The Internet is a worldwide, publicly accessible network of interconnected networks that transmit data by packet switching using the standard Internet Protocol (IP). It is a "network of networks" that consists of millions of smaller domestic, academic, business, and government networks, which together carry various information and services, such as electronic mail, online chat, file transfer, and the interlinked Web pages and other documents of the World Wide Web.
- 1 Creation
- 2 Growth
- 3 Today's Internet
- 4 Common uses of the Internet
- 5 Censorship
- 6 Internet access
- 7 Complex architecture
- 8 Marketing
- 9 The name Internet
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 External links
The USSR's launch of Sputnik spurred the United States to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as ARPA, in February 1958 to regain a technological lead. ARPA created the Information Processing Technology Office (IPTO) to further the research of the Semi Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) program, which had networked country-wide radar systems together for the first time. J. C. R. Licklider was selected to head the IPTO, and saw universal networking as a potential unifying human revolution.
Licklider had moved from the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory at Harvard University to MIT in 1950, after becoming interested in information technology. At MIT, he served on a committee that established Lincoln Laboratory and worked on the SAGE project. In 1957 he became a Vice President at BBN, where he bought the first production PDP-1 computer and conducted the first public demonstration of time-sharing.
At the IPTO, Licklider recruited Lawrence Roberts to head a project to implement a network, and Roberts based the technology on the work of Paul Baran who had written an exhaustive study for the U.S. Air Force that recommended packet switching (as opposed to circuit switching) to make a network highly robust and survivable. After much work, the first node went live at UCLA on October 29 1969 on what would be called the ARPANET, one of the "eve" networks of today's Internet. Following on from this, the British Post Office, Western Union International and Tymnet collaborated to create the first international packet switched network, referred to as the International Packet Switched Service (IPSS), in 1978. This network grew from Europe and the US to cover Canada, Hong Kong and Australia by 1981.
The first TCP/IP-wide area network was operational by January 1 1983, when the United States' National Science Foundation (NSF) constructed a university network backbone that would later become the NSFNet.
It was then followed by the opening of the network to commercial interests in 1985. Important, separate networks that offered gateways into, then later merged with, the NSFNet include Usenet, BITNET and the various commercial and educational networks, such as X.25, Compuserve and JANET. Telenet (later called Sprintnet) was a large privately-funded national computer network with free dial-up access in cities throughout the U.S. that had been in operation since the 1970s. This network eventually merged with the others in the 1990s as the TCP/IP protocol became increasingly popular. The ability of TCP/IP to work over these pre-existing communication networks, especially the international X.25 IPSS network, allowed for a great ease of growth. Use of the term "Internet" to describe a single global TCP/IP network originated around this time.
The network gained a public face in the 1990s. On August 6 1991, CERN, which straddles the border between France and Switzerland, publicized the new World Wide Web project, two years after Tim Berners-Lee had begun creating HTML, HTTP and the first few Web pages at CERN.
An early popular web browser was ViolaWWW based upon HyperCard. It was eventually replaced in popularity by the Mosaic web browser. In 1993 the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois released version 1.0 of Mosaic, and by late 1994 there was growing public interest in the previously academic/technical Internet. By 1996 the word "Internet" was coming into common daily usage, frequently misused to refer to the World Wide Web.
Meanwhile, over the course of the decade, the Internet successfully accommodated the majority of previously existing public computer networks (although some networks, such as FidoNet, have remained separate) During the 1990s, it was estimated that the Internet grew by 100% per year, with a brief period of explosive growth in 1996 and 1997. This growth is often attributed to the lack of central administration, which allows organic growth of the network, as well as the non-proprietary open nature of the Internet protocols, which encourages vendor interoperability and prevents any one company from exerting too much control over the network.
Aside from the complex physical connections that make up its infrastructure, the Internet is facilitated by bi- or multi-lateral commercial contracts (e.g., peering agreements), and by technical specifications or protocols that describe how to exchange data over the network. Indeed, the Internet is essentially defined by its interconnections and routing policies.
