The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that interchange data by packet switching using the standardized Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP). It is a "network of networks" that consists of millions of private and public, academic, business, and government networks of local to global scope that are linked by copper wires, fiber-optic cables, wireless connections, and other technologies.
The Internet carries various information resources and services, such as electronic mail, online chat, file transfer and file sharing, online gaming, and the inter-linked hypertext documents and other resources of the World Wide Web (WWW).
Licklider moved from the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory at Harvard University to MIT in 1950, after becoming interested in information technology. At MIT, he served on a committee that established Lincoln Laboratory and worked on the SAGE project. In 1957 he became a Vice President at BBN, where he bought the first production PDP-1 computer and conducted the first public demonstration of time-sharing.
At the IPTO, Licklider recruited Lawrence Roberts to head a project to implement a network, and Roberts based the technology on the work of Paul Baran, who had written an exhaustive study for the U.S. Air Force that recommended packet switching (as opposed to circuit switching) to make a network highly robust and survivable. After much work, the first two nodes of what would become the ARPANET were interconnected between UCLA and SRI International in Menlo Park, California, on October 29, 1969. The ARPANET was one of the "eve" networks of today's Internet. Following on from the demonstration that packet switching worked on the ARPANET, the British Post Office, Telenet, DATAPAC and TRANSPAC collaborated to create the first international packet-switched network service. In the UK, this was referred to as the International Packet Switched Service (IPSS), in 1978. The collection of X.25-based networks grew from Europe and the US to cover Canada, Hong Kong and Australia by 1981. The X.25 packet switching standard was developed in the CCITT (now called ITU-T) around 1976. X.25 was independent of the TCP/IP protocols that arose from the experimental work of DARPA on the ARPANET, Packet Radio Net and Packet Satellite Net during the same time period. Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn developed the first description of the TCP protocols during 1973 and published a paper on the subject in May 1974. Use of the term "Internet" to describe a single global TCP/IP network originated in December 1974 with the publication of RFC 675, the first full specification of TCP that was written by Vinton Cerf, Yogen Dalal and Carl Sunshine, then at Stanford University. During the next nine years, work proceeded to refine the protocols and to implement them on a wide range of operating systems.
The first TCP/IP-based wide-area network was operational by January 1, 1983 when all hosts on the ARPANET were switched over from the older NCP protocols. In 1985, the United States' National Science Foundation (NSF) commissioned the construction of the NSFNET, a university 56 kilobit/second network backbone using computers called "fuzzballs" by their inventor, David L. Mills. The following year, NSF sponsored the conversion to a higher-speed 1.5 megabit/second network. A key decision to use the DARPA TCP/IP protocols was made by Dennis Jennings, then in charge of the Supercomputer program at NSF.
The opening of the network to commercial interests began in 1988. The US Federal Networking Council approved the interconnection of the NSFNET to the commercial MCI Mail system in that year and the link was made in the summer of 1989. Other commercial electronic e-mail services were soon connected, including OnTyme, Telemail and Compuserve. In that same year, three commercial Internet service providers (ISP) were created: UUNET, PSINET and CERFNET. Important, separate networks that offered gateways into, then later merged with, the Internet include Usenet and BITNET. Various other commercial and educational networks, such as Telenet, Tymnet, Compuserve and JANET were interconnected with the growing Internet. Telenet (later called Sprintnet) was a large privately funded national computer network with free dial-up access in cities throughout the U.S. that had been in operation since the 1970s. This network was eventually interconnected with the others in the 1980s as the TCP/IP protocol became increasingly popular. The ability of TCP/IP to work over virtually any pre-existing communication networks allowed for a great ease of growth, although the rapid growth of the Internet was due primarily to the availability of commercial routers from companies such as Cisco Systems, Proteon and Juniper, the availability of commercial Ethernet equipment for local-area networking and the widespread implementation of TCP/IP on the UNIX operating system.
An early popular web browser was ViolaWWW, patterned after HyperCard and built using the X Window System. It was eventually replaced in popularity by the Mosaic web browser. In 1993, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois released version 1.0 of Mosaic, and by late 1994 there was growing public interest in the previously academic, technical Internet. By 1996 usage of the word Internet had become commonplace, and consequently, so had its use as a synecdoche in reference to the World Wide Web.
Meanwhile, over the course of the decade, the Internet successfully accommodated the majority of previously existing public computer networks (although some networks, such as FidoNet, have remained separate). During the 1990s, it was estimated that the Internet grew by 100% per year, with a brief period of explosive growth in 1996 and 1997. This growth is often attributed to the lack of central administration, which allows organic growth of the network, as well as the non-proprietary open nature of the Internet protocols, which encourages vendor interoperability and prevents any one company from exerting too much control over the network.
