The internet, explained (2023)

What is the internet?

The internet is the world’s most popular computer network. It began as an academic research project in 1969, and became a global commercial network in the 1990s. Today it is used by more than 2 billion people around the world.

The internet is notable for its decentralization. No one owns the internet or controls who can connect to it. Instead, thousands of different organizations operate their own networks and negotiate voluntary interconnection agreements.

Most people access internet content using a web browser. Indeed, the web has become so popular that many people incorrectly treat the internet and the web as synonymous. But in reality, the web is just one of many internet applications. Other popular Internet applications include email and BitTorrent.

Where is the internet?

The internet has three basic parts:

  • The last mile is the part of the internet that connects homes and small businesses to the internet. Currently, about 60 percent of residential internet connections in the United States are provided by cable TV companies such as Comcast and Time Warner. Of the remaining 40 percent, a growing fraction use new fiber optic cables, most of which are part of Verizon’s FiOS program or AT&T’s U-Verse. Finally, a significant but shrinking number use outdated DSL service provided over telephone cables.

    The last mile also includes the towers that allow people to access the internet with their cell phones. Wireless internet service accounts for a large and growing share of all internet usage.

  • Data centers are rooms full of servers that store user data and host online apps and content. Some are owned by large companies such as Google and Facebook. Others are commercial facilities that provide service to many smaller websites. Data centers have very fast internet connections, allowing them to serve many users simultaneously. Data centers can be located anywhere in the world, but they are often located in remote areas where land and electricity are cheap. For example, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have all constructed vast data centers in Iowa.
  • The backbone consists of long-distance networks — mostly on fiber optic cables — that carry data between data centers and consumers. The backbone market is highly competitive. Backbone providers frequently connect their networks together at internet exchange points, usually located in major cities. Establishing a presence at IEPs makes it much easier for backbone providers to improve their connections to others.

The internet, explained (1)

Cables at an Internet Exchange Point. (Fabienne Serriere)

Who created the internet?

The internet began as ARPANET, an academic research network that was funded by the military’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, now DARPA). The project was led by Bob Taylor, an ARPA administrator, and the network was built by the consulting firm of Bolt, Beranek and Newman. It began operations in 1969.

In 1973, software engineers Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn began work on the next generation of networking standards for the ARPANET. These standards, known as TCP/IP, became the foundation of the modern internet. ARPANET switched to using TCP/IP on January 1, 1983.

During the 1980s, funding for the internet shifted from the military to the National Science Foundation. The NSF funded the long-distance networks that served as the internet’s backbone from 1981 until 1994. In 1994, the Clinton Administration turned control over the internet backbone to the private sector. It has been privately operated and funded ever since.

Did Al Gore invent the internet?

Former Vice President Al Gore is frequently quoted as claiming credit for the invention of the internet, but what he actually said in a 1999 CNN interview was “I took the initiative in creating the internet.” Gore was widely mocked for this statement. But the men who did invent the internet, TCP/IP designers Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf, wrote in Gore’s defense in 2000. They argue that Gore was “the first political leader to recognize the importance of the internet and to promote and support its development.”

“As far back as the 1970s Congressman Gore promoted the idea of high speedtelecommunications,” the pair wrote. “As a Senator in the 1980s Gore urged government agencies to consolidate what at the time were several dozen different and unconnected networks into an ‘Interagency Network.’” Gore sponsored the 1991 High Performance Computing and Communications Act, which Kahn and Cerf say “became one of the major vehicles for the spread of the internet beyond the field of computer science.“

Who runs the internet?

No one runs the internet. It’s organized as a decentralized network of networks. Thousands of companies, universities, governments, and other entities operate their own networks and exchange traffic with each other based on voluntary interconnection agreements.

The shared technical standards that make the internet work are managed by an organization called the Internet Engineering Task Force. The IETF is an open organization; anyone is free to attend meetings, propose new standards, and recommend changes to existing standards. No one is required to adopt standards endorsed by the IETF, but the IETF’s consensus-based decision-making process helps to ensure that its recommendations are generally adopted by the internet community.

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The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is sometimes described as being responsible for internet governance. As its name implies, ICANN is in charge of distributing domain names (like and IP addresses. But ICANN doesn’t control who can connect to the internet or what kind of information can be sent over it.

What’s an IP address?

