How the Internet Works

The internet is a global network of computers connected by cable, fiber or wireless links. You can use it for downloading pictures, listening to music, communicating with people around the world and much more besides.

When you request something from the web it’s sent in a ‘packet’ – like an envelope packed with vital information. This then travels through special computers known as routers and switches before reaching its destination: the web server that holds that requested data.

The Internet is a network of computers

The Internet is a global system of computer networks that uses the Internet Protocol suite (IP) to link billions of devices around the world. It provides access to an abundance of information resources and services such as the World Wide Web, electronic mail, and telephony.

The roots of the internet can be traced back to research commissioned by the United States federal government in the 1960s to create reliable, fault-tolerant communication via computer networks. ARPANET, its primary precursor network, served as a backbone for interconnecting regional academic and military networks during the 1970s to facilitate resource sharing.

The Internet provides access to a vast range of applications, such as the World Wide Web, electronic mail, mobile applications, multiplayer online games and file sharing. It consists of two major components: network protocols and hardware. Network protocols set common rules that machines must follow for communication – like Transport Control Protocol and Internet Protocol.

The Internet is a network of physical cables

The Internet is composed of physical cables, such as copper telephone wires, TV cables and fiber optic cable. These wires enable data to be sent from computer to computer across a worldwide network.

Data is divided up into packets and sent to a receiving computer or device for interpretation and display. These packets then get routed through various networking components like routers and switches.

Packets of data must then be reassembled in their intended order when they reach their destination, thanks to a set of protocols that all Internet-connected computers and devices are able to understand and interpret.

These protocols, such as the TCP/IP suite, impose rules that machines must follow to complete tasks. Without these common guidelines, machines would not be able to communicate with one another.

The Internet is a network of routers

A router is a network device that enables you to share your internet connection with multiple devices. It may be an independent unit or part of a modem/router hybrid known as a wireless gateway.

Routers determine the path for each data packet that needs to travel from your computer to a web server or other destination on the internet. This process, known as packet switching, uses your computer’s IP address for sending it along.

To understand how routers function, it helps to think of the Internet as a series of networks. Each network has an IP address and its own network interface card – otherwise known as a switch or router.

As an example, if you have cable or DSL internet, your modem and router must work together to convert radio waves sent across copper wires into signals your modem can understand and send to your devices. Likewise, if fiber internet is present, then your router must translate light signals from glass fibers into signals your modem can interpret and send to devices.

The Internet is a network of servers

The Internet is a global network of computers, servers and other hardware that transmits data over wires and radio waves. When your computer or smartphone sends an inquiry to a website, the information is transferred through these wires in the form of pulses of light, electricity or data files which are then interpreted by the receiving computer.

The protocols employed by the Internet provide a common set of instructions for machines to follow and allow them to communicate with one another. This enables the internet to function as a distributed networking system, meaning it can continue working even if one server or data center goes down for some reason.

There are hundreds of specialized servers that support computer networks, including web servers, database servers, file servers, chat servers and video streaming servers. These machines are usually housed in large data centers and ensure the smooth running of the Internet as a whole.

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