Examples of early university Internet communities are Cleveland FreeNet, Blacksburg Electronic Village and NSTN in Nova Scotia. Students took up the opportunity of free communications and saw this new phenomenon as a tool of liberation. Personal computers and the Internet would free them from corporations and governments (Nelson, Jennings, Stallman).
Graduate students played a huge part in the creation of ARPANET. In the 1960s, the network working group, which did most of the design for ARPANET's protocols, was composed mainly of graduate students.
Aside from the complex physical connections that make up its infrastructure, the Internet is facilitated by bi- or multi-lateral commercial contracts (e.g., peering agreements), and by technical specifications or protocols that describe how to exchange data over the network. Indeed, the Internet is defined by its interconnections and routing policies.
As of March 31, 2008, 1.407 billion people use the Internet according to Internet World Stats.
The complex communications infrastructure of the Internet consists of its hardware components and a system of software layers that control various aspects of the architecture. While the hardware can often be used to support other software systems, it is the design and the rigorous standardization process of the software architecture that characterizes the Internet.
The responsibility for the architectural design of the Internet software systems has been delegated to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The IETF conducts standard-setting work groups, open to any individual, about the various aspects of Internet architecture. Resulting discussions and final standards are published in Request for Comments (RFCs), freely available on the IETF web site.
The principal methods of networking that enable the Internet are contained in a series of RFCs that constitute the Internet Standards. These standards describe a system known as the Internet Protocol Suite. This is a model architecture that divides methods into a layered system of protocols (RFC 1122, RFC 1123). The layers correspond to the environment or scope in which their services operate. At the top is the space (Application Layer) of the software application, e.g., a web browser application, and just below it is the Transport Layer which connects applications on different hosts via the network (e.g., client-server model). The underlying network consists of two layers: the Internet Layer which enables computers to connect to one-another via intermediate (transit) networks and thus is the layer that establishes internetworking and the Internet, and lastly, at the bottom, is a software layer that provides connectivity between hosts on the same local link (therefor called Link Layer), e.g., a local area network (LAN) or a dial-up connection. This model is also known as the TCP/IP model of networking. While other models have been developed, such as the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model, they are not compatible in the details of description, nor implementation.
The most prominent component of the Internet model is the Internet Protocol (IP) which provides addressing systems for computers on the Internet and facilitates the internetworking of networks. IP Version 4 (IPv4) is the initial version used on the first generation of the today's Internet and is still in dominant use. It was designed to address up to ~4.3 billion (109) Internet hosts. However, the explosive growth of the Internet has led to IPv4 address exhaustion. A new protocol version, IPv6, was developed which provides vastly larger addressing capabilities and more efficient routing of data traffic. IPv6 is currently in commercial deployment phase around the world.
IPv6 is not interoperable with IPv4. It essentially establishes a "parallel" version of the Internet not accessible with IPv4 software. This means software upgrades are necessary for every networking device that needs to communicate on the IPv6 Internet. Most modern computer operating systems are already converted to operate with both version of the Internet Protocol. Network infrastructures, however, are still lagging in this development.
Similar to the way the commercial Internet providers connect via Internet exchange points, research networks tend to interconnect into large subnetworks such as the following:
These in turn are built around relatively smaller networks. See also the list of Academic computer network organizations.
In computer network diagrams, the Internet is often represented by a cloud symbol, into and out of which network communications can pass.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the authority that coordinates the assignment of unique identifiers on the Internet, including domain names, Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, and protocol port and parameter numbers. A globally unified namespace (i.e., a system of names in which there is at most one holder for each possible name) is essential for the Internet to function. ICANN is headquartered in Marina del Rey, California, but is overseen by an international board of directors drawn from across the Internet technical, business, academic, and non-commercial communities. The US government continues to have the primary role in approving changes to the root zone file that lies at the heart of the domain name system. Because the Internet is a distributed network comprising many voluntarily interconnected networks, the Internet has no governing body. ICANN's role in coordinating the assignment of unique identifiers distinguishes it as perhaps the only central coordinating body on the global Internet, but the scope of its authority extends only to the Internet's systems of domain names, IP addresses, protocol ports and parameter numbers.
The Internet's technologies have developed enough in recent years, especially in the use of Unicode, that good facilities are available for development and communication in most widely used languages. However, some glitches such as mojibake (incorrect display of foreign language characters, also known as kryakozyabry) still remain.