Internet Protocol addresses are numbers that computers use to identify each other on the internet. For example, an IP address for is

An ICANN department known as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority is responsible for distributing IP addresses to ensure that two different organizations don’t use the same address.

What is IPv6?

The current internet standard, known as IPv4, only allows for about 4 billion IP addresses. This was considered a very big number in the 1970s, but today, the supply of IPv4 addresses is nearly exhausted.

So internet engineers have developed a new standard called IPv6. IPv6 allows for a mind-boggling number of unique addresses — the exact figure is 39 digits long — ensuring that the world will never again run out.

At first, the transition to IPv6 was slow. Technical work on the standard was completed in the 1990s, but the internet community faced a serious chicken-and-egg problem: as long as most people were using IPv4, there was little incentive for anyone to switch to IPv6.

But as IPv4 addresses became scarce, IPv6 adoption accelerated. The fraction of users who connected to Google via IPv6 grew from 1 percent at the beginning of 2013 to 6 percent in mid-2015.

How does wireless internet work?

In its early years, internet access was carried over physical cables. But more recently, wireless internet access has become increasingly common.

There are two basic types of wireless internet access: wifi and cellular. Wifi networks are relatively simple. Anyone can purchase wifi networking equipment in order to provide internet access in a home or business. Wifi networks use unlicensed spectrum: electromagnetic frequencies that are available for anyone to use without charge. To prevent neighbors’ networks from interfering with each other, there are strict limits on the power (and therefore the range) of wifi networks.

Cellular networks are more centralized. They work by breaking up the service territory into cells. In the densest areas, cells can be as small as a single city block; in rural areas a cell can be miles across. Each cell has a tower at its center providing services to devices there. When a device moves from one cell to another, the network automatically hands off the device from one tower to another, allowing the user to continue communicating without interruption.

Cells are too large to use the unlicensed, low-power spectrum used by wifi networks. Instead, cellular networks use spectrum licensed for their exclusive use. Because this spectrum is scarce, it is usually awarded by auction. Wireless auctions have generated tens of billions of dollars in revenue for the US treasury since the first one was held in 1994.

What is the cloud?

The cloud describes an approach to computing that has become popular in the early 2000s. By storing files on servers and delivering software over the internet, cloud computing provides users with a simpler, more reliable computing experience. Cloud computing allows consumers and businesses to treat computing as a utility, leaving the technical details to technology companies.

For example, in the 1990s, many people used Microsoft Office to edit documents and spreadsheets. They stored documents on their hard drives. And when a new version of Microsoft Office was released, customers had to purchase it and manually install it on their PCs.

In contrast, Google Docs is a cloud office suite. When a user visits, she automatically gets the latest version of Google Docs. Because her files are stored on Google’s servers, they’re available from any computer. Even better, she doesn’t have to worry about losing her files in a hard drive crash. (Microsoft now has its own cloud office suite called Office 365.)

There are many other examples. Gmail and Hotmail are cloud email services that have largely replaced desktop email clients such as Outlook. Dropbox is a cloud computing service that automatically synchronizes data between devices, saving people from having to carry files around on floppy disks. Apple’s iCloud automatically copies users’ music and other files from their desktop computer to their mobile devices, saving users the hassle of synchronizing via a USB connection.

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Cloud computing is having a big impact for businesses too. In the 1990s, companies wanting to create a website needed to purchase and operate their own servers. But in 2006, launched Amazon Web Services, which allows customers to rent servers by the hour. That has lowered the barrier to entry for creating websites and made it much easier for sites to quickly expand capacity as they grow more popular.

What is a packet?

A packet is the basic unit of information transmitted over the internet. Splitting information up into small, digestible pieces allows the network’s capacity to be used more efficiently.

A packet has two parts. The header contains information that helps the packet get to its destination, including the length of the packet, its source and destination, and a checksum value that helps the recipient detect if a packet was damaged in transit. After the header comes the actual data. A packet can contain up to 64 kilobytes of data, which is roughly 20 pages of plain text.

If internet routers experience congestion or other technical problems, they are allowed to deal with it by simply discarding packets. It’s the sending computer’s responsibility to detect that a packet didn’t reach its destination and send another copy. This approach might seem counterintuitive, but it simplifies the internet’s core infrastructure, leading to higher performance at lower cost.

