Internet 101: How do the internet, websites and email work anyway?
For better or worse, the internet has become the most common way of connecting with one another and sharing information. Almost all of us are plugged in 24/7 whether by computer, tablet, mobile phone, smart watch, internet-connected cars or devices. But have you ever wondered what the internet is exactly and how it all works?
In its simplest form, the internet is merely a series of devices connected together in order to share information. A device can be a computer, tablet, mobile phone, smartwatch, or “smart” anything for that matter. Being on a network means that your device is either connected by a wire or by a wireless connection to other devices. If your computer is connected to a printer, you are on a network. If your mobile phone is turned on, you are on a network. If your mobile phone is connected to a Bluetooth headset, then guess what? That’s a network too.
Every single device on a network is assigned a unique numerical address called an IP Address. The Domain Name System was created as sort of a phone book to connect IP addresses to words because words like cnn.com are easier to memorize than IP addresses like 188.8.131.52.
The World Wide Web (www) network was the result of a research project conducted by English computer scientist, Sir Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 (Sorry Al Gore!). A web page is a document that can be accessed on the World Wide Web using a program called a web browser. The most popular web browsers are Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari and Firefox. A web page is actually a list of instructions written in a computer language designed to present (or “markup”) formatted text that can be linked to other content (or “hyper-text”). The language is called hyper-text markup language or simply html. Some of the html instructions include the title of a page, the size and placement of images and text, links to other pages and lots of other instructions on how the webpage should be presented. A collection of webpages make up a website. Websites are stored on special computers, called web servers which are connected to the World Wide Web 24/7 so they can “serve” up the websites and pages you call for. All you do is open your web browser and type the address, or Uniform Resource Locator (URL), of the website you are looking for or use a search engine like Google to find a website for you. The browser uses a language called hyper-text transfer protocol or http to send your request to a Domain Name Server (DNS) which looks up the IP address of the web server that stores or hosts the website you are looking for. The web server then sends the web pages from that web server back to your browser. The web browser then reads all of the html instructions and presents the web page so you can understand and engage with the content.....all in a matter of seconds. Pretty amazing when you think about it!
Now onto email. If you’ve been around for the past 30 years or so, then you probably know that email is used to send messages from one computer or device to another. The first email was sent in 1971 by American computer programmer, Raymond Samuel "Ray" Tomlinson. When you send an email, the message gets sent to a special computer called a mail server which acts like your local post office. The mail server then locates the IP address of the recipient’s mail server and delivers your message there for that person to retrieve.
So when you boil it all down, the internet is just a series of networked devices sending data back and forth to each other, all around the world, in seconds, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. It can be a scary place for some and salvation for others. One thing is for sure; we are all connected to each other through it somehow.
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