Internet Architecture, Network Concepts and Facts
Written by Mikkkeee


1. Short summary on the history of the Internet (boring yet vital)

2. Internet Protocols and Jargon

3. Host Machines and Host Names

4. Architecture of the Internet and Packet Switching

5. Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication

6. Who is in Charge? (boring yet vital)

7. The future of the Internet

8. Further reading


This text won't make you an elite hacker or a cracker, but will clear up many misunderstandings you might have about the Internet and the way it is structured. Okay before you start reading, i will be summarizing most of this info because many other tutorials have been written in detail explaining the sections presented. This is just another way to say, IAM NOT GOING TO WASTE MY TIME TYPING. So i see you have downloaded this text to learn more about the wonderful tool the world has ever seen, but do you really understand the juicy info behind the Internet? Well after reading this you will!

1: Summary on the history of the Internet (boring yet vital)

Well every place i go i keep hearing ppl saying things like i was chatting, or i sent him/her an email, or i was checking his site on the INTERNET. Now when you are asked what is the Internet? you reply, Well the Internet is like a program i write a www.blahblah.com and i see stuff and i download it, not hard, probably took days to do, well someone is wrong, heheheh.

The Internet is a global assemblage of more than 20 million computers and growing in rapid intercommunication. These forms of communication links are made up of optical fibers, digital cables, satellite transmissions, and yup you guessed it, telephone lines. The Internet can be described in three terms, the hardware infrastructure that supports it, the software that powers it, and the people who populate it.

When the Internet began, until the early 90s, the only guys who used it weren't normal ppl, but they were the scientists, academics, science students and the real deal computer programmers who were pursuing long-distance collaborations and research. The Internet isn't something that just popped out of nowhere, it has been around for decades, but was something overlooked by the media until 1990. Well the origin of the Internet dates back to 1970, when four computers, yes four, one each at The University of California at Los Angeles, The University of California at Santa Barbara, The Stanford Research Institute, and The University of Utah at Salt Lake City were hooked up over phone lines.

From the first four computers that powered the first Internet, 13 years later 562 boxes were connected to it in 1983, and by 1993 that number has reached 1.2 million and in 1996 it was 12 million, and this number remains doubling every 12-14 months. One critical component underlying today's Internet is the software that supports network communications. In the Internets's beginning dayz, the software that powered the networks wasn't user friendly, they didn't have fancy crap with popup menus and fancy Graphical User Interfaces (GUI), they had cryptic programs which looked like hell for normal people. One reason for this is because the only people who used the net were scientists who didn't care about user friendly interfaces. The software they designed was difficult, which hindered the popularity of the net.

The first tools that these cool guys made that innovated the Internet were, Telnet, yup the good old telnet, which was made in 1969 and second, the File Transfer Protocol (ftp), which was made in 1971 and is still in great use today. (i wasn't born yet, heh) Other popular communication programs have also evolved with the Internet, which are know by the names of: Usenet Newsgroups, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Gophers, and Multi-user Dungeons (MUD's).

2: Internet Protocols and Jargon (what those 3 letter words mean)

We computer guys tend to speak in acronyms, small words that have a lot of valuable info. Acronyms are ubiquitous on the Internet, and all this wonder will be explained here.

Many Internet acronyms involve a "P" letter. Lets look at these, we have, SLIP, TCP, UDP, FTP, ICMP, SMTP, HTTP, PPP, IP, and Mikkkeee (only playing). Okay now you have witnessed the confusion, what does all this stuff mean. All of them stand for the word "protocol." So when ever you see a "P" at the end of a computer acronym, there is a big chance its stands for protocol. Now the tough part is what is this protocol? Well a protocol in computer science just refers to formalities and conventions observed by computers during cross computer communication. So its just like this, in order for boxes to share data, each box must use the same data transfer rules, or we won't have communication. Just like the old dayz when ppl used the telegraph, which communicated through the communication protocol called the Morse code. Then came the Ham radio operators who also had their protocols and now we have the Internet, which also needs its little protocols.

(Now I am not going to kill you via boredom by explain the concept of protocols because they are already explained by the tutorials found at BSRF, but i will sprinkle the sprinkles on the cake.)

The Internet Protocol (IP) is the cornerstone for all Internet communications. In fact, you can see if a box is alive (on the net) by asking for its IP, yah not going far as to doing something lame as DoSing the box! Now each computer on the Internet has a unique IP number that operates as its Internet address. When we say that there are 20 million computers on the Internet, that figure is really based on the number of IP addresses in use in that year.