What is the World Wide Web?

The World Wide Web is a popular way to publish information on the internet. The web was created by Timothy Berners-Lee, a computer programmer at the European scientific research organization CERN, in 1991. It offered a more powerful and user-friendly interface than other internet applications. The web supported hyperlinks, allowing users to browse from one document to another with a single click.

Over time, the web became increasingly sophisticated, supporting images, audio, video, and interactive content. In the mid-1990s, companies such as Yahoo and began building profitable businesses based on the web. In the 2000s, full-featured web-based applications such as Yahoo Maps and Google Docs were created.

In 1994, Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to be the web’s official standards organization. He is still the W3C’s director and continues to oversee the development of web standards. However, the web is an open platform, and the W3C can’t compel anyone to adopt its recommendations. In practice, the organizations with the most influence over the web are Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Mozilla, the companies that produce the leading web browsers. Any technologies adopted by these four become de facto web standards.

The web has become so popular that many people now regard it as synonymous with the internet itself. But technically, the web is just one of many internet applications. Other applications include email and BitTorrent.

What’s a web browser?

A web browser is a computer program that allows users to download and view websites. Web browsers are available for desktop computers, tablets, and mobile phones.

The first widely used browser was Mosaic, created by researchers at the University of Illinois. The Mosaic team moved to California to found Netscape, which built the first commercially successful web browser in 1994.

Netscape’s popularity was soon eclipsed by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, but an open source version of Netscape’s browser became the modern Firefox browser. Apple released its Safari browser in 2003, and Google released a browser called Chrome in 2008. By 2015, Chrome had grown to be the most popular web browser with a market share around 50 percent. Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari also had significant market share.

What is SSL?

SSL, short for Secure Sockets Layer, is a family of encryption technologies that allows web users to protect the privacy of information they transmit over the internet.

When you visit a secure website such as, you'll see a lock next to the URL, indicating that your communications with the site are encrypted. Here's what that looks like in Google's Chrome browser:

The internet, explained (2)

That lock is supposed to signal that third parties won't be able to read any information you send or receive. Under the hood, SSL accomplishes that by transforming your data into a coded message that only the recipient knows how to decipher. If a malicious party is listening to the conversation, it will only see a seemingly random string of characters, not the contents of your emails, Facebook posts, credit card numbers, or other private information.

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SSL was introduced by Netscape in 1994. In its early years, it was only used on a few types of websites, such as online banking sites. By the early 2010s, Google, Yahoo, and Facebook all used SSL encryption for their websites and online services. More recently, there has been a movement toward making the use of SSL universal. In 2015, Mozilla announced that future versions of the Firefox browser would treat the lack of SSL encryption as a security flaw, as a way to encourage all websites to upgrade. Google is considering taking the same step with Chrome.

What is the Domain Name System?

The Domain Name System (DNS) is the reason you can access Vox by typing into your browser rather than a hard-to-remember numeric address such as

The system is hierarchical. For example, the .com domain is administered by a company called Verisign. Verisign assigns sub-domains like and Owners of these second-level domains, in turn, can create sub-domains such as and

Because popular websites use domain names to identify themselves to the public, the security of DNS has become an increasing concern. Criminals and government spies alike have sought to compromise DNS in order to impersonate popular websites such as and and intercept their private communications. A standard called DNSSEC seeks to beef up DNS security with encryption, but few people have adopted it.

Who decides what domain names exist and who gets them?

The domain name system is administered by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit organization based in California. ICANN was founded in 1998. It was granted authority over DNS by the US Commerce Department, though it has increasingly asserted its independence from the US government.

There are two types of domain names. The first is generic top-level domains (gTLDs) such as .com, .edu, .org, and .gov. Because the internet originated in the United States, these domains tend to be most popular there. Authority over these domains is usually delegated to private organizations.

There are also country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs). Each country in the world has its own 2-letter code. For example, the ccTLD for the United States is .us, Great Britain’s is .uk, and China’s is .cn. These domains are administered by authorities in each country. Some ccTLDs, such as .tv (for the island nation of Tuvalu) and .io (the British Indian Ocean Territory), have become popular for use outside of their home countries.

In 2011, ICANN voted to make it easier to create new gTLDs. As a result, there may be dozens or even hundreds of new domains in the next few years.

