Recently the notion of self-similarity has been shown to apply to wide-area and local-area network traffic. In this paper we examine the mechanisms that give rise to self-similar network traffic. We present an explanation for traffic self-similarity by using a particular subset of wide area traffic: traffic due to the World Wide Web (WWW). Using an extensive set of traces of actual user executions of NCSA Mosaic, reflecting over half a million requests for WWW documents, we show evidence that WWW traffic is selfsimilar. Then we show that the self-similarity in such traffic can be explained based on the underlying distributions of WWW document sizes, the effects of caching and user preference in file transfer, the effect of user “think time”, and the superimposition of many such transfers in a local area network. To do this we rely on empirically measured distributions both from our traces and from data independently collected at over thirty WWW sites.