Percent-encoding, also known as URL encoding, is a mechanism for encoding information in a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) under certain circumstances. Although it is known as URL encoding it is, in fact, used more generally within the main Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) set, which includes both Uniform Resource Locator (URL) and Uniform Resource Name (URN). As such, it is also used in the preparation of data of the application/x-www-form-urlencoded media type, as is often used in the submission of HTML form data in HTTP requests.
Types of URI characters
The characters allowed in a URI are either reserved or unreserved. Reserved characters are those characters that sometimes have special meaning. For example, forward slash characters are used to separate different parts of a URL. Unreserved characters have no such meanings. Using percent-encoding, reserved characters are represented using special character sequences. The sets of reserved and unreserved characters and the circumstances under which certain reserved characters have special meaning have changed slightly with each revision of specifications that govern URIs and URI schemes.
Percent-encoding reserved characters
When a character from the reserved set (a "reserved character") has special meaning (a "reserved purpose") in a certain context, and a URI scheme says that it is necessary to use that character for some other purpose, then the character must be percent-encoded. Percent-encoding a reserved character involves converting the character to its corresponding byte value in ASCII and then representing that value as a pair of hexadecimal digits. The digits, preceded by a percent sign "%" which is used as an escape character, are then used in the URI in place of the reserved character. (For a non-ASCII character, it is typically converted to its byte sequence in UTF-8, and then each byte value is represented as above.)
The reserved character "/", for example, if used in the "path" component of a URI, has the special meaning of being a delimiter between path segments. If, according to a given URI scheme, "/" needs to be in a path segment, then the three characters "%2F" or "%2f" must be used in the segment instead of a raw "/"
|Reserved characters after percent-encoding|
Reserved characters that have no reserved purpose in a particular context may also be percent-encoded but are not semantically different from those that are not.
In the "query" component of a URI (the part after a ? character), for example, "/" is still considered a reserved character but it normally has no reserved purpose, unless a particular URI scheme says otherwise. The character does not need to be percent-encoded when it has no reserved purpose.
URIs that differ only by whether a reserved character is percent-encoded or appears literally are normally considered not equivalent unless it can be determined that the reserved characters in question have no reserved purpose. This determination is dependent upon the rules established for reserved characters by individual URI schemes.Source: Url encode on Wikipedia