How does the Internet Archive work?

  • The Wayback Machine, developed with Alexa Internet, serves as a digital time capsule by creating a three-dimensional index that archives and allows users to browse web pages from multiple time periods.
  • The Internet Archive focuses on publicly accessible web pages, excluding those behind passwords or forms and respecting robots.
  • The Internet Archive also digitizes books, providing free access to a vast collection of literary works and other materials, furthering its mission of universal access to information.

The Wayback Machine, developed by the Internet Archive and Alexa Internet, preserves the web by using web crawlers to capture and store snapshots of publicly accessible web pages. It cannot capture every page, its vast repository of over 330 billion web pages and millions of other digital items provides extensive resources for research and preservation, supported by global book-scanning centers.

A time capsule for the web

The Wayback Machine, developed in collaboration with Alexa Internet, is a core feature of the Internet Archive. It functions by creating a three-dimensional index that allows users to browse web documents across multiple time periods. This unique capability transforms the Wayback Machine into a digital time capsule, capturing and preserving the state of web pages over time. When a user accesses the Wayback Machine, they can enter a URL and view archived versions of that web page, showcasing how it appeared at various points in history.

The process begins with web crawlers that scour the internet, taking snapshots of publicly accessible web pages.

Also read: This data scientist wants to build an archive about the history of internet measurement

Also read: What resources did the internet make available?

Scope and limitations of web archiving

The Internet Archive does not capture all websites on the web; its focus is on publicly accessible pages. Pages that require passwords, are accessible only through form submissions, or reside on secure servers are generally not included in the archive. Additionally, certain pages are excluded due to robots.txt files, which instruct web crawlers not to archive them, and some sites are excluded at the request of the site owners.

Despite these limitations, the Internet Archive strives to collect as much public web content as possible through its automated web crawlers. These crawlers continuously gather data, creating a vast repository of web page snapshots. The mission of the Internet Archive is to provide universal access to all knowledge, which guides its extensive efforts to document and preserve the digital world.

Expanding beyond web pages – digitizing books and more

In addition to its web archiving efforts, the Internet Archive is heavily involved in book digitization projects. It manages one of the largest book digitization efforts globally, aiming to preserve and provide access to vast amounts of printed material. These projects involve scanning books from libraries and other sources, converting them into digital formats that can be accessed by anyone online.

The digitized books are made available through the Internet Archive’s platform, where users can read and download them for free. This initiative not only preserves literary works but also democratizes access to knowledge, aligning with the Archive’s mission of providing universal access to all information.


Alaiya Ding

Alaiya Ding is an intern news reporter at Blue Tech Wave specialising in Fintech and Blockchain. She graduated from China Jiliang University College of Modern Science and Technology. Send tips to

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