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(Video) The Internet: Crash Course Computer Science #29

The internet, explained (3)

(Video) How does the INTERNET work? | ICT #2


What is the main point of Internet? ›

It supports human communication via social media, electronic mail (e-mail), “chat rooms,” newsgroups, and audio and video transmission and allows people to work collaboratively at many different locations. It supports access to digital information by many applications, including the World Wide Web.

What is the Internet explained to kids? ›

The Internet is a network, or system, that connects millions of computers worldwide. It was one of the greatest inventions of the 1900s. Since its beginning, the Internet has changed a great deal. Advances in technology have made using the Internet quicker and easier.

Who defined the Internet? ›

In 1974, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn used the term internet as a shorthand for internetwork in RFC 675, and later RFCs repeated this use. Cerf and Kahn credit Louis Pouzin with important influences on TCP/IP design. Commercial PTT providers developed X. 25 standards and deployed them on public data networks.

What are the four main uses of the Internet? ›

The 5 uses of internet are given below:
  • Email.
  • Sharing of files.
  • Watch movies and songs.
  • Research purpose.
  • News.

What is the simplest way to explain Internet? ›

A Network of Networks

The simplest way of explaining the Internet is to call it "the network of networks." It's the connection of computer networks around the world into one entity, so to speak.

What are the four 4 things needed to connect to the Internet? ›

  • Telephone line, modem, computer, and an ISP are the four things needed to connect to the Internet.
  • Once you have your computer, you really don't need much additional hardware to connect to the Internet. ...
  • Suppose you want to connect your computer to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) using an ordinary phone line.

What are the 4 pillars of the Internet of everything? ›

IoE is built on the four pillars (people, data, processes, and things).

How will you explain the Internet in 1 minute? ›

It connects the entire world together, transforming the planet into a global village. The internet allows us to access unlimited knowledge, and connects us to people all over the globe. With the advent of mobile phones and social media, the internet has invaded every part of our lives.

Who Rules internet? ›

No one person, company, organization or government runs the Internet. It is a globally distributed network comprising many voluntarily interconnected autonomous networks. It operates without a central governing body with each constituent network setting and enforcing its own policies.

What is internet simple essay? ›

The internet is an advancement of modern technology that has swept the world off its feet with its vast usage. Internet is defined as a global network of computers that provides information and communication platforms. People all over the world are now using internet daily.

Why was the Internet created? ›

Sharing Resources. The Internet started in the 1960s as a way for government researchers to share information.

What are the benefits of internet? ›

There are multiple advantages of the Internet, below is given a list of benefits of the Internet.
  • Connectivity, communication, and sharing. ...
  • Information, knowledge, and learning. ...
  • Address, mapping, and contact information. ...
  • Selling and making money. ...
  • Banking, bills, and shopping. ...
  • Donations and funding. ...
  • Entertainment.

How did the Internet begin? ›

The internet began as ARPANET, an academic research network that was funded by the military's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, now DARPA). The project was led by Bob Taylor, an ARPA administrator, and the network was built by the consulting firm of Bolt, Beranek and Newman. It began operations in 1969.

What are the 3 types of internet? ›

Internet Connection Types: WiFi, Broadband, DSL, Cable.

What are two reasons we use the internet? ›

Here are most of the common reasons why people use the internet:

Who invented the internet? ›

Who invented the internet? No one person invented the internet. When networking technology was first developed, a number of scientists and engineers brought their research together to create the ARPANET. Later, other inventors' creations paved the way for the web as we know it today.

What are 3 dangers of the internet? ›

The risks you need to be aware of are: cyberbullying (bullying using digital technology) invasion of privacy. identity theft.

What was the very first thing on the internet? ›

Berners-Lee uploaded the first image to the internet, in 1992. It was of Les Horribles Cernettes, a parody pop band founded by CERN employees.

