by Azra Hussain
The internet is one of the many commodities that users often take for granted. Nobody ever questions its existence – it’s just there, all around us. But what is the internet?
The internet is a ‘network of networks’, which essentially means that it is a network that connects all accessible computer networks across the globe. A lesser known fact about the internet is that it has stemmed from ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), which was a United States Defence Project. Cerf Vint, co-creator of the internet, said that the aim of the developers of ARPANET was to create a network which could survive a nuclear attack.
In order to create such a network, it had to be decentralized, and the information had to be sent to many computers rather than being concentrated in one location. This way, if a few computers got damaged, the information could still be retrieved from other computers present in the network.
ARPANET was programmed to send data in ‘packets’ as fast as possible and in as many directions as possible. It connected the computers of government organizations, universities and schools nationwide in the United States, enabling them to share and exchange information in the most convenient way imaginable.
The network sent data to specific addresses. Each computer connected to the network had an address, which helped determine the exact location of the computer to which the data had to be sent. When it was first introduced, ARPANET was exclusive to government offices and educational institutions, which kept record-keeping very simple and easy. However, as more and more people with computers began connecting to the network to access information, it became difficult to keep a record of all the computer addresses, and hence the responsibility was given to Stamford.
As ARPANET was growing and thriving in the United States, many other nations began developing their own versions of the network. Soon, similar networks popped up, leading to a more efficient way of communication between nations. However, there was a problem.
Although the networks created served the same purposes, they all used different sets of rules or protocols. Therefore, it was extremely difficult for networks in different nations to connect with each other, and even if they somehow managed to connect, it was very hard to maintain the connection.
To combat this issue, the Internet Protocol, which is still used to this day, was introduced. The Internet Protocol is a set of rules or protocols which governs the behaviour of every single network that is connected to the internet. It was designed in such a way that not only was it compatible with every nation’s network, but it also helped those networks to connect and share information.
This new development led to hundreds and thousands of people being connected to each other, sharing and exchanging information online. People could talk to someone living on the other side of the world, and news about the latest happenings on the globe was just a click away. However, this seemingly positive growth did not come without a downside.
It was originally not expected for so many people to join the network, and when hundreds and thousands of people began joining the internet, it became increasingly difficult for the record-keepers at Stamford to keep track of all the computers and the addresses that received and sent data. If a computer shut down or was disconnected from the internet, its address disappeared or changed completely, leaving the data nowhere to go. This led to a lot of errors and complications in the storage of information about a seemingly endless network.
In order to solve this problem, a new system of record-keeping was introduced. Web servers are computers specifically designed to store and share information. A website’s web server depends on the address or domain of the website. Different web domains were assigned to different web servers. For instance, if a person wanted information from example.com, the .com server would send him information. Likewise, if the same person wanted information from example.net, he would be sent information through the .net server.
This system of domain names and web servers made it a lot less complicated to send, receive and process data and information on a global level. Now people could share and exchange information conveniently and easily, without having to deal with any sort of technical error.
What makes the internet so interesting is that no one really owns it. When asked about the ownership of the internet, Vint says, “The honest answer to that is no one, but another answer can also be everyone.”
Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can set up a website and even a web server on the web, and even though we have to pay an Internet Service Provider for an internet connection and a web hosting company for a website, the internet does not belong to either of those bodies. It belongs to everyone who can access it, be it an ordinary person or a government body.