How to Understand Internet Protocol

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Understanding Internet protocol is the first step in understanding how communication and data-sharing take place on the World Wide Web. Like much having to do with computer networks, the topic is complicated, but a few basic ideas will help you develop a greater appreciation for just how the Internet works.

  • Know the structure and the lingo. "Internet protocol" is really a shorthand phrase for data-transmission standards. Those standards govern the parameters of the information that computers use to talk to one another. This communication takes place over a series of networks, which together make up one big network: the World Wide Web. The most notable Internet protocol today is HTTP, hypertext transfer protocol, but there are others. HTTP is used to access "resources" -- all types of files -- on the Internet.

  • Get familiar with URI and URL. By definition, HTTP is a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) and is part of what makes up a Uniform Resource Locator (URL). Taken together, the URI and URL act as both the name and location of an Internet file. Thus, by adhering to the HTTP standard on the Web, users can access a "Web address."

  • See how browsers fit in. HTTP, an application-layer protocol, is the most recognizable because it is used by graphical Web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. Browsers -- programs built to read and interpret Internet protocol specifications and commands -- rose to prominence in the early 1990s when they were equipped with graphical interfaces. The proliferation of hypertext documents on the Web facilitated the growth of both computer use and Internet protocols.

  • Go beyond HTTP. What people don't realize is that there are other Internet protocols -- as well as layers -- in addition to HTTP. IP (Internet Protocol) and TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) are both fundamental Internet protocols, though not as widely known as HTTP. IP governs how information is shared on the Internet. TCP governs supplementary qualities of file transfer, such as the speed of data delivery and file size. TCP/IP are both encompassed in the Internet Protocol Suite, a set of protocols that all share-worthy digital information must subscribe to. The suite is made up of four layers: application, transport, Internet and link.

  • Meet the makers. So, who's behind these standards, you may ask? The Internet protocol standards were created by the World Wide Web Consortium and the Internet Engineering Task Force. The consortium was founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist who created the World Wide Web and hypertext. Because of the work of Berners-Lee and others, Internet protocols enrich our experiences on the World Wide Web and Internet.

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