What is the internet

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A simple way to look at how the Internet works

We live in a world where sending a instant message in the form of a email to someone thousands of miles away, displaying a message to millions of people in the form of a tweet or a blog post is considered not only normal but simple,
a child’s play.

That being said the vast majority of people do not understand what the internet is and use words like “cloud” (horrible term) to explain it, only adding to the confusion. The other extreme is professionals (some of us) that over simplify the definition to “the internet is just a wire” which isn’t much better, although this moves the conversation faster among them when someone “normal” hears that will take it as is and pass it on with no explanation which … well.

Wikipedia definition

The Internet is the global system of interconnected computer networks that use the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to link devices worldwide. It is a network of networks that consists of private, public, academic, business, and government networks of local to global
scope, linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless, and optical networking technologies.

So, the internet is not a bubble cloud it is actually one of if not the biggest infrastructure on the planet that is connected by a wire (berried in the ground), the wire might be copper (like the telephone) fiber optics or satellite beams.

The internet is useful because 2 computers that are connected directly to the internet can communicate to each other, a server is a special computer connected directly to the internet, webpages or websites are files located on that servers hard drive. Every server has a unique internet protocol address or IP address which just like your home address or postal address it helps computers find each other. But because IP address are groups of numbers and we aren’t as good as computers at remembering them (one of the reasons why computers were invented) we also give servers names, like google.com, amazon.com or communityknowledgebase.com.

Another important thing to understand is that the device you are reading this article from, be it a smartphone, a laptop or desktop personal computer is not a server and that is not connected directly to the internet, your home pc is called a client, because it is connected indirectly to the internet through an internet service provider (ISP).

A simple example that will help you understand this is by imagining the path an email takes when you send to your friend:

  • ●  you have an gmail email account
  • ●  your friend has an yahoo email account

The email goes from your pc to your ISP that sends it to the gmail servers that then send it to your friends email server that places the email in your friends inbox.

To go deeper into what happens when we use the internet, everything we do involves data, sending data to be more exact.To continue the previous example, we don’t send the whole email on the internet, the email is broken down into packets, blocks of data with a length that can vary and can carry a maximum of 1,500 bytes including the packet header that tells the receiving computer what is the data included in the packet and how it fits together with other
data.

This means that each email we send is broken by our computer in packets of data and each packet travels across the network from our computer through the ISP, Gmail, “the internet” to yahoo where the packets are reassembled into the email and placed into your friends inbox. What is even more impressive is that the packets do not need to travel the same path which makes the transfer of information faster.

While this was a simplified explanation of what the internet is, we haven’t touched upon routers, modems and other network devices to which we will dedicate their own articles you now have a better understanding on how the internet works than the average person out there.

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