How the web works?

In the age of the Internet, you will have heard of people using mysterious terms like LAN, WAN, IP, and HTTP. You quickly move away to make sure these people don’t use these terms on you and expose your ignorance. But as a web developer, it is important to understand a bit more about what the web actually is.

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As the name suggests, the Internet (inter = between, net = network) is a connection between networks. A network is a set of devices that are all connected to each other. These days that connection could be a wired connection such as ADSL or a network cable. Alternatively, you could connect to a network wirelessly such as through a WiFi network or via mobile.

It doesn’t really matter how your device is connected to a network. What really matters is that your device is locatable on that network. This means that each device on the network must have a unique address.

Each device connected to a network can be referred to as a host and will have a unique address. You might be inclined to think that a network address must be very complex as there are potentially many millions of devices connected to the same network, that being the Internet. This is not the case as the Internet is in fact a network that is in itself made up of multiple networks. 

LANs are Local Area Networks that connect devices over a limited distance, for example within the same office, building, home, or school.

WANs are Wide Area Networks that will expand over large geographical distances and can comprise multiple LANs. As such, the Internet can be thought of as a WAN with the area being the globe. If we are able to connect one network to another and each device connected to that sub-level network must have a unique address, then really only the network itself requires a completely unique address. As long as the device’s address also incorporates the address of the sub-level network, then it becomes safe to reuse a device’s address across a WAN.

In this way, we are able to establish a protocol for allowing devices on a network to communicate with each other and send those communications to the correct devices. 

We use the Internet Protocol (IP) and can assign an IP address to each device on a network that uses the Internet Protocol for communication.

Standardization and Protocols

 

As we have already seen, establishing a system by which devices connected to a network can communicate with each other is necessary to ensure that we have a functional Internet. The Internet Protocol for communication ensures this on the Internet. But how was this protocol established and who maintains it? 

This Protocol can be traced as far back as 1974 in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) published paper entitled “A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication”. However,  it is really through the advent of the HTTP or Hypertext Transfer Protocol (circa 1984 Tim Berners Lee) that the IP has become a standard for communication used within the World Wide Web (WWW).

We can think of the IP as the standardization for the data transport layer and HTTP as the standardization for the application layer. In other words, the IP handles how devices connect to one another and the HTTP handles what happens once they’ve connected.

These are some of the important terms that make up our beloved Internet. To learn more about building the web, join our Intro to Web course.