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How Does Internet Work - Behind the Worldwide Conversation - How the Internet Works

computer data information protocol

The internet is a worldwide conversation. Electronic mouths talk to each other through electronic signals shooting along fiber optic wires near the speed of light. The dialogue is continuous and never ending, and every possible topic of interest is discussed. But how does one join this frenzy? How does the internet work?

Pioneered by programs like ARPA, the internet debuted in the late 1960s. It was without frills, comprised of bulky computer systems transferring data at an unimaginably slow rate. But the foundations for progressed, however awkward and unrefined, were strong and stable, and the internet persistently slogged onwards. By the 1980s and 1990s, data transfer speed had multiplied exponentially, and users could upload and receive very detailed data. As IT gurus and computer engineers continue to unleash their legerdemain, the internet ingrains itself into the fabric of daily life, and as it grows, the cogs and wheels making up how the internet works become more and more shrouded.

The backbone of the internet is a system of telephone lines stretching across the entire world. These telephones lines are maintained by cooperating corporations who oversee the health of internet and assume one another’s information burdens if one line fails.

Next in line are Network Service Providers (NSPs) and private Point of Presences (POPs). NSPs and POPs are smaller backbones hosted by businesses for a certain geographical region. However, as they are independent networks, users are unable to communicate outside their respective network. Businesses solve this problem by sharing a line at a NAP (National Access Point), where information can be exchanged. Each NSP must link to a minimum of three NAPs to ensure a continual flow of data. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Local Access Networks (LANs) link to these subsets and charge customers to do so.

Sandwiched between the local ISPS and the customers is a nifty gadget called a router, a specialized computer for pigeonholing information. Once data is released into the data stream, it carries identifying numbers. Routers read these numbers and codes and send the data to the proper network and, by extension, the proper computer. Routers also protect information from chaotically spilling back into the data stream if the receiving computer goes haywire. Computers are identified by a unique Internet Protocol (IP) address, a unique nine-digit number assigned to every computer with access to the internet. The IP address is unique relative to the computer’s connected session; it does not exist for the entire life of the computer.

But most users have no clue what other IP addresses are; they only know it is their church secretary’s computer or the math teacher’s netbook. To remedy this situation, the internet uses Domain Name Servers (DNSs). A domain name is a specific URL (Uniform Resource Locator) assigned to a particular IP address. Top-level domain names, such as those with a .com, .org., .gov or .net suffix must be unique. Domains may include a virtually unlimited number of subdomains (in the form www.subdomain.domainname.suffix) so long as they are unique within that top-level domain name. When a domain name or URL is inputted into a web browser, the browser goes to a DNS server which matches the URL to a specific IP address and sends the user to that website on that particular computer.

But merely reaching a computer is not enough, as the data remains in its computer-parsable form. A TCIP/IP protocol stack on the computer changes the information to human-readable text and images. There are four layers to a TCIP/IP protocol:

• Applications Protocol: Designed for specific computer programs and applications. It actually displays the human-readable information;
• Transmission Control Protocol: Directs data to applications protocol;
• Internet Protocol: Directs information to a specific computer from the internet;
• Hardware: Converts binary data (computer lingo) into network signals.

Every packet of data either sent or received goes through this process. It translates beeps and jitters on a telephone line into sparkling images and pages of text. This is the miracle of how the internet works. Through a befuddling but wonderful array of servers, routers, NAPs and protocols, information conceived in California can dash to England or anywhere in a short moment. That is how the internet works.

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