As you have begun to browser the net, or start your mission in becoming a hacker, you will most likely come across some reference to the Transfer Control Protocol/Internet Protocol(TCP/IP). TCP is nothing to be feared, it works closely with IP in order to prepare packets of data before an Internet data transfer. TCP also interprets those same packets at the receiving end after the transfer.

Additional protocols are also used to power the net. These are, the File Transfer Protocol (FTP), which moves filz from one computer to another. The Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) designed in 1982 to support e-mail communications. The HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), made in 1990 so that web browsers could read documents on the web.

The Point-to-point protocol (PPP) and the Serial Line Internet Protocol (SLIP), which generally are terms used if you need to set up access to the Internet over a telephone line through an Internet Service Provider (ISP). These protocols are used when a computer wants to communicate over the Internet, over a serial transmission line, like an analog telephone line, and the user wants to use a browser such as Internet Explorer. So his isp will offer a ppp or a slip account to the users who want to view graphics on the net. (Now you might have noticed that I didn't go in depth but for further information on protocols check out the tuts at bsrf for further info.)

3: Host Machines and Host Names

Now to gain good knowledge on how the net works you will need to know something about host machines/host names.

Now a computer that has been assigned an IP address is called a HOST MACHINE. Each IP address is made up of four integers separated by periods. Lets take an example, my ip on the net yesterday was just like zip codes tell a person where you live, IP addresses reveal not your geographical info, but your computer network's info. Now the numbers to the furthermost part to the left represent the large part of the Internet, while the numbers to the further part of the right represent a specific host machine.

While all these numbers are fine for computer communications, long strings of numbers are not easy for us to remember so that's why we have substituted the long strings of numbers into symbolic names. Symbolic names look like this www.yahoo.com, which is easier to remember. Symbolic host names are always converted into their IP addresses for the purpose of network communications. The Domain Name Service (DNS) is responsible for this task of mapping symbolic names to their numerical equivalents, and symbolic host names are often called DNS names or addresses. Lets look at an example, DNS names, follow certain naming conventions that help us remember the names easily. so we have

 " blah.cs.NYU.edu "
       |    |     |     |    
       |    |     |     |--->  this segment refers to an educational site.
       |    |     |-------->  this part stands for the school, here its NYU University.
| |-------------> this stands for Computer Science Department. |-----------------> this stands for the name of the machine.

ohh one more thing, sometimes lamers talk about "HIGH LEVEL DOMAIN NAMES" so they think they are so smart well they are only referring to the final part of the full domain name. This means a high level domain name identifies the type of site and where the host machine resides. Here is a list:

.com = a commercial organization
.edu = an educational site
.org = a nonprofit organization
.net = a network site
.gov = a government agency
.mil = a military site

These high level domain names can in many cases be followed by other suffixes, that will identify their geographical location by country. This list is very small, (ahh again a complete list can be found at BSRF) blahblah.net.lk = Sri Lanka blahblah.net.il = Isreal blahblah.net.gb = Great Britain okay that's enough!

4: Architecture of the Internet and Packet Switching

Well while you browse the Internet you might think every computer on it is equal well your wrong, not all computers are equal. Well to understand what i mean i have to explain to you how data gets moved across the Internet by PACKET SWITCHING.

In order to understand packet switching you will have to understand what packet switching tries to achieve. When the Department of Defense was paying for the original network research that led to the Internet, they wanted a strong network that could withstand regional power blackouts or other problems. So in order to achieve such a robust communication, it was vital to design a transmission protocol that could readily find new routes if its destination was dead for some reason. So those guys came up with a cool plan to design a form of DYNAMIC ROUTING, which will become the standard means of moving data across the network. Dynamic Routing just means that routes for data are always selected at the time of transmission, after taking current network conditions into consideration.

The network designers also felt it was important to distribute route-selection capabilities throughout the network, so that no single site was responsible for the entire network. Let me explain this further, lets say like a network was designed " hierarchically " so that everything passes through that central routing site, so if anything happens to that central routing site well HOUSTON WE GOT A PROBLEM!

This is how a hierarchically network would look like:

|___| / \ / \ Well you can clearly see that the / /\ \ big box is the central routing site O O O O so if anything happens to the big
box then we got a big problem.

So since these guys were very smart they built the Internet in "heterarchically," which really means instead of having one central routing site, there are a large number of routing sites distributed all over the network. The hosts that decide how to route transmissions across the Internet are called ROUTERS. The Internet today is currently being run by thousands of these hosts called routers.

