Nikhef and the WWW

Welcome to one of the three first websites in the world!

A world without the World Wide Web has become impossible to imagine. The latest news, train schedules, weather forecasts … we can now check it all online and on the go. Every day, new and more useful sites and apps emerge. We have come so far, could we still live without ‘the web’?

It is hard to imagine now, but in 1992, there were only three websites in the entire world: those of CERN, SLAC and Nikhef.

The Nikhef website came into existence in February 1992. The web server was first installed at, the network information system of the network gurus of Nikhef. Not long after, the server moved to a more powerful system:

Read about the Nikhef website in 1992 (Dutch only)

Eén van de eerste drie websites ter wereld: zo zag de website van Nikhef er in 1992 uit.
One of the first three websites in the world: this is what the Nikhef website looked like in 1992.

The birth of the www

The World Wide Web was developed at CERN, the European laboratory for particle research. Here, thousands of physicists perform research into the building blocks of matter. A good exchange of information is essential for these physicists. In 1989, two IT specialists at CERN, Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau, started the World Wide Web project, seeking a way to facilitate the exchange of information among the institutes connected to CERN. They developed the web standards HTTP and HTML.

1989:  Tim Berners-Lee writes the proposal for what later came to be known as the WWW; commenting on this proposal, his superior writes: “vague but interesting“.
1991:  The WWW is presented, a.o. at a workshop attended by Nikhef employee Willem van Leeuwen. That same year, the first web server becomes operational, and the software is made available via the CERN Program Library.
1992:  The Nikhef website comes online.
1993:  CERN makes the software available on a royalty-free basis.

Nikhef’s role

Willem van Leeuwen, former researcher at Nikhef, remembers the early days of the WWW well. “The WWW operates on the internet. Only when it was installed and I could see it, I understood how it worked.”

As one of the research institutes affiliated with CERN, Nikhef played an important role in promoting this new technology within CERN and at the other institutes performing research at CERN. As Nikhef had a good network connection with CERN, the Nikhef WWW server was always available for demonstrations. As webmaster, Willem van Leeuwen developed a number of simple scripts to access the CERN information. Tim Berners-Lee used these to convince sceptical CERN staff of the qualities of the web. Because of that, was eventually one of the first three websites in the world!