How can I get internet without a provider? ›

How to Get Wi-Fi Without an Internet Service Provider: 5 Methods
  1. Mobile Hotspot. The best way to ensure you have the internet on your laptop is to use a mobile hotspot. ...
  2. Tether Your Smartphone or Tablet. 2 Images. ...
  3. Find a Public Wi-Fi Network. ...
  4. Use a Wi-Fi USB Dongle. ...
  5. Share Someone's Internet.
21 Jul 2022

What are 5 components of the internet? ›

Internet Connection Components and Functions
  • DSL Modem–
  • DSL/Broadband Filter.
  • Firewall and NAT Router.
  • Computer Firewalls –
  • ICS (Internet Connection Sharing)-
  • Network Hub.
  • Network Switch.
  • Wireless Access Point.
5 Nov 2022

What are the 3 main components that make up the internet? ›

There are, of course, three components to the Internet: e-mail, Usenet newsgroups, and the World-Wide Web.

What is the difference between Internet of Things and Internet of everything? ›

Simply put, the Internet of Things involves the interconnectivity of physical objects and data input and output, while the Internet of Everything is a comprehensive term that refers to the interconnectivity of various technologies, processes and people.

What are the key elements in Internet of Things? ›

The Basic Elements of IoT
  • Connected devices. Devices are the primary physical objects connected to the system. ...
  • Central Control Hardware. A Control Panel manages the two-way data traffic between different networks and protocols. ...
  • Data Cloud. ...
  • User interface. ...
  • Network Interconnection. ...
  • System Security. ...
  • Data Analytics.

What happens in 1 minute on the Internet 2022? ›

9 million searches happen on Google every minute! Up to 70% of web traffic happens on a mobile device.

How is internet connected? ›

Computers connect to each other and to the Internet via wires, cables, radio waves, and other types of networking infrastructure. All data sent over the Internet is translated into pulses of light or electricity, also called "bits," and then interpreted by the receiving computer.

Can the internet be shut down? ›

Governments, in coordination with public and private internet service and utility providers, can shut down the internet in many ways. For instance, governments can cut off the power grid or dismantle internet service infrastructure like cell phone towers and fiber optic cables.

What is the golden rule of the internet? ›

Part of being a responsible digital citizen is being respectful. The Golden Rule – treat others as you want to be treated – applies to online friendships and communications, just as it does with face-to-face interactions.

What country owns the internet? ›

The Internet is, in a way, more of a concept than a physical entity. No person has a patent or copyright over the internet. Instead, parts of the internet (data centers, cabling, satellites, routers, etc.) are owned by countless individuals, companies, and government agencies.

How internet changed our lives? ›

The Internet has also changed the way we interact with our family, friends, and life partners. Now everyone is connected to everyone else in a simpler, more accessible, and more immediate way; we can conduct part of our personal relationships using our laptops, smart phones, and tablets.

What is conclusion of internet? ›

Conclusion. Internet is the worldwide interconnection of individual networks operated by many people including government, industries and private parties. Almost everything is made possible through the internet including research, shopping, communication and teaching.

Is the Internet point to point? ›

A point-to-point connection is a private data connection that securely connects two or more locations. The point-to-point connection does not scan the public Internet and is inherently secure and does not require data encryption.

What are the two main goals of Internet? ›

The main purpose of the Internet is to provide global access to data and communications. Use of the Internet and networking is essential for advancing research in science, medicine, engineering and design as well as in maintaining global defense and surveillance.

Is the Internet at the bottom of the sea? ›

Currently, 98% of international internet traffic flows through undersea cables, according to Google data: "A vast underwater network of cables crisscrossing the ocean makes it possible to share, search, send and receive information around the world at the speed of light." These cables are made of optical fibre.

How many miles is the Internet? ›

A planetary system of undersea cables stretches across oceans, seas, and around continents… 550,000 miles (885,139.2 kilometers) of fiber optic communications cables that power the internet and more.

How fast is Internet pointing? ›

A point to point network connects two locations through a line of sight. It can provide speeds between 100 Mbps and 10 Gbps. Some of these most common uses of this type of connection include: Connecting two or more buildings on to one network.

What are the 6 benefits of Internet? ›

There are multiple advantages of the Internet, below is given a list of benefits of the Internet.
  • Connectivity, communication, and sharing. ...
  • Information, knowledge, and learning. ...
  • Address, mapping, and contact information. ...
  • Selling and making money. ...
  • Banking, bills, and shopping. ...
  • Donations and funding. ...
  • Entertainment.

What is the advantage of Internet? ›

Using the Internet has many benefits, including having the access to information. In addition, the Internet allows people to communicate quickly and easily. As we said, the most important advantage of using the Internet is the ability to access the global source of information.


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