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Internet: The Basics

Today's Internet is a global resource connecting millions of users that began as an experiment over 20 years ago by the U.S. Department of Defense. While the networks that make up the Internet are based on a standard set of protocols (a mutually agreed upon method of communication between parties), the Internet also has gateways to networks and services that are based on other protocols

(Krol: What is the Internet - Working Draft, FYI)

The Internet, in effect, ties a large collection of computer networks together through a common standard called TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/ Internet Protocol). Users of any of the networks can utilize services provided by any of the other networks through this standard. Currently, there are about 700,000 networks tied together to form the Internet and the number is growing rapidly.

Usually a user does not have to be concerned with the (intricate) details of how the Internet works or is implemented at a specific site. By using `smart' software, the user is shielded from most technical details and can concentrate on actually using the Internet for the purpose in mind. The Internet, i.e. a huge collections of wires together with a common protocol, encompasses many different services, some of which I would like to discuss in this workshop:

Ftp (File Transfer Protocol)
Archie (an older method of searching for files)
Gopher (old - no longer in much demand)
Telnet (to connect to another computer)
Chat (to talk to users around the world)
The World-Wide-Web (today's hot issue)
Telephony and Video Conferencing (tomorrow's hot issue)

What's in a Name: Addresses and IP Numbers

The only detailed information one needs when dealing with the Internet is the address of Internet members. Each institution attached to the Internet receives a unique domain name and can then in turn assign addresses to members of its network to identify them uniquely to the Internet. There are some guidelines and application processes to follow when obtaining a domain name that are handled by a local system administrator. Usually, the domain name and the subsequent local names of network stations reflect something about an individual participant of the Internet. For example, Dartmouth College has the domain name dartmouth.edu, and a particular station on the Dartmouth College network is called dartvax.dartmouth.edu, or carr.dartmouth.edu. Each station on a network also has a unique four-part numerical address in addition to its name, called the IP number. For example, the IP number of dartvax.dartmouth.edu is The first two parts of that number reflect the domain name and are the same for all stations of the Dartmouth College network. The last two parts of the number can be assigned by Dartmouth College to the individual stations on its network.

When you need to address a particular station on the Internet, you could use the name of that station ( dartvax.dartmouth.edu) or the corresponding IP number ( Usually, the station name is the more convenient address to use, and it is automatically converted to an IP number by a name server behind the scenes. In some cases, however, you may want to refer to a station directly by its IP number.

Knowing the name of a station usually reveals something about its origins. For example, addresses ending in '.edu' refer to educational institutions in the US, '.com' to commercial institutions in the US, '.org' to non-profit organizations, '.de' to German Internet members, and so on.

In many cases, the first part of an address tells you also about the service that will be provided by the machine behind the address. For example:

www.shu.edu indicates a Web server
ftp.shu.edu indicates an FTP site
gopher.shu.edu indicates a Gopher site (no longer exists)
news.shu.edu indicates a Usenet news server
something.shu.edu most often indicates a Telnet connection

Bert G. Wachsmut
Last modified: 05/03/00