What's the Internet?

"The Internet is transitory, ever changing, reshaping and remolding itself."

- Beginners' Central


Purpose of Lesson:
  • You should be able to explain what the Internet is and describe its basic parts.

I. What is the Internet?
Illustration of the Web Good question. The Internet is a worldwide network of thousands of linked computers compared to "a giant international plumbing system" (University of California, Berkeley, 1997). Remember that the Internet is not just one gigantic computer with all of the information; rather there are many computer centers, and we are connected to this "plumbing system" somewhere along the line. It kind of looks like a spider's web (See picture, right).

There are million of users connected to the Internet, and this figure grows daily. You, my students, have just added yourselves to this number. Together, I hope to explore the Internet and add to our knowledge of languages and cultures.

II. What is the Difference Between the
"Web"and the"Internet"?

Another good question. The technical definition of the World Wide Web is: "a wide-area hypermedia information retrieval initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents" (Hughes, 1993). "Huh? Randall, give us the simple definition please!"

Okay. The Internet is the network of computers; the Web is collection of all the resources and information (text, audio, video, graphics, etc.) out there on this network of computers that are linked to documents like this page. The Web is like the car that will take you to the library (the Internet) to see the information. Telleen (1998) said that "the 'Internet' focuses on physical and technical networks, while the Web focuses on the set of content accessible on that physical and technical infrastructure." Just remember:

Internet = computers | Web = the information

This definition is a very basic one, and sometimes these words are used interchangeably. In fact, the distinction between the two is narrowing as the Web includes more Internet tools like e-mail. I hope you understand the general idea!

III. How did the Internet get Started?

A long story, but for the purposes of our class, I'd like you to remember a couple of things:

Back in the late 1960s, the U.S. Department of Defense (in an agency called the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA) came up with the idea of creating of a network of computers as a means of communication in case of some national emergency such as a nuclear war. Thus, if one of these centers was destroyed, the others would still function. This first computer network was called DARPANET, but later was changed to just ARPANET.

This idea was a real success, and researchers and educators saw the possibilities of using such networks in their own fields, and created NSFNET (the National Science Foundation NETwork) in the mid-1980s, which linked five supercomputer centers. Today, the ever-growing network of computers around the world is now called the Internet.

IV. What do You need to Get Connected to the Internet?

You need basically three things:

  • a computer (a Macintosh or PC, for instance);
  • a browser program, like Netscape Navigator or Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which allows you to look at parts of the Web;
  • a modem or other telecommunications link, which is a device that connects your computer to phone lines so your computer can transfer data (or talk) with other computers. Our university has it own telecommunications link to the Internet that connect all of the computers together, so each person running a computer on a network does not need a modem.

V. What are the Different Components of the Internet?

The Internet is made up of several parts:

  • The World Wide Web: explore and find information on many different topics in the form of text, audio, video, and pictures.
  • Electronic Mail: send and receive mail, graphics, audio, and video;

  • Mailing Lists, Discussion Forums, and News Groups: join a group and exchange messages on topics you are interested in (e.g., music, movies, travel, English, etc.);

  • Group Chatting: "talk" and "listen" to others by writing and reading messages;
  • Telnet: log on or talk to another computer;
  • FTP (File Transfer Protocol): put or retrieve files from a remote computer

VI. How Does the Internet Work?

Now, the Web relies on HTML (HyperText Markup Language) to move from place to place on the Web. It is the coding language that is used to create web pages. When you press on a hyperlink (or just link) created with HTML, you'll move from page to page or site to site as if they were all on your computer's hard drive, but they are actually coming all around the globe. It's that simple. hand over linksNow, links can be created using text, graphics, and buttons, and you can tell if it is a link if: (a) the cursor turns to a hand when you pass it over a word or graphic, and (b) the word is underlined or there is a blue border around the graphic. Links are often colored blue, but can be any color.

Look at the words and graphics below and identify which ones are links by passing the cursor over the item and then pressing the mouse button.

The Internet Help play Learning to Snow Ski emily

VII. What are the Different Parts of the Home Page Address?

There are several parts of a web page address or URL (Uniform Resources Locator). The address to this page is:


Let's study this part by part:

1. The http stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol, and this is the method the Internet uses to move information on the Web from place to place.
2. The :// separates the HTTP protocol type from the rest of the address.
3. The www means World Wide Web.
4. The esl-lab.com is the domain, of the unique name for that Internet site. People can buy their own unique names for sites. The "com" part often (but not always) tells what kind of domain it is:

  • com: commercial sites or businesses
  • edu: educational sites
  • gov: government sites
  • org: organizational sites such as public and non-profit businesses and groups
  • mil: military
  • net: network organization
Note, however, that these are general guidelines. My site uses .com, but it isn't a commercial or business site.

5. The /courses/ is the path or directory location for files in a domain.
6. The start.htm is the file name of the web page.

Vocabulary words from this Unit

  • browser
  • domain
  • Electronic Mail
  • HTML (HyperText Markup Language)
  • HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol)
  • hyperlink
  • Internet
  • modem
  • URL (Uniform Resources Locator)
  • World Wide Web



  • Hughes, K. (1993). Entering the World-Wide Web: A Guide to Cyberspace [Online]. (1998, October 20).
  • Telleen, S. L. (1998). The Difference Between Internet, Intranet, and Extranet [Online]. (1998, October 20).
  • University of California, Berkeley (1997). What is the Internet, the WWW, and Netscape? An Introduction. [Online].

Copyright © 1998-2005 by Randall S. Davis, All rights reserved.