I was recently asked on an IRC
channel to describe the difference between the Internet
and the World Wide Web
. It turned into a lecture
of sorts, and while it's not 100% accurate factually, I figured I would probably want to refer to it later, and it might be interesting to a wider public. If you want the real deal straight from the horse's mouth
, go read How the Internet Came to Be
. One of the people involved in the conversation
quoted below suggested I post it here. And so I did:
<katiedid> I need some help explaining the internet to my mom
<katiedid> Specifically, the difference between the internet,
the world wide web, and so on
<katiedid> I'm trying to explain how IRC is different from WWW
<katiedid> For her, "The web" and "The Internet" are the same
<katiedid> She uses the internet all the time
<katiedid> She just doesn't really understand how it works
<freelancer> The internet
is a huge network
computers all over the world. It can be used for any number of
. One of these is the world wide web
, which is used to
display web pages. Another is IRC
, which is used for chatting.
<Kliment> It all started when the US military was in a panic
over the threat on nuclear war
back in the cold war.
<Kliment> They were afraid that if several communication
hubs were to be bombed, they would be unable to communicate.
<Kliment> So they commissioned ARPA
, an organization that
coordinates research funding for the military, to build them a
network that would be indestructible.
<Kliment> And the ARPA people came up with a solution where
several computers (that were gigantic, expensive and scarce back
then) would be connected with leased telephone lines.
<Kliment> And where short discrete messages would be passed
along from computer to computer.
<Kliment> So that even if one direct line were to be
destroyed, as long as there was some path the messages could take
to the destination they would get there.
<Kliment> This infrastructure
expanded, and the military
really loved it, because even outside nuclear war conditions they
were really annoyed of their phone lines intermittently failing.
<Kliment> Later on, major research universities
also joined, because having more links in the network made the
network even more resistant
<Kliment> Several research groups had been experimenting with
networks of similar type, and all these networks were finally
joined together in the early 80s, forming the Internetwork, later
abbreviated to Internet
<Kliment> At that time, email
was already in existence, in
the form of messages that were copied from machine to machine
<Kliment> This was the primary use of the internet at the time.
<Kliment> Later on, a more efficient way of transferring
large files was invented, called file transfer protocol
<Kliment> After this, in 1990, the IRC
invented, which was a way of communicating in real time
group of people using text.
<Kliment> (I might have this year wrong)
<Kliment> Later on, in 1991, the Gopher
along, which was a method of retrieving documents by name.
<freelancer> The RFC is dated 1993, but it was probably
invented before that
<Kliment> A lot of information rapidly became available on
gopher sites, anticipating the popularity of the web.
<Kliment> In 1993, the hypertext transfer protocol (http
was invented, which is where the web as we currently know it originates.
<Kliment> Now, all of these protocols describe the content of
the messages being passed around in the network, and the way the
messages are passed around is still essentially the same as the
<Kliment> But what we put into them has changed.
<Kliment> With email, all they contained was the address it
came from,the address it went to and the message itself.
<Kliment> (I am oversimplifying a bit)
<Kliment> And as the network grew and more engineering
students with too much time on their hands got access to it, more
and more ways of using this network were invented.
<Kliment> Things built on other things.
<Kliment> People started using email not just to share
research findings but also to arrange dates, exchange jokes, find
friends, share random ideas.
<Kliment> You can see that people have invented so many
things to do with the web that it's now the primary and most
important use of the internet.
<Kliment> IRC was invented by people who got tired of waiting
for emails to go back and forth.
<freelancer> God bless
<Kliment> The web came about when people were tired of typing
in gopher addresses that they saw on a gopher page and wanted a way
to somehow magically link from one page to another
<Kliment> And this is where we are now.
<Kliment> In a time when the web is so comprehensive that
most people using the internet don't even see the other services.
<Kliment> But it's really incredible to think that none of
this existed back when Katie was born.
<Kliment> It's a remarkably recent thing.
<Kliment> But the internet as a network has existed for many
<freelancer> Nor when I was born. And yeah, quite remarkable.
And quite impressive. To think that I can push a button here (in
Sweden), and less than a second later someone in the US can read
<Kliment> And while ARPA drove it to start with, this is an
example of true international cooperation.
<katiedid> Kliment, you explained it wonderfully. She sends many thanks.
<Kliment> It's a thing where everyone involved benefits from
everyone else being there.
<katiedid> Who was the first to commercialize the web?
<katiedid> Like AOL
<Kliment> Well, depends.
<Kliment> In that time, there were many BBS-like services.
, AOL, Prodigy
<Kliment> At some point they all realized that there was
something of value in this whole "internet" thing.
<Kliment> At first they offered dial-up
access to email.
<Kliment> To do this they had to connect to the network that
was then operated by the National Science Foundation
<Kliment> In the early 90s, the commercial service providers
caught on, and they started selling internet connections to the broad public.
<Kliment> I believe it was AOL that first did this.
<Kliment> But I know it happened massively in 1993.
<Kliment> And everyone else quickly caught on.
<katiedid> Is there a way to answer her question "So who runs IRC?"
<Kliment> Yes, there is a way.
<Kliment> IRC is divided into networks.
<Kliment> All users on an IRC network can communicate
directly with each other.
<Kliment> Each IRC network is composed of servers.
<Kliment> The servers are all connected directly to each
other in a chain.
<Kliment> So server A is connected to server B, server B is
connected to server C etc.
<freelancer> Chain? Not a mesh?
<Kliment> freelancer: Not a mesh. This is why we have
<freelancer> Good point
<Kliment> The people who own the servers on a network know
<Kliment> And they agree with each other to run a network
<Kliment> Some organizations have their own IRC networks,
where all the servers are owned by the organization.
<Kliment> But most networks are decentralized
<Kliment> This network for example runs on four servers, one
in Dallas, one in Hartland and two in Boston.
<Kliment> It was started by a bunch of friends who got
together and thought to do this.
<Kliment> There are also gigantic global networks with orders
of magnitude more users and hundreds of servers.
for example is a network with 43 servers
and over 80000 simultaneous users.
<Kliment> This network has a bit under 1000 users.
<Kliment> As for who runs the web, this is more complex.
<Kliment> Given an internet connection, you can connect to
any computer in the world directly, in theory.
<Kliment> Any of those computers could be running a web
<Kliment> So in theory, all machines on the internet could
have a web site on them.
<Kliment> Most don't.
<Kliment> But what this means is that essentially any
computer with a fast internet connection can have a website on it.
<Kliment> So it's more interesting to ask who runs a specific
<Kliment> A large number of websites are run out of hosting
<Kliment> These are mainly companies, and they will put your
website on their computers for a fee.
<Kliment> Then it's their responsibility to make sure the
internet connection to those computers is working and that the
computers themselves keep running.
<Kliment> Many universities and internet service providers
offer this as a service as well.
<Kliment> Some people run websites out of their homes, but
having a computer always on is a nuisance.
<Kliment> This is essentially how it works