As of June 10 2007, 1.133 billion people use the Internet according to Internet World Stats. Writing in the Harvard International Review, philosopher N.J.Slabbert, a writer on policy issues for the Washington DC-based Urban Land Institute, has asserted that the Internet is fast becoming a basic feature of global civilization, so that what has traditionally been called "civil society" is now becoming identical with information technology society as defined by Internet use. 
In this context, there are three layers of protocols:
- At the lowest level is IP (Internet Protocol), which defines the datagrams or packets that carry blocks of data from one node to another. The vast majority of today's Internet uses version four of the IP protocol (i.e. IPv4), and although IPv6 is standardized, it exists only as "islands" of connectivity, and there are many ISPs without any IPv6 connectivity. 
- Next came TCP (Transmission Control Protocol), UDP (User Datagram Protocol), and ICMP (Internet Control Message Protocol)—the protocols by which data is transmitted. TCP makes a virtual 'connection', which gives some level of guarantee of reliability. UDP is a best-effort, connectionless transport, in which data packets that are lost in transit will not be re-sent. ICMP is connectionless; it is used for control and signaling purposes.
- On top comes the application protocols. This defines the specific messages and data formats sent and understood by the applications running at each end of the communication.
There have been many analyses of the Internet and its structure. For example, it has been determined that the Internet IP routing structure and hypertext links of the World Wide Web are examples of scale-free networks.
Similar to the way the commercial Internet providers connect via Internet exchange points, research networks tend to interconnect into large subnetworks such as:
- Abilene Network
- JANET (the UK's Joint Academic Network aka UKERNA)
These in turn are built around relatively smaller networks. See also the list of academic computer network organizations
In network diagrams, the Internet is often represented by a cloud symbol, into and out of which network communications can pass.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the authority that coordinates the assignment of unique identifiers on the Internet, including domain names, Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, and protocol port and parameter numbers. A globally unified namespace (i.e., a system of names in which there is one and only one holder of each name) is essential for the Internet to function. ICANN is headquartered in Marina del Rey, California, but is overseen by an international board of directors drawn from across the Internet technical, business, academic, and non-commercial communities. The US government continues to have the primary role in approving changes to the root zone file that lies at the heart of the domain name system. Because the Internet is a distributed network comprising many voluntarily interconnected networks, the Internet, as such, has no governing body. ICANN's role in coordinating the assignment of unique identifiers distinguishes it as perhaps the only central coordinating body on the global Internet, but the scope of its authority extends only to the Internet's systems of domain names, IP addresses, and protocol port and parameter numbers.
On November 16 2005, the World Summit on the Information Society, held in Tunis, established the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to discuss Internet-related issues.
The prevalent language for communication on the Internet is English. This may be a result of the Internet's origins, as well as English's role as the lingua franca. It may also be related to the poor capability of early computers to handle characters other than those in the basic Latin alphabet.
After English (30% of Web visitors) the most-requested languages on the World Wide Web are Chinese 14%, Japanese 8%, Spanish 8%, German 5%, French 5%, Portuguese 3.5%, Korean 3%, Italian 3% and Arabic 2.5% (from Internet World Stats, updated January 11, 2007).
By continent, 36% of the world's Internet users are based in Asia, 29% in Europe, and 21% in North America ( updated January 11, 2007).
The Internet's technologies have developed enough in recent years that good facilities are available for development and communication in most widely used languages. However, some glitches such as mojibake (incorrect display of foreign language characters, also known as kryakozyabry) still remain.
Internet and the workplace
The Internet is allowing greater flexibility in working hours and location, especially with the spread of unmetered high-speed connections and Web applications.
The mobile Internet
The Internet can now be accessed virtually anywhere by numerous means. Mobile phones, datacards, handheld game consoles and cellular routers allow users to connect to the Internet from anywhere there is a cellular network supporting that device's technology.
