I Don’t Get I.T. : What is the Internet?

During my BSIT studies, I realized I was force-feeding myself loads of information to get through the courses and keep my 3.8 GPA.  As a result, my understanding of basic I.T. concepts went out of the window.  I could regurgitate plenty of information, but I couldn’t tell you the root of HOW or WHY.  So, I decided to blog about I.T. Basics.  My aim is to offer elementary-level backbone information a fourth-grader can understand, so anyone can build their tech knowledge.

Any questions, comments, concerns — feel free to comment.  I also take kindly to constructive criticism and if you have an I.T. question, ask away and perhaps you’ll see a future post about it!


Woman using laptop

 

The intricacies of networks and the Internet can get super complicated – most folks don’t need to know all of that.  However, it’s not a bad idea to have a basic understanding of the technology you use on a daily basis.  This isn’t meant to be deep.  This isn’t meant to be thorough.  It’s meant to lay the groundwork for an elementary-level understanding of the technology that surrounds us.  For this article, we are keeping it very simple by explaining the Internet in relation to your home computer.

Let’s keep this simple, so you can get I.T.:

What is the Internet?

The Internet is a simple word that describes the connection of devices around the entire world – think of phones, computers, satellites – the Internet is what connects all of them.

The Internet is a huge network made up of smaller networks.  A network is a group of connected people OR things.   That is really all the Internet is — its the big picture connection of all devices on our planet… one big blob of connected electronics.

For the simplicity of this blog post, let’s break it down to just personal computers.  How do these personal computers connect to each other?  Through copper wires, fiber optic cables, and wireless devices.  But let’s keep it simple – wires.

Think of a town.  A town is made up of many different neighborhoods.   Each neighborhood is connected to other neighborhoods by roads.  Each neighborhood is full of individual houses.  These houses are connected to the roads by a driveway.  Are you with me, so far?

Alright, let’s pretend each individual house is a personal computer.  The personal computer (house) wants to access the Internet wire  – the road is the Internet wire!  The Internet connection allows the personal computer to connect to other houses in their neighborhood and to other neighborhoods!  Well, the house has a driveway.  The driveway is like an ISP or Internet Service Provider.  The ISP connects to the personal computer to give it access to the Internet just like a driveway connects to a house to give it access to the road!

So, to recap so far:
Personal computers connect to the Internet to connect to each other by using Internet Service Providers… just like a house connects to the road by a driveway in order to connect to other houses.  Got it.

Now, put simply, how does information travel on the Internet?  Routers!  Let’s imagine, back in our town, there are self-driving cars going from house to house, neighborhood to neighborhood.  Those cars are like routers.  This brings us to part TWO — the World Wide Web.

What is the World Wide Web?

The World Wide Web is NOT the Internet.  The World Wide Web is the collection of information that uses the Internet to exist and travel – it is built on top of the Internet.  Think of web pages that you like to visit – the web pages are the World Wide Web.  Thinking back to our routers, let’s talk about how information gets from one computer to another.

Our routers are the self-driving cars in our town, remember?  Let’s say house A has a package that someone in house P wants.  It’s a very large package, and very heavy.  The self-driving car will go to house A and pick up the package to bring to house P.  However, because the package is so large, it is easier and faster for the big package to be broken down into smaller packages and sent to house P.  But don’t worry!!!  Each package has the unique address of house P on it, so the self-driving car knows where to go.  And all the packages will arrive quickly and in the order they were sent.  The address of house P is just like an IP – or Internet Protocol – address of a computer.

This is what the World Wide Web does over the Internet.  A computer (also called client) will make a request to a server — a server is basically just a computer that is directly connected to the Internet (no driveway for this house!) and can hold a lot of information/data.  The server will acknowledge the request and a handshake happens.  During this handshake, the server sends small packets of the webpage or file the client asked for.  The smaller packets allow the webpage or file to travel faster across the Internet.  Each packet has the IP address – or Internet Protocol address – of the computer it is intended for.  This entire process can be referred to as “packet switching” and though this is NOT the ONLY way to transfer information across the Internet, it is an easy way to understand how it all basically works.  Remember, we aren’t trying to get complicated, here!

How do you view the information in the World Wide Web using the Internet?  A browser (think Chrome, Firefox).  A browser is just a chunk of software that allows you access to the World Wide Web that is available on the Internet.  TAH-DAAAH!

Keep in mind that “the cloud” doesn’t actually exist.  The information you are looking for or the blog post you’re reading exists on a computer somewhere.  Ever wonder why some sites get bogged down?  Like this past year, when Amazon crashed?  Servers can only hold so much information and that information also includes the number of self-driving cars trying to take packages out of their house.  The driveway fills up, the house fills up, and there is nothing left to hand out.  This is why prices go up – Netflix, for example, recently raised its prices.  Why?  More customers and more movies to offer equals a need for more servers.  More servers means more wires and devices and electricity and a place to store all of it.  All of that costs money!

Side Note:  A Little More About Networks

Talking about networks would keep us here all day, but some common terms you’ll hear when referring to networks include WAN or Wide Area Network and LAN or Local Area Network.  Just a quick snip on those:

Do you remember how we compared our town to the Internet?  On a larger scale, the Internet is a catch-all term representing every device connected to another in the world.  For our simple scale, the town is the Internet.  Now, remember the town is made up of neighborhoods, which are made up of individual houses.

If the town is the Internet as a whole, then the neighborhood would be considered a Wide Area Network (WAN) and each street of each neighborhood could be called a Local Area Network (LAN), and each house would be considered a client/node!  Basically, a small collection of clients is a network and depending on how WIDE it reaches determines if the network is Local or Wide.  All of the networks, no matter the size, are collectively called the Internet!

Before we say goodbye…

Quick facts:

  • Internet comes from the term “Inter-Networking” … think about it — networks within networks within networks…
  • The FIRST working prototype of the Internet was the ARPANET – the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network from the late 1960s.  Click to learn more!
  • The WORLD WIDE WEB relies on the Internet — the Internet does NOT rely on the World Wide Web!  Click here to read more!

Other awesome Internet-Put-Simply Links!


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