Basic Understanding of Networking and the Internet

Posted on: October 20, 2006

I’ll admit, this is the second attempt at writing this article. There is so much information and it all relates to all the rest, so it’s hard to piece it together correctly. I simplified this a LOT, so forgive me if you’re looking at something that explains things in technical details.

First, the basics. Your computer has some sort of ethernet adapter in it. Some are wireless, and some are wired. Either way, that ethernet adapter allows you to connect to other computers in your local area network (LAN). Usually, you have some sort of hub (router, switch, etc) that all your computers talk to. This hub helps all of the computers on your LAN talk to each other without having to plug in to each other directly. If you only have one computer you’re probably plugged straight into the modem, otherwise you probably have your hub plugged into your modem.

Your modem is like your ethernet adapter, only it allows your LAN to talk to a wide area network (WAN) like the internet. Cutting out all the technical stuff, when you connect to the internet, your ethernet adapter talks to your hub, your hub talks to your modem, then your modem talks to the rest of the internet. When it does that, it will reach the equivalent of a modem on the other end which will talk to the hub on the other end, and finally it will talk to the computer you are trying to get to.

Here’s a diagram to help make sense of all that:

The Internet Diagram

The computer that you end up talking to on the other end has a special name: server. It gets this name because it serves documents and files. It’s essentially just another computer, though they typically don’t have peripherals (keyboard, mouse, monitor, etc) attached and they usually come in a flatter box to fit in a rack.

The language that your computer uses to talk to a website depends on what you are trying to do. If you are trying to browse the web, you’re computers are going to be speaking HTTP – Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol. This protocol allows the two computers to communicate to fulfill your request for a document. If you are sending files, you might be using FTP, or if you’re using IRC, it’s a protocol of its own.

So you can see there are a lot of different protocols that your computer can use to access the internet. For now, you can just focus on HTTP since you probably won’t be doing a lot of development with the other protocols if you’re making typical websites; however, you should still recognize that they exist.


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