Common uses of the Internet
The concept of sending electronic text messages between parties in a way analogous to mailing letters or memos predates the creation of the Internet. Even today it can be important to distinguish between Internet and internal e-mail systems. Internet e-mail may travel and be stored unencrypted on many other networks and machines out of both the sender's and the recipient's control. During this time it is quite possible for the content to be read and even tampered with by third parties, if anyone considers it important enough. Purely internal or intranet mail systems, where the information never leaves the corporate or organization's network, are much more secure, although in any organization there will be IT and other personnel whose job may involve monitoring, and occasionally accessing, the email of other employees not addressed to them. Web-based email (webmail) between parties on the same webmail system may not actually 'go' anywhere—it merely sits on the one server and is tagged in various ways so as to appear in one person's 'sent items' list and in others' 'in boxes' or other 'folders' when viewed.
The World Wide Web
Many people use the terms Internet and World Wide Web (a.k.a. the Web) interchangeably, but in fact the two terms are not synonymous. The Internet and the Web are two separate but related things. The Internet is a massive network of networks, a networking infrastructure. It connects millions of computers together globally, forming a network in which any computer can communicate with any other computer as long as they are both connected to the Internet. Information that travels over the Internet does so via a variety of languages known as protocols.
The World Wide Web, or simply Web, is a way of accessing information over the medium of the Internet. It is an information-sharing model that is built on top of the Internet. The Web uses the HTTP protocol, only one of the languages spoken over the Internet, to transmit data. Web services, which use HTTP to allow applications to communicate in order to exchange business logic, use the the Web to share information. The Web also utilizes browsers, such as Internet Explorer or Netscape, to access Web documents called Web pages that are linked to each other via hyperlinks. Web documents also contain graphics, sounds, text and video.
The Web is just one of the ways that information can be disseminated over the Internet. The Internet, not the Web, is also used for e-mail, which relies on SMTP, Usenet news groups, instant messaging, file sharing (text, image, video, mp3 etc.) and FTP. So the Web is just a portion of the Internet, albeit a large portion, but the two terms are not synonymous and should not be confused.
Through keyword-driven Internet research using search engines, like Google, millions worldwide have easy, instant access to a vast and diverse amount of online information. Compared to encyclopedias and traditional libraries, the World Wide Web has enabled a sudden and extreme decentralization of information and data.
Many individuals and some companies and groups have adopted the use of "Web logs" or blogs, which are largely used as easily-updatable online diaries. Some commercial organizations encourage staff to fill them with advice on their areas of specialization in the hope that visitors will be impressed by the expert knowledge and free information, and be attracted to the corporation as a result. One example of this practice is Microsoft, whose product developers publish their personal blogs in order to pique the public's interest in their work.
For more information on the distinction between the World Wide Web and the Internet itself—as in everyday use the two are sometimes confused—see Dark internet where this is discussed in more detail.
The Internet allows computer users to connect to other computers and information stores easily, wherever they may be across the world. They may do this with or without the use of security, authentication and encryption technologies, depending on the requirements.
This is encouraging new ways of working from home, collaboration and information sharing in many industries. An accountant sitting at home can audit the books of a company based in another country, on a server situated in a third country that is remotely maintained by IT specialists in a fourth. These accounts could have been created by home-working book-keepers, in other remote locations, based on information e-mailed to them from offices all over the world. Some of these things were possible before the widespread use of the Internet, but the cost of private, leased lines would have made many of them infeasible in practice.
An office worker away from his desk, perhaps the other side of the world on a business trip or a holiday, can open a remote desktop session into their normal office PC using a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection via the Internet. This gives the worker complete access to all of their normal files and data, including e-mail and other applications, while away from the office.
This concept is also referred to by some network security people as the Virtual Private Nightmare, because it extends the secure perimeter of a corporate network into its employees' homes; this has been the source of some notable security breaches, but also provides security for the workers.
