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Digging into The World Wide Web

Cyril Darko

The internet has become a fundamental piece of our lives, a fact we can’t deny. Our bank accounts, amusement, news, and education are all on the internet. But the internet alone does not provide these functionalities - the World Wide Web (WWW) accomplishes that. It’s been a little over 30 years since its creation. With the help of this, we’ve gone from sending simple email messages and viewing basic web pages to having video chats, instant news updates, shop online and stay connected with family and friends anywhere in the world, and all these achieved in a matter of seconds.

When most people think about the internet, they think of a magical system that lets you access your favourite websites, shop online, and endless stream of cat and dog pictures. There’s no mystery entity that grants us cat and dog pictures on demand; there isn’t any magic involved. So we can say the internet is the interconnection of computers around the world. Computers in a network can talk to each other and send data to each other. You can quickly create a simple network with just two computers. In fact, you might already have your own network at home connecting all of your devices. Your school connects to a bigger network, your workplace connects to another bigger network and that network connects to an even bigger network, and so on the connection goes. In the long run, there are billions of computers that are interconnected, making up the internet and yet more being added.

We don’t interact with, or connect directly to the internet but rather we use software application like most browsers (chrome, mozilla, safari, etc) to access the internet. Even with this process, the information is retrieved from the World Wide Web. Oftentimes, most people think the World Wide Web, or simply web, is the internet, which is wrong. They are two different entities. So what then, is the World Wide Web? But before we dig into the web, let’s do a brief history of the internet to know how the web started.

A Brief of the Internet

As usual, I always want to give my readers a better understanding in succinct information. I love to go back in time just to see how we got to this exciting point. Back in the 1950s where it all started, computers were huge and required a whole room to be stationed. It produced lots of heat and so the room had to be conditioned with cooler air, adding up to cost of maintenance and more waste to the environment. Also if you were a programmer at the time, you needed to directly interact with these huge computers. In the late ‘60s, the US government initiated a project called DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), which went on to create the earliest version of the internet that we see today with the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). In due course, programmers were able to share single computing resource by being able to access the computer remotely on the same network but there was a bigger problem – networks couldn’t talk to each other. In the 1970s, two computer scientists, Sir Vinton Cerf and Sir Bob Kahn (the inventors of the internet) had a critical breakthrough in computer networking that solved this problem. They created the Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol or TCP/IP for communication over networks. At the start, only a few adopted the TCP/IP - computers in universities, governments, and a few businesses adopted TCP/IP, then hundreds to thousands, and in the span of 50 years and a little over, billions of computers. TCP/IP is still the protocol we use now and has become the most predominant network protocol in use today. Finally, people from anywhere in the world could send data to one another but there was still a problem – the information they could send was just text and nothing more. It wasn’t unified or centralised so it was very boring, you would easily lose interest. It wasn’t until the the 1990s when a computer scientist by the name of Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. The web utilised different protocols for displaying information which included hypermedia in web pages and became the predominant way of communication in accessing the internet.

What is the World Wide Web (WWW)?

The brief history and perhaps, the previous text would have given you a hint now? The web is an information system that sits on the internet where documents and other web resources are linked together. We can access these documents by a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) such as https://google.com which may also have hyperlinks to a pool of links to other documents or resources that are accessible over the internet. The web utilises different networking protocols and so makes networks talk to one another because it has connected all the information on the internet to form a giant virtual network (you can think of it as a giant spider web that has kept information on networks together). The resources are transferred via the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and one may access the information by a software application called a web browser which in response, retrieves the information from the publisher, a software application called a web server. In other words, the web is the information on the internet while the internet is the physical connection of computers and wires around the world. Hence, the two are not synonymous and they can't be used interchangeably.

Truth is, there are computers everywhere, you come into contact with them at work, home and there’s probably one in your pocket right now. Oh wait, you are using one to read this article now. The computers or machines we use like laptops, desktops and phones are called clients in this context. Clients make requests for contents likes pictures or web pages from the servers. Since clients don’t connect directly to the internet, they connect to a network run by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) like MTN, Vodafone and many more. These ISPs have already built networks and run all the necessary physical cabling that connects millions of computers in one network. These networks also connect to other networks (like google etc)and other ISPs to form the internet. Then, the World Wide Web  ties all applications and programs together that let humans interact with these systems. Now we take courses online, watch movies, connect with family and friends, and video chats which were not possible 30 years ago. Thanks to these amazing computer scientists who have made this a reality and have paved way for developers to build upon their ideas and technology.

Cyril Darko

Full-stack web development, Technology, Entrepreneurship and Environmental Science.