Humans have created many large engineering marvels like the satellite and the empire state building; however, these are miniscule in comparison to the Internet. The Internet is in 73% of homes in the United States alone and continues to grow, but unlike most engineering marvels, the internet is mostly intangible. In today’s world, it isn’t just computers that can connect to the internet, it’s your car, your watch, and yes sometimes even your refrigerator! So the question is, what is the internet?
The internet is a network of computers that interconnects billions of devices. Computers, and other internet capable devices, act as hosts for the internet. These hosts are also referred to as end systems because they exist at the end of the network. The diagram below shows different types of networks all still interconnected. ISP stands for Internet Service Provider. An example of an ISP is Google Fiber or Comcast. These ISPs provide routers that provide access to the internet which are the cylinders with an “x” on them. You can then directly connect your computer to the router or connect wirelessly. But how does it “work”? How did you get from your desktop to this magazine without telling the internet what to do?
First, a common misconception is that a URL (the website’s link) tells the internet what to do. The URL is nothing but an end destination. In the background, sets of protocols govern how to get from one website to another. To describe a simple protocol lets look at how you might ask someone for the time. First, you greet the other person with “hello” or your choice of greeting. Computers just like humans “greet” other computers before connecting. After making your greeting, you make your request: “What time is it?” This is similar to requesting a file or information from another computer. Finally, the other person either tells you the time or says they do not know the time showing the final parallel where the other computer sends you the information or says “I don’t know but try here.” Protocols more formally are a set of instructions and actions that must be taken in order to send and receive date reliably over the internet. Some examples of very common protocols are the Transfer Control Protocol (TCP) used for reliable file transfer and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) used for email and instant messaging online.
So now you might be wondering if your computer is talking to another computer when connecting to a website, then internet must be located in physical computers as well.