The low-cost and nearly instantaneous sharing of ideas, knowledge, and skills has made collaborative work dramatically easier. Not only can a group cheaply communicate and test, but the wide reach of the Internet allows such groups to easily form in the first place, even among niche interests. An example of this is the free software movement in software development which produced GNU and Linux from scratch and has taken over development of Mozilla and OpenOffice.org (formerly known as Netscape Communicator and StarOffice).
Internet 'chat', whether in the form of IRC 'chat rooms' or channels, or via instant messaging systems allow colleagues to stay in touch in a very convenient way when working at their computers during the day. Messages can be sent and viewed even more quickly and conveniently than via e-mail. Extension to these systems may allow files to be exchanged, 'whiteboard' drawings to be shared as well as voice and video contact between team members.
Version control systems allow collaborating teams to work on shared sets of documents without either accidentally overwriting each other's work or having members wait until they get 'sent' documents to be able to add their thoughts and changes.
A computer file can be e-mailed to customers, colleagues and friends as an attachment. It can be uploaded to a Web site or FTP server for easy download by others. It can be put into a "shared location" or onto a file server for instant use by colleagues. The load of bulk downloads to many users can be eased by the use of "mirror" servers or peer-to-peer networks. In any of these cases, access to the file may be controlled by user authentication; the transit of the file over the Internet may be obscured by encryption and money may change hands before or after access to the file is given. The price can be paid by the remote charging of funds from, for example a credit card whose details are also passed—hopefully fully encrypted—across the Internet. The origin and authenticity of the file received may be checked by digital signatures or by MD5 or other message digests.
These simple features of the Internet, over a world-wide basis, are changing the basis for the production, sale, and distribution of anything that can be reduced to a computer file for transmission. This includes all manner of office documents, publications, software products, music, photography, video, animations, graphics and the other arts. This in turn is causing seismic shifts in each of the existing industry associations, such as the RIAA and MPAA in the United States, that previously controlled the production and distribution of these products in that country.
Many existing radio and television broadcasters provide Internet 'feeds' of their live audio and video streams (for example, the BBC). They may also allow time-shift viewing or listening such as Preview, Classic Clips and Listen Again features. These providers have been joined by a range of pure Internet 'broadcasters' who never had on-air licenses. This means that an Internet-connected device, such as a computer or something more specific, can be used to access on-line media in much the same way as was previously possible only with a television or radio receiver. The range of material is much wider, from pornography to highly specialized technical Web-casts. Podcasting is a variation on this theme, where—usually audio—material is first downloaded in full and then may be played back on a computer or shifted to a digital audio player to be listened to on the move. These techniques using simple equipment allow anybody, with little censorship or licensing control, to broadcast audio-visual material on a worldwide basis.
Webcams can be seen as an even lower-budget extension of this phenomenon. While some webcams can give full frame rate video, the picture is usually either small or updates slowly. Internet users can watch animals around an African waterhole, ships in the Panama Canal, the traffic at a local roundabout or their own premises, live and in real time. Video chat rooms, video conferencing, and remote controllable webcams are also popular. Many uses can be found for personal webcams in and around the home, with and without two-way sound.
Voice telephony (VoIP)
VoIP stands for Voice over IP, where IP refers to the Internet Protocol that underlies all Internet communication. This phenomenon began as an optional two-way voice extension to some of the Instant Messaging systems that took off around the year 2000. In recent years many VoIP systems have become as easy to use and as convenient as a normal telephone. The benefit is that, as the Internet carries the actual voice traffic, VoIP can be free or cost much less than a normal telephone call, especially over long distances and especially for those with always-on ADSL or DSL Internet connections.
Thus VoIP is maturing into a viable alternative to traditional telephones. Interoperability between different providers has improved and the ability to call or receive a call from a traditional telephone is available. Simple inexpensive VoIP modems are now available that eliminate the need for a PC.
