Ancient Web Browsers
Last updated: 2 Apr 2023
This is an archive of the very earliest Web browsers -- the true pioneers, the Old Gods, the Ancients:
What makes a browser "ancient"? Since Mosaic popularized the Web (or as another source puts it, "set the Web free"), it makes a good benchmark. Mosaic for X 1.2, which appears to be the most widely-distributed early version, was released in June 1993. Mosaic for X 2.0, along with the first versions for Macintosh and Windows, was released in November 1993. So, I'd say anything from before mid-1993 clearly qualifies, arguably extending into early 1994.
These programs are worth preserving for the same reasons we keep physical objects in museums. Source code is an artifact. Artifacts are history. Let's preserve these artifacts.
Below is a table comparing the earliest-known version of each browser with the earliest version archived here. Clicking a browser name will bring you to more complete information and download links.
Also included are some notes on my attempts to build and run these programs and screenshots of the browsers in action. Most browsers archived here will build on NeXTStep 3.3 in Previous with (where necessary) CubXWindow and LessTif.
Please help me locate missing browsers and versions.
|Browser||First Release||Date||Earliest Archived||Date|
|WorldWideWeb/Nexus||?||1990/1991 *||0.12||20 Aug 1991|
|LineMode||?||1990/1991 *||0.11a||20 Aug 1991|
|ViolaWWW||? **||Dec 1991||2.0.4||4 April 1992|
|Erwise||0.1||26 Jul 1992||☺||☺|
|TkWWW||0.1 alpha||25 Jul 1992||0.7 alpha||1 May 1993|
|MidasWWW||1.0||16 Nov 1992||☺||☺|
|w3browser||0.1||25 Nov 1992||☺||☺|
|MacWWW/Samba||alpha||2 Feb 1993||1.03||14 Aug 1993|
|Lynx||2.0 alpha **||22 Mar 1993||2.0.11||27 Aug 1993|
|X Mosaic||0.5||23 Jan 1993||1.0||21 Apr 1993|
* The release timeline for WorldWideWeb and LineMode are complicated in that they had staged releases within CERN and then later to the wider public. See Robert Cailliau's detailed timeline.
** ViolaWWW and Lynx were both developed as independent hypertext systems before WWW capability was added; the "First Release" version listed here indicates the first WWW version.
- u/playeren's repo of v. 0.0, 0.1, and 0.2 of WWWDaemon, the first web server (and related reddit thread)
- Version Alpha r9 (Nov 1993) of Cello, the first browser for Windows
- Sean Palmer's "Earliest Web Screenshots" and "Proto HTML"
- Richard McManus's Web Development History blog
- Alfie Knight's detailed (but not 100% accurate) "Timeline of Web Browsers"
- CERN's "The Birth of the World Wide Web (Timeline)"
- Robert Cailliau's "A Little History of the World Wide Web (1995)
- TimBL's early WorldWideWeb changelog"
These browsers may be lost. (They are mentioned by TimBL in various places.) Please let me know if you have sources or binaries for any of these browsers:
- James Whitescarver's W3 curses browser
- Dan Connolly's Tcl browser
- David Rashty's VMS browser
Tom Fine's FineWWW Perl browserfound!
The very first browser, written by the person who invented the Web.
This project is experimental and of course comes without any warranty whatsoever. However, it could start a revolution in information access.
-- TimBL, 20 August 1991
Tim Berners-Lee's WorldWideWeb/Nexus is more readily available still than most other ancient browsers. Even so, very early versions are difficult to come by. I've archived available versions up to 1.0 here.
These archives all include M68K NeXTStep binaries, so they run, but I can't get them to successfully make requests to the outside world. (I think the early version of libWWW is the culprit, as this also affects early versions of LineMode and Viola; and even then, those versions of Viola can successfully make Gopher requests.)
|0.4||30 Jan 1991|
|0.5||1 Feb 1991|
|0.7||19 Mar 1991|
|0.8||26 Mar 1991|
|0.9||3 Apr 1991|
|0.10||4 Apr 1991|
|0.11||15 Apr[?] 1991|
|0.12||19 Aug 1991|
Nicola Pellow's original portable browser.