Within the limitations imposed by the small screen and other limited facilities of such a pocket-sized device, all the services of the Internet, including email and web browsing, may be available in this way. Service providers may restrict the range of these services and charges for data access may be significant, compared to home usage.
Many people use the terms Internet and World Wide Web (or just the Web) interchangeably, but, as discussed above, the two terms are not synonymous.
The World Wide Web is a huge set of interlinked documents, images and other resources, linked by hyperlinks and URLs. These hyperlinks and URLs allow the web servers and other machines that store originals, and cached copies, of these resources to deliver them as required using  (Hypertext Transfer Protocol). HTTP is only one of the communication protocols used on the Internet.
Web services also use HTTP to allow software systems to communicate in order to share and exchange business logic and data.
Software products that can access the resources of the Web are correctly termed user agents. In normal use, web browsers, such as Internet Explorer and Firefox, access web pages and allow users to navigate from one to another via hyperlinks. Web documents may contain almost any combination of computer data including graphics, sounds, text, video, multimedia and interactive content including games, office applications and scientific demonstrations.
Through keyword-driven Internet research using search engines like Yahoo! and Google, millions of people worldwide have easy, instant access to a vast and diverse amount of online information. Compared to encyclopedias and traditional libraries, the World Wide Web has enabled a sudden and extreme decentralization of information and data.
Using the Web, it is also easier than ever before for individuals and organisations to publish ideas and information to an extremely large audience. Anyone can find ways to publish a web page, a blog or build a website for very little initial cost. Publishing and maintaining large, professional websites full of attractive, diverse and up-to-date information is still a difficult and expensive proposition, however.
Many individuals and some companies and groups use "web logs" or blogs, which are largely used as easily updatable online diaries. Some commercial organisations encourage staff to fill them with advice on their areas of specialization in the hope that visitors will be impressed by the expert knowledge and free information, and be attracted to the corporation as a result. One example of this practice is Microsoft, whose product developers publish their personal blogs in order to pique the public's interest in their work.
Collections of personal web pages published by large service providers remain popular, and have become increasingly sophisticated. Whereas operations such as Angelfire and GeoCities have existed since the early days of the Web, newer offerings from, for example, Facebook and MySpace currently have large followings. These operations often brand themselves as social network services rather than simply as web page hosts.
In the early days, web pages were usually created as sets of complete and isolated HTML text files stored on a web server. More recently, websites are more often created using content management system (CMS) or wiki software with, initially, very little content. Contributors to these systems, who may be paid staff, members of a club or other organisation or members of the public, fill underlying databases with content using editing pages designed for that purpose, while casual visitors view and read this content in its final HTML form. There may or may not be editorial, approval and security systems built into the process of taking newly entered content and making it available to the target visitors.
This is encouraging new ways of working from home, collaboration and information sharing in many industries. An accountant sitting at home can audit the books of a company based in another country, on a server situated in a third country that is remotely maintained by IT specialists in a fourth. These accounts could have been created by home-working bookkeepers, in other remote locations, based on information e-mailed to them from offices all over the world. Some of these things were possible before the widespread use of the Internet, but the cost of private leased lines would have made many of them infeasible in practice.
An office worker away from his desk, perhaps on the other side of the world on a business trip or a holiday, can open a remote desktop session into his normal office PC using a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection via the Internet. This gives the worker complete access to all of his or her normal files and data, including e-mail and other applications, while away from the office.
This concept is also referred to by some network security people as the Virtual Private Nightmare, because it extends the secure perimeter of a corporate network into its employees' homes; this has been the source of some notable security breaches, but also provides security for the workers.
The low cost and nearly instantaneous sharing of ideas, knowledge, and skills has made collaborative work dramatically easier. Not only can a group cheaply communicate and test, but the wide reach of the Internet allows such groups to easily form in the first place, even among niche interests. An example of this is the free software movement in software development, which produced GNU and Linux from scratch and has taken over development of Mozilla and OpenOffice.org (formerly known as Netscape Communicator and StarOffice).
Internet "chat", whether in the form of IRC "chat rooms" or channels, or via instant messaging systems, allow colleagues to stay in touch in a very convenient way when working at their computers during the day. Messages can be sent and viewed even more quickly and conveniently than via e-mail. Extension to these systems may allow files to be exchanged, "whiteboard" drawings to be shared as well as voice and video contact between team members.
Version control systems allow collaborating teams to work on shared sets of documents without either accidentally overwriting each other's work or having members wait until they get "sent" documents to be able to add their thoughts and changes.
