Report: What is the Internet

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  How the Internet works

On the Internet, when you want to retrieve a document from another computer, you request a service from this computer. Your computer is the client, the computer on which the information you want to access is stored, is called the server. Therefore the Internet's architecture is called client-server architecture.

A common set of standards allows the exchange of data and commands independent from locations, time, and operating systems through the Internet. These standards are called communication protocols, or the Internet Protocol Suite, and are implemented in Internet software. Sometimes the Internet Protocol Suite is erroneously identified with TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol).

Any information to be transferred is broken down into pieces, so-called packets, and the Internet Protocol figures out how the data is supposed to get from A to B by passing through routers.

Each packet is "pushed" from router to router via gateways and might take a different route. It is not possible to determine in advance which ways these packets will take. At the receiving end the packets are checked and reassembled.

The technique of breaking down all messages and requests into packets has the advantage that a large data bundle (e.g. videos) sent by a single user cannot block a whole network, because the bandwidth needed is deployed on several packets sent on different routes. Detailed information about routing in the Internet can be obtained at

One of the Internet's (and of the Matrix's) beginnings was the ARPANet, whose design was intended to withstand any disruption, as for example in military attacks. The ARPANet was able to route data around damaged areas, so that the disruption would not impede communication. This design, whith its origin in strategic and military considerations, remained unchanged for the Internet. Yet the design of the ARPANet's design cannot be completely applied to the Internet.

Routing around depends on the location of the interruption and on the availability of intersecting points between networks. If, for example, an E-mail message is sent from Brussels to Athens and in Germany a channel is down, it will not affect access very much, the message will be routed around this damage, as long as a major Internet exchange is not affected. However, if access depends on a single backbone connection to the Internet and this connection is cut off, there is no way to route around.

In most parts of the world the Internet is therefore vulnerable to disruption. "The idea of the Internet as a highly distributed, redundant global communications system is a myth. Virtually all communications between countries take place through a very small number of bottlenecks, and the available bandwidth isn't that great," says Douglas Barnes. These bottlenecks are the network connections to neighboring countries. Many countries rely on a one single connection to the Net, and in some places, such as the Suez Canal, there is a concentration of fiber-optic cables of critical importance.

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What is the Internet
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Global Data Flows
World Wide Web (WWW)
Probably the most significant Internet service, the World Wide Web is not the essence of the Internet, but a subset of it. It is constituted by documents that are linked together in a way you can switch from one document to another by simply clicking on the link connecting these documents. This is made possible by the Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML), the authoring language used in creating World Wide Web-based documents. These so-called hypertexts can combine text documents, graphics, videos, sounds, and Java applets, so making multimedia content possible.

Especially on the World Wide Web, documents are often retrieved by entering keywords into so-called search engines, sets of programs that fetch documents from as many servers as possible and index the stored information. (For regularly updated lists of the 100 most popular words that people are entering into search engines, click here). No search engine can retrieve all information on the whole World Wide Web; every search engine covers just a small part of it.

Among other things that is the reason why the World Wide Web is not simply a very huge database, as is sometimes said, because it lacks consistency. There is virtually almost infinite storage capacity on the Internet, that is true, a capacity, which might become an almost everlasting too, a prospect, which is sometimes consoling, but threatening too.

According to the Internet domain survey of the Internet Software Consortium the number of Internet host computers is growing rapidly. In October 1969 the first two computers were connected; this number grows to 376.000 in January 1991 and 72,398.092 in January 2000.

World Wide Web History Project,