Version 0.11 builds but does not GET. Version 2.11 builds and works.
|Before Feb 1991||-|
|11 Feb 1991||-|
|27 Feb 1991||-|
|5 Mar 1991||-|
|7 Mar 1991||-|
|8 Apr 1991||-|
|17 Apr 1991||-|
|10 May 1991||-|
|14 May 1991||-|
|0.7||21 May 1991|
|0.8||24 May 1991|
|0.9 1||Jun 1991|
|0.11a||15 Aug 1991|
|1.0 alpha 2||Dec 1993|
|1.3||16 Oct 1993|
1 First public release.
2 Partial source.
A complete dated version history is available.
Pei-Yuan Wei's adaptation of his extensible Viola hypertext application for HTML; also the recommended browser within CERN for a time. (See the original application announcement.)
Wei first added a WWW "app" to Viola in mid-December 1991 ("a one nite hack"!), and had shared it with TimBL by late January 1992. Notes included with the 2.1.0 build indicate that the first versions of Viola with WWW capability were circulated at CERN in March and April 1992, with the first public releases in May and July.
The 2.x versions are precisely dated in
main.c, and the 3.x versions are dated in their
|14 Jul 1992||-|
|10 May 1992||-|
|9 Mar 1992||-|
|2.0.4||4 April 1992|
|2.1.0 1||23 May 1992|
|2.1.2||14 July 1992|
|3.1 Beta||23 March 1994|
|3.3 Beta||10 April 1995|
1 This is a combined archive, containing sources for 2.1.0 and 2.1.2, as well as binaries for NeXT, DEC, RS6000, SGI, and SPARC. The NeXT binary is version 2.1.0, so the others likely are too. (There's an additional DEC binary called viola.old with a file date of 6 June 1992, so it may be version 2.1.1.)
The work of Finnish undergrads Kim Nyberg, Teemu Rantanen, Kati Suominen, and Kari Sydänmaanlakka.
Erwise was distributed as source and as binaries for Sun and Ultrix. The binaries show "Version 0.1 Alpha" in their info panels, whereas the compiled source's info panel shows "Version 1.0 Alpha." The binaries are from late March 1992, and the source is from July 25, making version progression plausible. On the other hand, the source directory unpacks to
erwise-0.1, and the www-talk message announcing the only release is dated July 26 -- one day after the source code -- and refers to version 0.1.
This builds most easily (in my experience) of all the truly ancient browsers besides LineMode, but it actually runs successfully on very few platforms (due possibly to Motif implementation issues that were reportedly a problem at the time).
Thanks to Roy at RT’s Free Soft we have source that (I can confirm) builds and runs on Ubuntu 9.10 (2009) with Lesstif2 installed. (Ubuntu 9.10 runs GCC 4.4.1, and Roy's changes to the original source code are minimal, so I suspect that this will build on any system that has GCC 4.x.)
|0.1 binary (Sun)||-|
|0.1 binary (Ultrix)||-|
|Source patched for Ubuntu 9.10||-|
Joseph Wang's excellent Tcl/Tk browser and editor -- the only editor among the early browsers for X.
Wang's editor was notoriously difficult to build, since TkWWW builds depended on minor differences between Tcl/Tk versions.
|0.1 alpha||25 July 1992|
|0.3 alpha||30 Aug 1992|
|0.4 alpha||18 Oct 1992|
|0.5 alpha||8 Feb 1993|
|0.6 alpha||19 Mar 1993|
|0.13 beta||31 Mar 1995|
|0.7 alpha 1||1 May 1993|
|0.8 beta||19 May 1993|
|0.9 beta||5 Sept 1993|
|0.10 beta||Jan 1994|
|0.11 pre3 (DEC)||Apr 1994|
|0.11 pre3 (Linux)||Apr 1994|
|0.11 beta||26 Apr 1994|
|0.12 pre1||Jun 1994|
|0.12 beta 2||14 Jul 1994|
1 Recovered from a WC3 archive; appears to be a partial source.
2 Builds on NeXTStep 3.3 with CubXWindow and Tcl7.4/Tk4.0; earlier versions of TkWWW require earlier Tcl/TK versions. Build notes.
