Ever wonder what the internet actually is? Well I did for a long time because, in essence, it is a pretty bizarre technology. The internet is defined as a global system of interconnected computer networks that uses the standard protocol suite to provide access to billions of users worldwide. This, of course is a very shallow definition for my taste.
In general terms computers that are in some way connected are categorized in two broad groups: WAN and LAN. LAN stands for local area network and WAN stands for wide area network. Local area networks are defined as two or more connected computers sharing certain resources in a relatively small location. WAN is basically what we know as the internet-or rather- the internet is the largest WAN in existence. Wide area networks are connected by telephone wires, optic cables or wireless communication technologies.
With that being said we can now discuss how the devices that are connected to a network communicate with one another. The communications infrastructure of the internet consists of the hardware communicating through various layer of software that controls the architecture of the network. The bare minimum description of these connections is as follows: You connect to the network of your ISP (Internet service provider) which then connects to a larger sometimes non-commercial provider and that, after a few more iterations of connections (mostly two more), connects to a NAP (network access point). The NAPs are governed by tier one service providers that essentially “sell the internet” to lower tier providers. Exchanges between NAPs on the other hand do not involve any monetary transactions since they all adhere to peering agreements. These are the basics of routing technologies. The service providers themselves and internet users communicate via protocols which are harder to explain (and understand for that matter). Despite the challenge Mr. Brinkerhoff does a great job at explaining protocols simplistically in his educational video. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zyL1Fud1Z1c )
The Internet is often formally referred to as highly engineered and highly complex heterogeneous system. However, shockingly, despite the Internet’s complexity it is extraordinarily robust and that is very comforting since we as modern mankind rely on the flawless connection of billions of electronic devices that all independently receive and transmit packets of data that are individually processed according to a set of protocols and are then engraved in a massive network-the World Wide Web.