June 21, 2024

What is the Internet?


The Internet is a global network of computer networks.

A computer conects to a local network to access the Internet. It does this through a host computer, which has access to the global network. The host acts as a gateway.

Each computer connected to the Net has a unique address. This set of four numbers enables any other computer to find it. Domain Name Servers translate this number into words. Similarly, a DNS will translate a Web address, or URI (Uniform Resource Indicator), of the type www.some_name.co.uk into a numeric identity. Go here for an example.

Connection to the Internet, via a network, to a remote machine is made possible by the standard protocols that govern how this process takes place.


The rules, or conventions, that govern all communications between computers connected to the Internet. As long as a computer can access a host machine and uses the correct protocols, then it can access the Internet. There is no means of central control.

This module also stresses that the Net is a lot more than a simple definition of networked computers. It is as much defined by its users. It has its own particular culture. Lack of censorship and diversity of its users mark it out as a unique medium.

The Internet is a complex cultural phenomenon. Module 3 encourages exploration as a means of identifying its nature.

The module divides the history of the Net into six episodes.

Prehistory: Ideas which led to the Internet, or which inspired the individuals who conceived and built the system. Mainly stemming from MIT scientists and engineers. Vannevar Bush, Norbert Wiener, Claude Shannon and JCR Licklider. Emphasis is placed on the work of Bush and Licklider.

ARPA and the ARPANET: ARPA was a special agency within the US Department of Defense (DoD) and set up to fund and foster advanced research in a number of areas, including computing. In 1966 the Agency decided to construct an experimental wide-area network, which would link ARPA-funded research laboratories across the United States. The ARPANET was designed and built between 1967 and 1972.

The Internet: The ARPANET was a single, monolithic network. The Internet as we know it today evolved from the ARPANET. The drive behind the "internetting" project (which was also funded by ARPA) was to find a way of linking different networks together into a "network of networks". This took from 1973 until about 1983.

The World Wide Web: Invented in CERN, the international high-energy physics laboratory in Geneva, in 1989. The technical infrastructure for the Web was in existence by 1991, but it was not until 1993, with the launch of the first of the big "browser" programs, that the Web took off.

In addition to these four main episodes, two other developments are important if one is to understand the distinctive culture of the Internet. These are:

Usenet News: This is basically the system of global online conferences (usually called Newsgroups) in which much of the discussion that is held on the Internet takes place.
The Open Source Movement: This is a social movement, comprised mainly of expert programmers, who share a particular view regarding intellectual property and who have evolved a distinctive way of developing software.


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