around. However, if you move the files around on your computer outside of the Expression Web program, the hyperlinks break.

Root-relative Hyperlinks

Root-relative hyperlinks are a subset of relative hyperlinks in which all the links are assumed to start from the root folder (domain name) of the site. They differ from the relative hyperlinks in that the address is prefixed by a forward slash (for example, /default.html). The browser applies only the domain to the beginning of this link. Root-relative hyperlinks are used in place of relative ones in large sites in which there is a chance the files will be moved around without using an application such as Expression Web 3 to update them. Because they refer to the root of the site rather than the current location of the page they are placed in, they work regardless of where the file is placed as long as they remain under the right domain.

By Morten Rand-Hendriksen

Morten Rand-Hendriksen is a Senior Staff Instructor at LinkedIn Learning (formerly specializing in AI, bleeding edge web technologies, and the intersection between technology and humanity. He also occasionally teaches at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. He is a popular conference and workshop speaker on all things tech ethics, AI, web technologies, and open source.

6 replies on “HTML Basics: Hyperlink Syntax – Absolute, Relative and Root-relative”

Thanks a lot for creating Absolute, Relative and Root-relative links – an explanation,
I was looking for something related and was happy to come across the tips by this particular posting.

Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied
on the video to make your point. You definitely know
what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just
posting videos to your blog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

I need my links to be root-relative; however, when I create a link it shows up as absolute: (a href=”file://///BIL-FS/BIL-projects/26/21186-01/50Toolbox/Home.html”). How can I change my expression Web settings so that it defaults to root-relative?


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