The internet has become such a huge part of our daily lives that for many of us it's hard to imagine a time when it didn't exist. If we can't remember the name of that flick we saw last year, we use an internet search engine; if we want to listen to a song we haven't heard in ages, we simply log on and download it from our favourite music website.
We use it so much that we never ask the obvious, that is, what exactly is the internet?
Simply put, it is a network of computers that provide information. A computer network is a group of computers connected to one another to facilitate communication and file and resource sharing (for example, printers and scanners).
Many individuals, organisations and businesses have networks that connect countrywide and world wide offices. However, the internet is the largest computer network of all.
One of the most remarkable things about the internet is the wealth of information it lays at your fingertips. The flow of information and interaction never stops, as new pages are daily added by millions of people. Remember the time when personal web pages were created? Now people are creating blogs or personal web-logs, documenting their day for all to see.
The World Wide Web (known simply as the web) is what made the internet so popular. Until the web was created, internet pages were text-only, without colours or graphics of any kind. As such, it was predominantly used for exchange of scientific reports or government documents among various groups.
Nowadays, the internet has become a forum for everyone. All you need is a computer equipped with a modem and you can become a part of the online community via discussion groups, message boards and chat rooms.
Accessing web pages
No matter where you live in the world, your home has an address. Similarly, web pages need addresses too. These addresses allow you to find a particular page, as well as direct others to it.
The technical name for a web address is Universal Resource Locator (URL), which starts with http://. You probably type in a URL to get to certain web pages. Let us examine each part of a URL in detail. Consider the website of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) http://www.nasa.gov.
HTTP stands for Hypertext Transport Protocol, the standard method for sending information on the web. WWW stands for World Wide Web, while 'nasa.gov' is the domain name - complete address of the internet connection used to access a website.
This identifies that information is coming from the web server at Nasa. Usually organizations try to get a domain name that matches their own which makes the URL easy to remember. For instance, '.gov' is the domain name extension and tells you that this is a government website.
Other common domain name extensions include '.com' for commercial, '.org' for organizations and '.edu' for educational institutions. Also, there are country-specific extension that specifies where the website originates from, for example, '.cn' for China, '.sg' for Singapore, or '.tw' for Taiwan.
When you connect to a website through an Internet Service Provider (ISP), and start exchanging information, there is no fixed connection between your computer and the web server's computer hosting the website.
Instead, information is exchanged using the best possible path at that point in time. Special computers called routers determine these paths, avoiding slow links and favouring fast ones.
Thanks to high-performance PCs and fast connections, we have begun to take the internet for granted, to the extent that we rely on it for doing almost everything; from communicating with friends to finding out more about fashion and from participating in virtual discussion groups to downloading music. Indeed, the internet has made information accessible to everyone and life without it certainly seems unthinkable.