In this day and age, almost everyone owns an Internet-capable device and because of that, the Internet has become a part of our daily lives. We use it to chat with friends, learn new things, manage our money, watch movies, order pizza, do work and much more.
But have you ever wondered how the Internet works? Perhaps you have wondered how are you able to chat with your friend from the other side of the planet as if you were standing next to each other? It seems so simple, but there are actually many things that happen in the background when you hit that send button in your messaging app. In this article, we are going to discuss how the Internet works as simply as we can.
The first thing you need to know is that the Internet is a large network of computers (or any kind of Internet-capable devices like your smartphone, game console or TV) that are connected to one another.
How do you link multiple computers together? It’s simple. You can use an ethernet cable, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. That works fine for up to five computers and/or devices, but even so, it can be unwieldy. That’s where the router comes into play.
The router acts as a middleman between devices. The router will be the one handling messages (or information) sent to and from the devices connected to it. It makes sure that the message sent from computer A goes to computer B and not to computer C. It’s like a postmaster.
That sounds neat, but how can you access the Internet with just that? Where is Google in there? If you just have a router and a collection of devices, trying to open the web browser and typing “google.com” in its address bar will give you a message telling you that you are not connected to the Internet. That’s where the modem comes in.
Most people think that a modem and router are the same, but they are not. Perhaps the reason people think this is because some Internet service providers offer hybrid modem-routers to simplify the installation process. But it’s still important to understand that they are not the same. You can learn the difference between router and modem here. Basically, the modem is the part that connects to the Internet and the router is the part that manages the traffic received by the modem. It distributes this traffic to the correct device that requested it on your home network.
How the Internet Actually Works
Now that you know a bit about networks, we’re going to see how the Internet works. If you transferred files from one device to another using LAN or Wi-Fi, you’ve already seen the basics. Basically, there is a server who sends data and there is a client who receives it.
A server holds the files necessary for your web browser to display the contents of a website. Therefore, you could say that a website resides on a server. The server is a special type of computer that is always connected to the Internet, listening to requests from clients.
When you type “google.com” in your browser’s address bar, your computer sends a message through the Internet saying that “I want to view google.com” (of course, not literally). When the computer that holds the files for “google.com” (which is Google’s server) hears (receives) your computer’s request, it will respond, “I got you, buddy!” and will send a message back. In this case, that would be pulling up Google’s home page. It can also be in the form of an image, a video file or whatever you “requested” from a web server.
The IP Address
Each device connected to the Internet has an IP (Internet protocol) address. The IP address is used to distinguish a server’s address. In simpler terms, it’s the Internet’s version of your home address.
When you type “google.com” into your web browser, it is actually converted to an IP address. The name you use, which in this case is “google.com”, was created to make things easier for us to remember a web server’s address. This is called the domain name.
Let’s say you have multiple computers connected to the Internet at the same time. Then how can the Internet manage to send the correct webpage or message to the correct computer if your modem has a single IP address? The answer is the router.
The router gives each device connected to it a unique IP address of their own. This IP address is only used by and visible to the router, hence they are called “internal IP” or sometimes “local IP.” Your external IP is the IP address attached to your modem. This is used to identify your whole home network on the Internet. You can easily use online tools to know your external IP. If you want to know your device’s internal IP, you can use tools included in your operating system.
Here’s an example of how external and internal IP works: your computer sends a request to google.com and your sister’s phone sent a request to facebook.com. The router will receive these requests and sees that your computer has an internal IP address of 192.168.1.11 while your sister’s mobile phone has an internal IP address of 192.168.1.12. These internal IP addresses will then be added as a kind of “label” to those requests. The router will then relay it to the modem to send it out to the Internet. Once the response has been received, the router immediately knows where to send the requests, thanks to the labels.
To make this clearer, imagine that you live in an apartment building. The apartment building’s address is your external IP address and your room number is your internal IP address. Then, you order a package and you include your apartment’s address and apartment room number (like what the router does) in your order request. The package arrives and is sent to your apartment’s address (your external IP). The apartment’s receptionist sees the apartment room number (like the router sees the internal IP) and sends it to your room. In this way, your order request was correctly sent and the package was correctly delivered.
Now you have a higher level of understanding of how the Internet works.