Voice quality can still vary from call to call but is often equal to and can even exceed that of traditional calls.
Remaining problems for VoIP include emergency telephone number dialing and reliability. Currently a few VoIP providers provide some 911 dialing but it is not universally available. Traditional phones are line powered and operate during a power failure, VoIP does not do so without a backup power source for the electronics.
Most VoIP providers offer unlimited national calling but the direction in VoIP is clearly toward global coverage with unlimited minutes for a low monthly fee.
VoIP has also become increasingly popular within the gaming world, as a form of communication between players. Popular gaming VoIP clients include Ventrilo and Teamspeak, and there are others available also.
Some governments, such as those of Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, the People's Republic of China and Cuba, restrict what people in their countries can access on the Internet, especially political and religious content. This is accomplished through software that filters domains and content so that they may not be easily accessed or obtained without elaborate circumvention.
In Norway, Finland and Sweden, major Internet service providers have voluntarily (possibly to avoid such an arrangement being turned into law) agreed to restrict access to sites listed by police. While this list of forbidden URLs is only supposed to contain addresses of known child pornography sites, the content of the list is secret.
Many countries have enacted laws making the possession or distribution of certain material, such as child pornography, illegal, but do not use filtering software.
There are many free and commercially available software programs with which a user can choose to block offensive Web sites on individual computers or networks, such as to limit a child's access to pornography or violence. See Content-control software.
Common methods of home access include dial-up, landline broadband (over coaxial cable, fibre optic or copper wires), Wi-Fi, satellite and technology 3G (EVDO) cell phones.
Public places to use the Internet include libraries and Internet cafes, where computers with Internet connections are available. There are also Internet access points in many public places such as airport halls and coffee shops, in some cases just for brief use while standing. Various terms are used, such as "public Internet kiosk", "public access terminal", and "Web payphone". Many hotels now also have public terminals, though these are usually fee-based.
Wi-Fi provides wireless access to computer networks, and therefore can do so to the Internet itself. Hotspots providing such access include Wi-Fi-cafes, where a would-be user needs to bring their own wireless-enabled devices such as a laptop or PDA. These services may be free to all, free to customers only, or fee-based. A hotspot need not be limited to a confined location. The whole campus or park, or even the entire city can be enabled. Grassroots efforts have led to wireless community networks. Commercial WiFi services covering large city areas are in place in London, Vienna, Toronto, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago and Pittsburgh. The Internet can then be accessed from such places as a park bench.
Apart from Wi-Fi, there have been experiments with proprietary mobile wireless networks like Ricochet, various high-speed data services over cellular phone networks, and fixed wireless services.
High-end mobile phones such as smartphones generally come with Internet access through the phone network. Web browsers such as Opera are available on these advanced handsets, which can also run a wide variety of other Internet software. More mobile phones have Internet access than PCs, though this is not as widely used. An Internet access provider and protocol matrix differentiates the methods used to get online.
Many computer scientists see the Internet as a "prime example of a large-scale, highly engineered, yet highly complex system". The Internet is extremely heterogeneous. (For instance, data transfer rates and physical characteristics of connections vary widely.) The Internet exhibits "emergent phenomena" that depend on its large-scale organization. For example, data transfer rates exhibit temporal self-similarity. Further adding to the complexity of the Internet is the ability of more than one computer to use the Internet through only one node, thus creating the possibility for a very deep and hierarchal based sub-network that can theoretically be extended infinitely (disregarding the programmatic limitations of the IPv4 protocol). However, since principles of this architecture date back to the 1960s, it might not be a solution best suited to modern needs, and thus the possibility of developing alternative structures is currently being looked into.
The Internet has also become a large market for companies; some of the biggest companies today have grown by taking advantage of the efficient nature of low-cost advertising and commerce through the Internet; also known as e-commerce. It is the fastest way to spread information to a vast amount of people simultaneously. The Internet has also subsequently revolutionized shopping—for example; a person can order a CD online and receive it in the mail within a couple of days, or download it directly in some cases. The Internet has also greatly facilitated personalized marketing which allows a company to market a product to a specific person or a specific group of people more so than any other advertising medium.
