How does the internet work? step by step guide

Internet. We use it every day, whether knowingly or unintentionally. Much depends on it to function and survive. Without the internet, life as we know it would cease to exist.

But what is the Internet? How it works? Let’s take a quick overview of its history to understand how it worked and then follow the journey of a piece of data as it travels around the world on the World Wide Web that is the Internet.

Birth of the Internet

In the 1960s, computers were usually found only in giant corporations and government offices. The military is also a major user of computer systems, and they have discovered the need to access computers at remote bases from a central command, such as the Pentagon.

While a standard telephone switch, connecting several telephone lines through an operator-controlled switchboard, could work, it was vulnerable to attack and destruction, especially at the height of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear war.

Hence, in 1966, the US Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) began work on the development of the ARPANET.

One of the concepts behind ARPANET was described by Bob Taylor, director of ARPA’s Office of Information Processing Technologies at the time, as follows. That was when he had three computer terminals (one of which consisted of a monitor and a keyboard—the computer itself was located elsewhere) in his office.

The computers were in separate locations, one at System Development Corporation in Santa Monica, California, one at UC Berkeley, and one at MIT. Taylor said:

For each of these three terminals, I had three different sets of user commands. So if I was talking online with someone at SDC and I wanted to talk to someone I knew in Berkeley or MIT about this, I had to get up from the SDC station, go and log in to the other station, and connect with them. I said, “Oh man!” It’s obvious what to do: If you have these three stations, there should be one station that goes wherever you want to go. This idea is ARPANET.

Today, ARPANET still stands as the blueprint for the Internet. The Internet is not a single device – instead, it is multiple huge networks of computers, like the brain of a cell, where different computers communicate with each other to deliver data when needed.

What does “connect to the Internet” mean?

When you are connected to the Internet, it means that you are connected to the Internet. Before home broadband and Wi-Fi, computers did not automatically connect to the Internet when turned on. After your computer is turned on, you can use a modem to allow your computer to talk to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) over your phone line.

Once your computer and your ISP talk to each other, they establish a connection, thus connecting your computer to the wider Internet.

However, with the advent of fiber-optic technology, modems are starting to fade – which is why you no longer see them in your home. Instead, many of us now have an Optical Network Unit (ONU) to connect our computers to the Internet.

Moreover, most families now own more than one computer (your smartphone is considered one computer). That’s why most homes Now requires a router. Your computer will talk to your router, and then the router will talk to your modem (or ONU), which will then connect to your ISP.

Some routers already have a modem built in, so you may not see one at home. Or it may already be built into your device, such as your smartphone.

With the development of the Internet infrastructure and the decrease in costs, most of our devices are always connected to the Internet. For example, if your smartphone is always connected to a data or Wi-Fi connection, it is already connected.

However, if you turn off these connections to save battery or data, you’ll need to “go online” by manually toggling the switches that make your phone go online.

What happens when you visit a web page

Now that you have an introduction to what the internet is and what it means to connect to it, this is what actually happens when you visit a website. So, in this example, let’s say you’re visiting a Google homepage.

The page is stored in a file A database of the Internet. Your computer needs to access this server via your ISP so that you can load the Google home page on your browser.

You turn on your computer, log into your account, and then launch your browser. Then, in the address bar, you Type the URL From the website you want to visit,, and press Enter.

Send requests from your computer to your ISP

After you press the enter key, your computer starts talking to your ISP. It will tell your ISP you’re looking for, can it search for it and send the data to your computer?

What does your ISP do

However, the server addresses where the page you want to visit is stored have no name. Instead, it contains a numeric IP address, such as Your ISP will look up the correct IP address through a file Domain Name Server (DNS).

DNS is like a giant address book that matches website names to their numeric addresses. Once your ISP determines the correct IP address, it will then connect to that server and start sending your request.

Connect to the server and request data

Once your ISP locates the server where the website you want to visit is saved, it will send a request to connect to it. If the server accepts the connection request, it will see that you are asking to load the website for Google.

The server will then get the files saved on it and send them to your computer. In our example, you wanted to go to the Google home page. The saved server will send the home page to your computer.

Of course, the entire Google database will not be sent to your computer – it will be almost impossible to load it. Instead, only data for that specific page will be sent. In the case of, it’s just the logo and your profile picture plus a few other elements.

Download data to your computer

When your ISP receives the data from the server, it will start forwarding it to your computer as data packets. This means that the data you requested is broken into smaller pieces, making it easier to transfer.

Once these packages reach your computer, they are reassembled by your browser, allowing you to view the website you are looking for.

A small drop in a torrent of Internet data

The example we gave above is a simplified version of the Internet. In fact, when you visit a website, your order can pass through hundreds of nodes before it reaches your target destination. Your request is processed at the destination, and the requested data is sent back so your computer can upload it.

This process occurs with millions of computers connected to the Internet, including desktop computers, laptops, and smartphones. With our increasing taste in our homes and our use of the Internet of Things, we can only expect the Internet connection and the data transmitted through it to grow exponentially in the coming years.

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