Tony Johnson and Chung Huynh of SLAC's Motif browser, notable for its ability to display PostScript files and for Chinese language support.
Here is Johnson writing presciently about the Web in late 1994 in SLAC's Beam Line quarterly magazine:
At worst [the World Wide Web] may just become a glorified video delivery system and integrated home shopping network with a built-in method of tracking your purchases and sending you personalized junk e-mail. At its best such as system could provide truly interactive capabilities, allowing not only large corporations and publishers but also individuals and communities to publish information and interact through the network, while maintaining individual privacy. The outcome will have a major impact on the quality of life in the 21st century, influencing the way we work, play, shop, and even how we are governed.
The source for version 1.0 was recovered and posted to Github in 2015 by Dan Connolly. It was patched to (partially) run on (some) modern (32 bit) systems by Kostas Michalopoulos, as detailed on Reddit. Other sources for version 1.0 are available on the W3 website; those will build on Solaris 2.6, as shown above, although the menus don't work (probably because of Sun's Motif implementation).
Unfortunately, MidasWWW (1.0) displays rather than ignores HTML tags it doesn't recognize, making it unsuitable for browsing even basic modern pages. I haven't yet been able to successfully build a copy of version 2.x.
|1.0 TimBL Patches 1||Nov 1992|
|1.0 KM Patches 2||1992/2018|
|2.0 pre1 3||Nov 1993|
|2.1 (incomplete)||Apr 1994|
|2.1 via EarlyBrowserReborn||Apr 1994|
1 Source patched by TimBL, possibly to build on NeXTStep.
2 Patched to build on Debian 9.
3 Chinese language support version.
Tom Fine's elegant Perl browser.
Fine's browser is called simply 'w3browser,' but the folks at CERN referred to it as FineWWW, and others called it perlWWW.
There are two versions contained in the combined archive here. One, packaged in a
shar bundle, is the original release, dated November 1992. The other is an in-progress update that Fine reports he abandoned before it was ever released, dated January 1993. The early version runs without issue; the later version seems to have trouble connecting to remote servers.
The browser was written to parse only the first HTML spec. A patched (by me) version that ignores unknown tags, with a
diff file, is also archived here.
- Combined 0.1 and later version (November 1992; January 1993)
- Version 0.1 patched to ignore unknown tags
Many thanks to Tom Fine for contributing the files for this browser to the archive.
Nicola Pellow and Robert Cailliau's browser for the Macintosh. Source code was distributed at one point, but there's no trace of it online now. (
This was reportedly released as a commercial product by CERN, costing 50 ₠ -- true, but all CERN WWW products had prices at that point.)
Samba is the only browser that runs on System 6.
- Sources - missing
- Version 1.00 binary - missing
- Version 1.02 binary - missing
- Version 1.03 binary
Lou Montulli, Michael Grobe, and Charles Rezac's famous terminal browser. Like ViolaWWW, Lynx was initially developed as an independent hypertext system; WWW capabilities were added later. Lynx now has the distinction of being the oldest continuously-maintained web browser.
Change logs indicate that the ability to read HTML documents was added to Lynx on 9 March 1993.
|2.0 alpha||March 1993|
|2.0 beta R7||April 1993|
|2.0.11 1||August 1993|
|2.1.1 2||December 1993|
1 Compiles on NeXT with custom
putenv.c and removal of
get_file_lines() calls in
2 compiles on NeXT with no changes.
Since I define "ancient" by reference to predating Mosaic, I only archive versions of it up to 1.0 here.
|0.5||23 Jan 1993|
|0.6||31 Jan 1993|
|0.7||11 Feb 1993|
|0.8||14 Feb 1993|
|0.9||4 Mar 1993|
|0.10||14 Mar 1993|
|0.11||17 Mar 1993|
|0.12 1||5 Apr 1993|
|0.13||12 Apr 1993|
|1.0||21 Apr 1993|
1 Partial source.
- Version 1.0 patched for Ubuntu 17.10 [github] [compiles and runs on Ubuntu 9.10 with the addition of the
- I discovered what I believe to be a lost Alpha version of MacMosaic (dated 3 September 1992), hidden among W3's archives. You can find it now at the Macintosh Garden.