Examples of personalized marketing include online communities such as MySpace, Friendster, Orkut, and others which thousands of Internet users join to advertise themselves and make friends online. Many of these users are young teens and adolescents ranging from 13 to 25 years old. In turn, when they advertise themselves they advertise interests and hobbies, which online marketing companies can use as information as to what those users will purchase online, and advertise their own companies' products to those users.
The name Internet
Internet is traditionally written with a capital first letter, as it is a proper noun. The Internet Society, the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the World Wide Web Consortium, and several other Internet-related organizations use this convention in their publications.
Many newspapers, newswires, periodicals, and technical journals capitalize the term (Internet). Examples include The New York Times, the Associated Press, Time, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, and Communications of the ACM.
Others assert that the first letter should be in lower case (internet), and that the specific article “the” is sufficient to distinguish “the internet” from other internets. A significant number of publications use this form, including The Economist, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times, and The Sydney Morning Herald. As of 2005, many publications using internet appear to be located outside of North America—although one U.S. news source, Wired News, has adopted the lower-case spelling.
Historically, Internet and internet have had different meanings, with internet meaning “an interconnected set of distinct networks,” and Internet referring to the world-wide, publicly-available IP internet. Under this distinction, "the Internet" is the familiar network via which websites such as wiki.gis.com are accessed, however "an internet" can exist between any two remote locations. Any group of distinct networks connected together is an internet; each of these networks may or may not be part of the Internet. The distinction was evident in many RFCs, books, and articles from the 1980s and early 1990s (some of which, such as RFC 1918, refer to "internets" in the plural), but has recently fallen into disuse. Instead, the term intranet is generally used for private networks. See also: extranet.
Some people use the lower-case term as a medium (like radio or newspaper, e.g. I've found it on the internet), and capitalized (or first letter capitalized) as the global network.
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- Main lists: List of basic internet topics and List of Internet topics
Major aspects and issues
- Internet democracy
- History of the Internet
- Net neutrality
- Privacy on the Internet
- Internet Protocol (IP)
- Internet Service Provider (ISP)
- Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA)
- Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)
- "ARPA/DARPA". Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. http://www.darpa.mil/body/arpa_darpa.html. Retrieved 2007-05-21.
- "DARPA Over the Years". Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. http://www.darpa.mil/body/overtheyears.html. Retrieved 2007-05-21.
- Coffman, K. G; Odlyzko, A. M. (1998-10-02). The size and growth rate of the Internet. AT&T Labs. http://www.dtc.umn.edu/~odlyzko/doc/internet.size.pdf. Retrieved 2007-05-21.
- Slabbert,N.J. The Technologies of Peace, Harvard International Review, June 2006.
- "Toronto Hydro to Install Wireless Network in Downtown Toronto". Bloomberg.com. Retrieved 19-Mar-2006.
- Walter Willinger, Ramesh Govindan, Sugih Jamin, Vern Paxson, and Scott Shenker (2002). Scaling phenomena in the Internet. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99, suppl. 1, 2573–2580.
- "Internet Makeover? Some argue it's time". The Seattle Times, April 16, 2007.
- What is the Internet?
- Media Freedom Internet Cookbook by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Vienna, 2004
- Living Internet—Internet history and related information, including information from many creators of the Internet
- First Monday peer-reviewed journal on the Internet
- How Much Does The Internet Weigh? by Stephen Cass, Discover 2007
- "10 Years that changed the world"—WiReD looks back at the evolution of the Internet over last 10 years
- Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard
- A comprehensive history with people, concepts and quotations
- CBC Digital Archives—Inventing the Internet Age
- How the Internet Came to Be
- Global Internet Traffic Report
- The Internet Society History Page
- RFC 801, planning the TCP/IP switchover]