Let's say that you are sitting at your computer, surfing the Web, and you get a call from a friend who says, "I just read a great article! Type in this URL and check it out. It's at http://computer.howstuffworks.com/web-server.htm." So you type that URL into your browser and press return. And magically, no matter where in the world that URL lives, the page pops up on your screen. At the most basic level possible, the following diagram shows the steps that brought that page to your screen: # INCLUDEPICTURE "http://static.howstuffworks.com/gif/webserver-basic-sm.gif" \* MERGEFORMATINET ### Your browser formed a connection to a Web server, requested a page and received it. Behind the Scenes
If you want to get into a bit more detail on the process of getting a Web page onto your computer screen, here are the basic steps that occurred behind the scenes: The browser broke the URL into three parts:
The protocol ("http")
The server name ("www.howstuffworks.com")
The file name ("web-server.htm")
The browser communicated with a # HYPERLINK "http://computer.howstuffworks.com/dns.htm" #name server# to translate the server name "www.howstuffworks.com" into an IP Address, which it uses to connect to the server machine. The browser then formed a connection to the server at that IP address on port 80. (We'll discuss ports later in this article.) Following the HTTP protocol, the browser sent a GET request to the server, asking for the file "http://computer.howstuffworks.com/web-server.htm." (Note that cookies may be sent from browser to server with the GET request -- see # HYPERLINK "http://computer.howstuffworks.com/cookie.htm" #How Internet Cookies Work# for details.) The server then sent the # HYPERLINK "http://computer.howstuffworks.com/web-page.htm" #HTML text# for the Web page to the browser. (# HYPERLINK "http://computer.howstuffworks.com/cookie.htm" #Cookies# may also be sent from server to browser in the header for the page.) The browser read the # HYPERLINK "http://computer.howstuffworks.com/web-page.htm" #HTML tags# and formatted the page onto your screen. If you've never explored this process before, that's a lot of new vocabulary. To understand this whole process in detail, you need to learn about IP addresses, ports, protocols... The following sections will lead you through a complete explanation.
So what is "the Internet"? The Internet is a gigantic collection of millions of computers, all linked together on a computer network. The network allows all of the computers to communicate with one another. A home computer may be linked to the Internet using a # HYPERLINK "http://computer.howstuffworks.com/modem.htm" #phone-line modem#, # HYPERLINK "http://computer.howstuffworks.com/dsl.htm" #DSL# or # HYPERLINK "http://computer.howstuffworks.com/cable-modem.htm" #cable modem# that talks to an Internet service provider (ISP). A computer in a business or university will usually have a network interface card (NIC) that directly connects it to a # HYPERLINK "http://computer.howstuffworks.com/lan-switch.htm" #local area network# (LAN) inside the business. The business can then connect its LAN to an ISP using a high-speed phone line like a T1 line. A # HYPERLINK "http://computer.howstuffworks.com/question372.htm" #T1 line# can handle approximately 1.5 million bits per second, while a normal phone line using a modem can typically handle 30,000 to 50,000 bits per second. ISPs then connect to larger ISPs, and the largest ISPs maintain # HYPERLINK "http://computer.howstuffworks.com/fiber-optic.htm" #fiber-optic# "backbones" for an entire nation or region. Backbones around the world are connected through fiber-optic lines, undersea cables or # HYPERLINK "http://computer.howstuffworks.com/satellite.htm" #satellite# links (see # HYPERLINK "http://computer.howstuffworks.com/framed.htm?parent=web-server.htm&url=http://www.geog.ucl.ac.uk/casa/martin/atlas/isp_maps.html" #An Atlas of Cyberspaces# for some...
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