ARCHIVED: What is the Internet?

The Internet is essentially a global network of computing resources, but this brief definition demands explanation and expansion. This document approaches the Internet from a variety of perspectives.

General considerations

You can think about the Internet in relation to its common protocols (ways of exchanging information between computers), as a physical collection of routers and circuits, as a set of shared resources, or even as an attitude about interconnecting and intercommunication. Some common definitions given in the past include:

  • A network of networks based on the TCP/IP communications protocol
  • A community of people who use and develop those networks
  • A collection of resources accessible from those networks

Brief history

The Internet evolved from a 1960s US Defense Department experiment in computer networking called ARPAnet. Its goal was to allow different kinds of computers to interconnect so that researchers could share data.

While ARPAnet was growing in size, other networks were being developed. Soon the architects of ARPAnet recognized the need to communicate with these other networks. For these disparate computers and networks to communicate with one another, there had to be agreement on how that should occur. The agreements are called communication protocols, and the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) suite of protocols defined how Internet computers were to communicate.

By the close of the 1970s, links developed between ARPAnet and counterparts in other countries. The world was now tied together in a computer "web".

In the 1980s, this network of networks, which became known collectively as the Internet, expanded at a phenomenal rate. By 1985, approximately one hundred networks were connected. By 1987, the number had grown to two hundred; in 1989, it exceeded five hundred. According to tables kept at the Defense Data Net Network Information Center (DDN NIC), 2,218 networks were connected to the Internet as of January 1990.

In the 1990s, the Internet grew at exponential rates. With the popularity of the World Wide Web, the number of networks connected to the Internet jumped to a world wide total of more than 50,000 by the end of the decade.

Available services

Some of the basic services available to Internet users are:

  • Email: A fast, easy, and inexpensive way to communicate with other Internet users around the world
  • Telnet: Allows a user to log into a remote computer as though it were a local system
  • FTP: Allows a user to transfer virtually every kind of file that can be stored on a computer from one Internet-connected computer to another
  • Usenet news: A distributed bulletin board that offers a combination news and discussion service on thousands of topics
  • World Wide Web (WWW): A hypertext interface to Internet information resources

Accessing the Internet

Large corporations and institutions of higher learning have near-universal access to the Internet. For example, computer users at IU may access Internet services in several ways; depending on your campus, you may have access to the Internet via computers in the Student Technology Centers or other facilities on campus, via network connections in departmental offices or campus housing, or through a modem and IU's dial-in facilities. Home computer users may access the Internet though private or local Internet service providers (ISPs). These include international services such as America Online, CompuServe, or EarthLink. Smaller regional and local providers are also available. In Bloomington, Indiana, these include BlueMarble and Comcast cable. In Indianapolis, Indiana, these include IQuest and Indyweb.net. For more information about local ISPs, see ARCHIVED: Finding an Internet service provider (ISP).

Additionally, some cities offer public dial-in facilities, often referred to as freenets; as their name implies, access to Internet services is provided without charge.

This is document aasa in the Knowledge Base.
Last modified on 2009-07-17 00:00:00.

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