Internet 101

The Internet is the largest endeavor in human history. It is big, I mean really big. Almost three billion people are online, that is more than one third of the entire population of the planet.

However the Internet is not just people connected through computers, it is also things. Anything with an IP addressable chip is part of the Internet. That includes your phone, your car, household appliances and even some dental equipment. But the Internet is not just the things it is connected to it also is the network. Or even more accurately it is the exchange of data.

We tend to think of the Internet as a network similar to the phone system. That is a hub and spoke arrangement in which we send information from our location to a central command center where it is routed or switched to the intended recipient. The intelligence needed to connect the call is located at the central switch and once the connection is established there is an unbroken link from sender to receiver.

The Internet does not work that way at all. It is more like a tangled web of connections; if the web was created by a deranged spider. There is no symmetry and there is no stable structure. Connections change constantly as data is routed around the system. A map of Internet data movement created this instant would look quite different from a map made an hour from now. When data is transferred it does not pass through a continuous connection all at once like a phone call. The data is broken up into “packets” that are routed separately and travel completely different routes to get to the final address.

The intelligence needed to route an Internet communication is not located at a hub but is at the periphery where the message originates.

How does the system know where to send the packets? It uses established protocols. If you were sending a piece of paper mail there are certain protocols you need to follow. The address is to be written in the middle of the envelope with the zip code last. The stamp goes on the upper right and the return address the upper left. If you do not follow the rules the mail will not go through. The primary protocols used by the Internet are TCP IP. That stands for Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol.