Basic Introduction to the Internet and the Web
Understanding the different operations that take place when you browse the web
Table of content
- What is the internet?
- How are computers linked via the internet?
- The journey of data sent between two devices
- How do we surf the web?
Similarly to electricity, we use the internet on a daily basis without knowing how any of them function behind the scenes.
As a web developer, having a basic understanding of the internet and its different parts gives you more perspective on the environment you’re working on, which broadens your knowledge in this field.
What is the internet?
The internet is a network of networks.
Great, very informative, the hell is a network?
A network is a number of connected devices (computers, phones, or even a smart refrigerator) through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or cables.
How are computers linked via the internet?
Since the internet is this vast network; a large number of connected devices…
What kind of connection ensures that every single device is connected to every other device in this network?
The answer is, cables!
Yep, long copper or optical fibers under the seas.
Take a look at this map that covers all the fibers in the world! Pretty cool.
These cables get taken care of by your country’s telephone infrastructure, and get integrated with the phone-line that reaches every house.
Simply put, internet arrives to your doorstep via the phone-line.
Phone-lines transmit light signals, in order to use the internet, these light signals must be converted to electricity via a modem, which you connect to via Wi-Fi or Ethernet.
The journey of data sent between two devices
In order to send data from a device to another, a connection must first be established.
What ensures successful transmission (which means data sent to the right receiver) are pieces of equipment called routers. Let’s take an example:
Person A wants to send a message to Person B through the internet.
Upon Person A hitting send, the message is transmitted via the phone-line to reach a router.
The router receives the data and redirects it to the right receiver (or Person B in this case). That’s why they’re called routers, they define the correct route data goes through.
The router of this example is one of many special interconnected routers that are part of an ISP (Short for: Internet Service Provider).
An ISP is an organization that sells internet, web hosting etc. It takes care of distributing internet and its services.
How do we surf the web?
We access the web using software called browsers which allow us to view websites and navigate through them.
The way you navigate to websites is through the address bar, where you write a website’s link (more formally, the URL):
URL example: http://www.facebook.com
- http: short for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol which is a set of rules for fetching resources (HTML, CSS, images etc.)
- www: the sub-domain
- facebook: the domain name
- com: the top-level-domain
Usually when we navigate to websites, we omit the http part of the URL, and it works just fine because the browser adds it by default when it is missing because it is an essential part of the URL.
Now that our URL is typed and we press Enter… is where the fun all begins!
Continuing on the URL example www.facebook.com
1. The browser checks the cache for the DNS record
The browser checks in the cache memory for a previous entry of the domain name (facebook.com) in a DNS record.
DNS (short for Domain Name System) is a number of servers that map each domain name to a corresponding numeric address called IP address (short for Internet Protocol).
Just bear with me a little!
Servers are powerful computers running applications that listen to HTTP requests from clients (usually browsers) and serve them with resources (or error codes when something goes wrong. For example a missing resource which returns the famous 404 error code).
IP addresses are unique numeric addresses given to each and every device connected to the internet.
Writing out (and remembering) www.facebook.com is much more easier than 188.8.131.52 (Facebook’s IP address). That is why we use DNS which stores mappings of domain names to their corresponding IP addresses, exactly like a phone book.
Regressing back to our explanation.
If the browser finds the corresponding IP address of the domain name in cache memory, it sends an HTTP request to the mapped IP address of the domain name.
If the domain name is not in cache, the ISP’s DNS server runs a DNS query; searching different DNS servers on the internet to find the given domain name’s IP address, jumping from DNS server to another until it finds it!
2. The browser sends an HTTP request to the website’s server to fetch resources
Upon finding the website’s server IP address (thanks to DNS), the browser issues an HTTP request to the server to get the necessary documents of the website, from HTML and CSS files to the web page’s images.
The server issues a response and sends back the requested resources, if everything goes well (no errors).
All these resources get rendered (read) by the browser and displayed!
That was a brief introduction to functioning of the internet and the web. We barely scratched the surface, and made everything seem simple and cozy, it’s not the case.
The infrastructure underneath the internet is much more complex than that and is very interesting, we only covered some basics in this article, maybe we will dive into more complex concepts in the future!
Thank you for reading!
That was it. I hope you learned something new and enjoyed reading!
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Have a nice one.