A computer file can be e-mailed to customers, colleagues and friends as an attachment. It can be uploaded to a website or FTP server for easy download by others. It can be put into a "shared location" or onto a file server for instant use by colleagues. The load of bulk downloads to many users can be eased by the use of "mirror" servers or peer-to-peer networks.
In any of these cases, access to the file may be controlled by user authentication; the transit of the file over the Internet may be obscured by encryption, and money may change hands before or after access to the file is given. The price can be paid by the remote charging of funds from, for example, a credit card whose details are also passed—hopefully fully encrypted—across the Internet. The origin and authenticity of the file received may be checked by digital signatures or by MD5 or other message digests.
These simple features of the Internet, over a worldwide basis, are changing the basis for the production, sale, and distribution of anything that can be reduced to a computer file for transmission. This includes all manner of print publications, software products, news, music, film, video, photography, graphics and the other arts. This in turn has caused seismic shifts in each of the existing industries that previously controlled the production and distribution of these products.
Internet collaboration technology enables business and project teams to share documents, calendars and other information. Such collaboration occurs in a wide variety of areas including scientific research, software development, conference planning, political activism and creative writing.
Webcams can be seen as an even lower-budget extension of this phenomenon. While some webcams can give full-frame-rate video, the picture is usually either small or updates slowly. Internet users can watch animals around an African waterhole, ships in the Panama Canal, the traffic at a local roundabout or their own premises, live and in real time. Video chat rooms, video conferencing, and remote controllable webcams are also popular. Many uses can be found for personal webcams in and around the home, with and without two-way sound.
YouTube, sometimes described as an Internet phenomenon because of the vast amount of users and how rapidly the site's popularity has grown, was founded on February 15, 2005. It is now the leading website for free streaming video. It uses a flash-based web player which streams video files in the format FLV. Users are able to watch videos without signing up; however, if users do sign up they are able to upload an unlimited amount of videos and they are given their own personal profile. It is currently estimated that there are 64,000,000 videos on YouTube, and it is also currently estimated that 825,000 new videos are uploaded every day.
Thus, VoIP is maturing into a viable alternative to traditional telephones. Interoperability between different providers has improved and the ability to call or receive a call from a traditional telephone is available. Simple, inexpensive VoIP modems are now available that eliminate the need for a PC.
Voice quality can still vary from call to call but is often equal to and can even exceed that of traditional calls.
Remaining problems for VoIP include emergency telephone number dialing and reliability. Currently, a few VoIP providers provide an emergency service, but it is not universally available. Traditional phones are line-powered and operate during a power failure; VoIP does not do so without a backup power source for the electronics.
Most VoIP providers offer unlimited national calling, but the direction in VoIP is clearly toward global coverage with unlimited minutes for a low monthly fee.
VoIP has also become increasingly popular within the gaming world, as a form of communication between players. Popular gaming VoIP clients include Ventrilo and Teamspeak, and there are others available also. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 also offer VoIP chat features.
Public places to use the Internet include libraries and Internet cafes, where computers with Internet connections are available. There are also Internet access points in many public places such as airport halls and coffee shops, in some cases just for brief use while standing. Various terms are used, such as "public Internet kiosk", "public access terminal", and "Web payphone". Many hotels now also have public terminals, though these are usually fee-based. These terminals are widely accessed for various usage like ticket booking, bank deposit, online payment etc. Wi-Fi provides wireless access to computer networks, and therefore can do so to the Internet itself. Hotspots providing such access include Wi-Fi cafes, where would-be users need to bring their own wireless-enabled devices such as a laptop or PDA. These services may be free to all, free to customers only, or fee-based. A hotspot need not be limited to a confined location. A whole campus or park, or even an entire city can be enabled. Grassroots efforts have led to wireless community networks. Commercial Wi-Fi services covering large city areas are in place in London, Vienna, Toronto, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago and Pittsburgh. The Internet can then be accessed from such places as a park bench.
Apart from Wi-Fi, there have been experiments with proprietary mobile wireless networks like Ricochet, various high-speed data services over cellular phone networks, and fixed wireless services.
High-end mobile phones such as smartphones generally come with Internet access through the phone network. Web browsers such as Opera are available on these advanced handsets, which can also run a wide variety of other Internet software. More mobile phones have Internet access than PCs, though this is not as widely used. An Internet access provider and protocol matrix differentiates the methods used to get online.
Social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace have created a new form of socialization and interaction. Users of these sites are able to add a wide variety of items to their personal pages, to indicate common interests, and to connect with others. It is also possible to find a large circle of existing acquaintances, especially if a site allows users to utilize their real names, and to allow communication among large existing groups of people.
