What is the Internet? What the Internet Actually Looks Like

A lot of people think of the Internet as a cloud, something floating in the air that works through satellites and magically connects a computer network, allowing us to navigate.

Truth is that the Internet can be actually seen as a physical thing.

It is powered by miles and miles of underwater cables that connect internet users around the world.

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Submarine Cable Map (www.submarinecablemap.com)

This huge amount of submarine wires makes up what is known as the internet backbone.

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Representation of a submarine cable.

The internet backbone plays a fundamental role in the functioning of the Internet.

How Does the Internet Work?

Let’s suppose we want to check out our friend’s latest post on Facebook. We open the web browser and we type ‘facebook.com’ to access our profile.

But what’s happening behind the scenes at that moment?

Our browser is sending a message to our Internet Service Provider (basically the company we pay to have an internet connection) and the Internet Service Provider (ISP) will transfer this message to a Domain Name System server (DNS). The DNS is the phonebook of the Internet. When we type domain names such as ‘facebook.com’ into our web browsers, DNS is responsible for finding the corresponding IP address.

These IP addresses uniquely identify computers. When people need to send and receive files on the internet each computer can be located by their IP address.

To sum it up, our request to head over to the main Facebook homepage is sent from the browser to our ISP and transferred to a DNS.

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Browser → ISP → DNS

Once the Domain Name System server found the IP address, it sends that back to our browser.

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What happens then is, that by knowing the exact IP address of ‘facebook.com’, we can send a direct request to the Web Server located at that IP address via our internet service provider.

This direct request will be delivered through the internet backbone.

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The Web Server (a computer that stores, processes, and delivers web pages to clients), located at that IP address, contains all the files that we need to view the Facebook homepage.

The server receives our request and it sends all those files back to us through the internet backbone.

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We are now finally able to see the Facebook homepage! The incredible thing is that all this happens in milliseconds!

Conclusions

This is a rough simplification of how the internet works and surely you can go deeper into the topic because there are many other aspects to consider.

However, I think it is very interesting to know that the Internet is actually something physical that you can see…but only wearing a wetsuit!

Business graduate and self-taught JavaScript developer.

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