The Internet is a worldwide telecommunications system that provides connectivity for millions of other, smaller networks. For this reason, the Internet is often referred to as a “network of networks”. Using a set of common communication rules known as protocols, the Internet allows computer users to communicate with each other across long distances even if they are using different platforms or operating systems. The Internet makes it possible for a teacher in Tampa using a PC (personal computer running the Windows operating system) to communicate with another teacher in California using a Macintosh computer.

The Internet was created in 1969 by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) to provide immediate communication within the Department in the event of a nuclear attack. Computers were then installed at U.S. universities with defense related projects. As more scholars began to go online, this network gradually shifted from mostly military use to scientific use. As ARPAnet grew, administration of the system became shared among a number of organizations, including the National Science Foundation (NSF). This shift of responsibility began the transformation of the science-oriented ARPAnet into the commercially minded and funded Internet used by millions today.

The Internet acts as a pipeline to transport electronic messages from one network to another network. Devices called routers act as traffic cops along the way to direct these messages to their destinations using a unique address known as an IP address. An IP address has four fields with numbers that are separated by periods or dots. Fortunately, a system called Domain Name System (DNS) associates these numeric IP addresses with the addresses we are more familiar with, which usually have the name of the company or organization in it followed by .com or another appropriate suffix. For example, the address fcit.usf.edu is really 131.247.120.10. You can test this yourself by entering http://131.247.120.10 in your browser’s address bar to access the FCIT website.

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