O-O Okay the art sucks but you see the idea / -O- \ there isn't one box there are many hosts
O-----O so if one dies, others can still work \ O /

So now you figured out the difference, dynamic heterarchical routing is what makes the Internet work so good, and the key idea that binds everything together is packet switching. All of the data moved across the Internet is moved in units called PACKETS. The traffic on the net is measured by counting the packets transferred in a period of time.

If this concept is hard for you to understand let me explain. Lets say you are downloading a file from a server in California to your box in New York. The software running on the server breaks the huge file into packets. Lets say your file was 100k it might be broken down info 6 or 7 packets, then each packet is stamped with the IP address of its destination, as well as the IP address of the originating host. Packets will also be given instructions, these instructions describe the size of the original transmission and where each specific packet should be positioned when the original transmission is put together when it gets to my computer. Now the big deal is that each packet is sent out onto the Internet to find its way to the destination address. This means that the 6 or 7 packets don't have to travel together so they can go from California to other parts of the country then they find their way to New York. The packets are first given to a router, which looks at their destination address and decides where to send the packets. Now the router at that location then does the same thing. So when all the packets come to New York, they are then assembled into a single file. Each packet is checked first to see if it has arrived intact. If there was an error in a packet then a request to resend that packet is sent to the originating host. This form of sending files is the best way to work on a net, because it minimizes network load and by sending small packets the destination won't have to wait for the whole file to be sent if it had errors. Every computer running on the Internet uses this form of data transfer.

Important newbie fact

Well if your reading this you probably were alive in 1996, well what's the big deal you ask, lets put this concept of packet switching into the real world. On August 7, 1996, 6 million AOL customers were unable to access the Internet because AOL had recently loaded new software onto its network routers. This software contained incorrect routing information. As a result, AOL couldn't route packets on or off its gateway hosts. The 6 million guys waiting soon found out that their aol service was interrupted and for 19 hours these guys couldn't surf the net. Now since only AOL had this problem, the rest of the world who are smart enough not to use aol were checking their email and chatting and visiting sites, thanks to the architecture of the net not all of us suffered.

5: Bandwith and Asynchronous Communication

Okay, you're probably saying what's this topic Mike? Its nothing to fear, i'll explain in simple English a little child can understand.

Online communication takes some time for normal people to understand or to just get used to. In the world you live in called off-line world communication is dominated by two way, real time communication, ie. you and a friend talking. This conversation is being operated in two directions, with questions/answers being talked about right away. Now in the computer sphere, a two way communication mediated by shared signals for beginning/ending conversations is called SYNCHRONOUS communication. Synchronous communication is like normal human/animal conversation. This form of communication relies on shared signals for starting and stopping. Examples of this communication would be like your browser sending a msg to a host and the host sends you something, a packet or a file. Programs which deal with this communication are software found on your box, Cu-Cms and RealVideo are some, which allow internet users with properly equipped hosts to converse with other internet users through a video channel. Problems arise in this form of communication, because as both of us know if you don't have the bandwidth, you will be staring at a video box with images that are jerky and stroboscopic (images which look like garbage).

When a communication exchange does not rely on shared signals for starting and stopping, this communication is called ASYNCHRONOUS communication. Now your probably confused but don't be. This form of communication seen online is characterized by long waits for responses. This communication is seen in email messages which take some people forever to answer back. This doesn't have anything to do with the servers or the bandwidth, but has to do with the human being on the other side. Email messages are delivered in a matter of seconds, but there is no guarantee that an intended recipient will be ready and waiting to reply as soon as your message is received. So the reason for this is that it pays to think about what your are saying and how your saying because it will affect the outcome of the asynchronous communication.

6: Who is in Charge?

Your probably wondering, yeah I always wanted an answer to that question, so explain to me plz. hehe!

Okay I am not going to lie to you, questions about Internet management and maintenance are very boring so bare with me. You might also want to ask who pays for all this? Who fixes it when it messes up? Who is responsible for keeping everything working? Who makes the decisions about the future of this wonderful tool? Well I'll answer everything right here.