Sites like meetup.com exist to allow wider announcement of groups which may exist mainly for face-to-face meetings, but which may have a variety of minor interactions over their group's site at meetup.org, or other similar sites.
In democratic societies, the Internet has achieved new relevance as a political tool. The presidential campaign of Howard Dean in 2004 in the United States became famous for its ability to generate donations via the Internet. Many political groups use the Internet to achieve a whole new method of organizing, in order to carry out Internet activism.
Some governments, such as those of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Myanmar, the People's Republic of China, and Saudi Arabia, restrict what people in their countries can access on the Internet, especially political and religious content. This is accomplished through software that filters domains and content so that they may not be easily accessed or obtained without elaborate circumvention.
In Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden, major Internet service providers have voluntarily (possibly to avoid such an arrangement being turned into law) agreed to restrict access to sites listed by police. While this list of forbidden URLs is only supposed to contain addresses of known child pornography sites, the content of the list is secret.
Many countries, including the United States, have enacted laws making the possession or distribution of certain material, such as child pornography, illegal, but do not use filtering software.
There are many free and commercially available software programs with which a user can choose to block offensive websites on individual computers or networks, such as to limit a child's access to pornography or violence. See Content-control software.
The pornography and gambling industries have both taken full advantage of the World Wide Web, and often provide a significant source of advertising revenue for other websites. Although many governments have attempted to put restrictions on both industries' use of the Internet, this has generally failed to stop their widespread popularity.
One main area of leisure on the Internet is multiplayer gaming. This form of leisure creates communities, bringing people of all ages and origins to enjoy the fast-paced world of multiplayer games. These range from MMORPG to first-person shooters, from role-playing games to online gambling. This has revolutionized the way many people interact and spend their free time on the Internet.
While online gaming has been around since the 1970s, modern modes of online gaming began with services such as GameSpy and MPlayer, to which players of games would typically subscribe. Non-subscribers were limited to certain types of gameplay or certain games.
Many use the Internet to access and download music, movies and other works for their enjoyment and relaxation. As discussed above, there are paid and unpaid sources for all of these, using centralized servers and distributed peer-to-peer technologies. Discretion is needed as some of these sources take more care over the original artists' rights and over copyright laws than others.
Many use the World Wide Web to access news, weather and sports reports, to plan and book holidays and to find out more about their random ideas and casual interests.
People use chat, messaging and e-mail to make and stay in touch with friends worldwide, sometimes in the same way as some previously had pen pals. Social networking websites like MySpace, Facebook and many others like them also put and keep people in contact for their enjoyment.
The Internet has seen a growing number of Web desktops, where users can access their files, folders, and settings via the Internet.
According to a June 2007 article in Discover magazine, the combined weight of all the electrons moved within the Internet in a day is 0.2 millionths of an ounce. Others have estimated this at nearer 2 ounces (50 grams).
Examples of personalized marketing include online communities such as MySpace, Friendster, Orkut, Facebook and others which thousands of Internet users join to advertise themselves and make friends online. Many of these users are young teens and adolescents ranging from 13 to 25 years old. In turn, when they advertise themselves they advertise interests and hobbies, which online marketing companies can use as information as to what those users will purchase online, and advertise their own companies' products to those users.
The term originated as a determiner, a shorthand for internetworking, and is mostly used in this way in RFCs, the documentation for the evolving Internet Protocol (IP) standards for internetworking between ARPANET and other computer networks in the 1970s. As the impetus behind IP grew, it became more common to regard the results of internetworking as entities of their own, and internet became a noun, used both in a generic sense (any collection of computer networks connected through internetworking) and in a specific sense (the collection of computer networks that internetworked with ARPANET, and later NSFNET, using the IP standards, and that grew into the connectivity service we know today).
In its specific sense, it is a proper noun, and therefore, with article, without a plural form, and with capitalization.
A sentence that uses both meanings:
The proper noun can again be used as a determiner, which will then carry a capital (e.g. "Internet mail").
The Internet Society, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and several other Internet-related organizations use this convention in their publications, including the RFCs.
As Internet connectivity grew more popular, it became known as a service, similar to TV, radio, and telephone, and the word came to be used in this way (e.g. "I have Internet at home" and "I saw it on (the) Internet"). For this type of use, English spelling and grammar do not prescribe whether the article or capitalization are to be used, which explains the inconsistency that exists in practice.
Many newspapers, newswires, periodicals, and technical journals capitalize the term (Internet). Examples include The Dhaka Daily Star, The New York Times, the Associated Press, Time, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, and Communications of the ACM.
Other publications do not capitalize the term, including The Economist, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, and Wired News; this appears to be more popular outside North America.