The Internet vs The World Wide Web

Some may think The Web and The Internet are one and the same but there’s a distinct difference.

The Internet refers to the global network of interconnected computers or computer networks - a network of networks. It’s this infrastructure that carries a wide range of information and services.

The World Wide Web (WWW) is one such service.

(Brief) history of The Internet

The origins of the internet go back to the 1960’s when research into packet switching networks started. The first public demonstration of a packet switching network was by The UK’s National Physical Laboratory in August 1968. However the first operational network was ARPANET funded by the United States DOD. The first message was sent on October 29, 1969 and by December 5 three US Universities and The Stanford Research Institute constituted the first four-node ARPANET.

By December 1970 this had grown to 13 nodes, up to 46 come July of 1975 and 213 host computers by 1981. In 1982 a new communication protocol TCP/IP was standardised, which forms the basis of The Internet today. ARPANET replaced the original Network Control Program (NCP) with TCP/IP in 1983 and became a subnet of The Internet before being decommissioned in 1990.

Commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) began in the late eighties opening up the internet to more than just educational and research establishments.  Growth rapidly spread through Europe and Australia and by the early nineties into Asia.

Services via The Internet

Email was one of the first and most popular services on ARPANET, established in 1971 by Ray Tomlinson the first to send electronic mail between different hosts. This is also where the @ sign originated (used to separate user from host) - which is still used to this day.

A File Transfer Protocol (FTP) was standardised in 1973. Four years later a Network Voice Protocol (NVP) was devised but technical shortcomings never saw it get much use.  It wouldn’t be till 2004 that telephone calls via The Internet would take off using the Voice Over IP (VoIP) protocols established in 1995.

The Birth of The World Wide Web

Tim Berners-Lee, a British Computer Scientist working at CERN, is recognised as the Father of the Web. In 1990 he proposed a "Hypertext project" as a "web" of "hypertext documents" to be viewed by "browsers" and "the creation of new links and new material by readers, [so that] authorship becomes universal".  By Christmas of that year he had created a web server, a web browser and the first web pages. He posted an outline of his project on a newsgroup in August, 1991 thus making it publicly available.

The innovation was in the hyperlinks, making parts of the internet accessible via a one-way link so no action is required by the owner of the linked contents.  The three core technologies he developed were:

  • Globally unique identifiers for resources and materials on the internet: URLs & URI’s originally called Universal Document Identifiers.
  • The publishing language of web pages HTML or HyperText Markup Language.
  • The protocol to transfer the Hypertext documents: HTTP.

By making these technologies non-proprietary, no licence fees would need to be paid. CERN announced in April 1993 that The Web would be free to use.  This came not long after a similar protocol, called Gopher, became a paid for service which lead to a rapid move to these new Web protocols.

The biggest boost to the popularity and adoption of The Web was the Mosaic web browser.  This allowed the display of images in line with text rather than in separate windows.  It’s easy to use graphic interface helped its popularity along with being made available for free, all of which lead to The Internet boom in the nineties.