Tech 101: How Does The Internet Work?

If you’re reading this right now, you’re probably using the Internet. The Internet has become an essential part of life in the 21st century. Through it we can connect with friends and families, stream videos on YouTube or Netflix, play online multiplayer games, and have access to nearly limitless information. Most of us access the internet via a computer or smartphone and has become so secondhand that have you ever stopped to think about how the Internet actually works? Now, I know many people who read my blog (all 15 of you lol) are not techies so I’m going to try to explain this as plainly as possible (although expect to see some computer/network terms). I’ll first tell a story of Jack and Jill (no, not that story):

 Once there was a man named Jack who lived in New York City. Jack was very lonely and wanted desperately to connect to the love of his life. In San Francisco, there lived a woman named Jill. Jill was also lonely and was seeking someone to love. As it happens, both Jack and Jill were listed in the Directory. The Directory was a humongous list of all of the people in the country listed by state, city, and street address. Jack decided that now was the time to find a girlfriend. He had lived in New York his entire life and wanted something different so opened up the Directory to find someone. He decided Washington DC was too close. Atlanta was too far south and he liked being close to an ocean. Detroit was an option but then realized the winters would be too much like New York. Texas was too hot and Seattle too rainy. Jack seriously looked at Hawaii but realized the cost of living was even higher than New York! Hmmm…..what about California? The weather was just right and it was right next to an ocean. “Where do all the hip people live?” he asked. San Francisco seems pretty cool and it had the Golden Gate Bridge. Jack then scrolled down the list of women living in San Franscisco. Hmmm….Jane, Sarah, Madison, Jill….hey, Jill was kind of cute! Summoning up all the courage he could he decided to travel to San Francisco to meet Jill. He looked at the Directory and saw that Jill lived at 1234 Van Buren Drive. Unfortunately, Jack had no idea of how to get there. He did, however, know Bill who has been to San Francisco before. He asked Bill how to get to San Francisco. Bill told him to go to Philadelphia first and talk to Bob. So Jack went to Philly and found Bob. Bob told him to go Nashville and talk to Trevor. In Nashville, Trevor told Jack to go to Denver and talk to Keisha. In Denver, Keisha told him to go to Las Vegas and talk to Marlene. In Las Vegas, Marlene finally put Jack in the final leg to San Franscisco. When Jack arrived at Jill’s house, he introduced himself and said that he was interested in getting to know her. Jill was so happy because she was looking for someone and Jack was very handsome to her. Afterwards, Jack and Jill became very good friends and ended up getting married and living happily ever after…..until Jill met a guy named Damon. Damon was from a place called The Darkness, a place for people not listed in the Directory. But that’s another story 🙂

Alright so obviously that story would be highly unrealistic in the real world but I created this story to demonstrate how the Internet works. You see, the Internet is basically millions of computers connected together. Jack and Jill represent individual computers (or smartphones, tablets or whatever you use to browse the web). Jack wanting to visit Jill represents you typing in facebook.com in your address bar. Now, at their core, computers don’t actually communicate with words like people. Computers use numbers. So when you type facebook.com, the computer doesn’t actually know what that is. Instead, it goes to something called a Domain Name Server (the Directory), or DNS, to find out what IP address corresponds to “facebook.com”. You can think of IP addresses as your home address. Every computer connected to the Internet has an IP address. The DNS server tells your computer that facebook.com’s IP address is 69.63.176.13. Your computer then uses that IP address to connect to Facebook, however, it doesn’t actually know how to get to that IP address so it sends information to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Your ISP (Bill in the story) either knows how to get to that IP address or it knows who to talk to in order to get to that IP address. ISPs communicate with each other by means of routers, special networking devices that know how to send information to different places. So that information your computer sends, “hops” from router to router trying to get to it’s final destination which each router pointing to another. Finally, the information arrives at facebook.com’s server which then sends a reply back to your computer using the same method of routing.

And that’s it! (for the most part, there’s a lot more technical stuff but that’s the gist of it). If you finished reading and you’re bored to tears or if you’re just the visual type like me, check out this helpful video below:

 

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