As I explained in the previous parts of this text, the net is composed of thousands of smaller networks that are independent from one another, remember the heterarchical structure,heh. Now these smaller networks are managed by corporations, government agencies and universities with different hardware platforms and different network technologies. Now you see that I am going back and all these small and large networks are held together by a wonderful glue called TCP/IP. But I see your going to ask, okay, cool but what holds it together administratively, like how can this huge tool have no central authority? Okay let me answer your question, remember when i told you that the Internet was made by scientists and programmers, well those guys have always pushed the spirit of this wonderful tool. So when these guys made up TCP/IP they made it public so that TCP/IP could be placed on any hardware platform. Now the Department of Defense had a large part in this deal but like the Department of Defense, the university researchers also did a lot, and like the rest they also made their finding public. By doing this anyone who had access to the internet, could access these documents and put their own influence into the development of the net. Now you might think that all this public stuff is done with, well not. This way of life is still managed by a group that oversees the continuing growth of the Internet, this group is called, INTERNET SOCIETY (ISOC). This organization oversees a number of smaller groups also pursuing the growth of the net. These groups are:

- Disaster Assistance Committee
- Internet Operations Forum
- Internet Architecture Board (IAB)
- Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
- Internet Assigned Number Authority (IANA)
- Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG)
- Internet Research Task Force (IRTF)
- k-12 Committee

ISOC has no sanction or governmental power so it operates as a resource for ppl who want to participate in the growth of the net.

The Internet's high-speed backbone is a key component of the net, and many different organizations have said they are responsible for maintaining the backbone. In the 70's, research parties funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) were given access to ARPAnet. In the late 70's, the National Science Foundation (NSF) joined with ARPA to create a network that would be more available for computer scientists in the US. NSF then gave birth to CSnet in 1979. In 1982, a gateway was established between ARPAnet/CSnet, which demonstrated the viability of a network of networks like a small version of the Internet. After the joining of ARPAnet/CSnet, the term "INTERNET" was then adopted.

By 1983, more networks began to do the same thing by expanding/establishing their own user communities. In San Francisco, FidoNet connected FidoBBS (Bulletin Board Systems) across the nation so that many users of local bulletin boards could exchange messages by email/discussion groups. In the same year, the Department of Defense switched all of its military networks to the TCP/IP protocol. By then, TCP/IP software was only included in all UNIX software distros out of the University of California at Berkley. UNIX was the operating system of choice for computer scientist, and it still is, so by doing this a huge jump was put in Internet expansion.

BY 1985 the Internet was further expanded when NSF became a leader in network communication and they got funding from Congress to join 100 more universities to the Internet. By doing this NSF then connected five supercomputer sites in a new network called NSFnet. With all these costs and further spending the Federal Government, soon realized it couldn't afford to subsidize the Internet. So now it became a private industry. So the firms which made up the NSFnet backbone (IBM, MCI, MERIT) created a nonprofit company called Advanced Networks and Services (ANS). Then in 1992, ANS built a new backbone, ANSnet, with 30 times the bandwidth of the old NSFnet backbone. ANSnet is the current backbone for the Internet and the first one not maintained by the government but by private companies.

Now since your probably bored and confused, let me finish off, since no federally sponsored organization oversees everything, there are some which monitor some parts. Lets look at Federal Communication Commission (FCC) they don't have any authority over the net, but they do regulate the billing practices of telephone companies. This is really cool, cause the FCC does not allow phone companies to bill ppl for digital communication differently than they do for voice communication. So the main deal is this, the net is operated by small spheres and ppl who impose on themselves to censor stuff or to protect ppl from the bad sides of the net.

7: The future of the Internet

Well I am going to let you do some work now. Since you just read the info on the net how big you think the info on Internet2 is going to be. let me give you a hint, it is going to be big. At the moment, a new upgraded version of the internet is in development, and its going to be called Internet 2 or simply I2. This will be a heaven when its complete so with out further interruption I have made a site dedicated to Internet 2. The site is good enough and is still up to date. Chk out the links for further news on it. The url of the site is http://i2.virtualave.net/ ahh man i forgot to kill the banners, well enjoy!!!

8: Further reading

Okay I have chosen some books if you want to learn more, cause you know in 3 decades i summarized them in 7 or 8 pages so i think you might want to read more.

Good books to read.

Where Wizards Stay up Late, by Katie Hafner and matthew Lyon. Simon and shuster, New York, NY, 1996. (304 pages)

Being Digital, by Nicholas Negroponte. Vintage Books, New York, Ny, 1995. (255 pages)

The Internet 1997 Unleashed, by Jill Ellsworth and Billy Baron (Eds)Sams.net Publishing, Indianapolis, IN, 1996. (1,269 pages)