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What are the Origins of the Internet?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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The Internet evolved over time into what it is today, but it began as a US government-funded computer network. It was intended to provide a non-localized, redundant means of communication between military, scientific, educational, and government entities, should a nuclear strike occur. Ideas for the Internet developed at around the same time in many places, and it involved many visionaries, only a few of which are named here.

In 1962, Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider (1915 - 1990), an American computer scientists at MIT, envisioned a worldwide network of computers that could easily communicate with one another. Licklider soon moved to the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to oversee its development. From this point forward many people were involved in the developing the Internet at its various stages.

In brief, Leonard Kleinrock of MIT was instrumental in devising packet switching, the means by which data moves across the Internet. Another person active in the origins of the Internet was Lawrence Roberts, also of MIT. In 1965, he used dial-up to connect a computer in Massachusetts to one in California. Though he did not use packet switching, it became evident this technology would be required over the inadequate circuit switching used by the telephone company.

Roberts joined DARPA in 1966 to help develop the first packet switching network under the newly named Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET). ARPANET is considered synonymous with the origins of the Internet. Other people were also involved in this endeavor and made significant contributions to the technology.

The fledgling ARPA network, consisting of four nodes (computers), was connected successfully on 5 December 1969. Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) developed throughout the 1970s, was implemented fully on New Year’s Day in 1983. These protocols opened the network to commercial entities and allowed local area networks (LANs) to connect to wide area networks (WANs), critical within the evolution of the Internet.

There were many other significant developments in the early years that involved other protocols separate from the Internet, but ran within it. These included email and the network news transfer protocol (NNTP), which allowed users to exchange information in newsgroups over a user network (USENET). Telnet and file transfer protocol (FTP) were two other protocols in use, and Internet relay chat (IRC) was implemented in 1988.

The Internet in its early days was far from user friendly, however. Tim Berners-Lee of CERN would change that by proposing hypertext language, implemented in 1991. This introduced the World Wide Web and opened the world to graphical browsing and point-and-click navigation. In November 1992, Delphi made its mark by being the first nationwide commercial provider to offer their clients Internet access.

By October of 1994, early Internet users were treated to the initial release of Mosaic Netscape 0.9, the first widely successful graphical Web browser. Pioneered by Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark, the browser would eventually become Netscape Navigator. Microsoft soon released Internet Explorer®, though Netscape Navigator held favor until Microsoft began integrating its browser into the ubiquitous Windows® operating systems.

In 1995, the National Science Foundation (NSF), which had been funding the Internet backbone for non-commercial purposes, ended their sponsorship. Private services like CompuServ, AOL, and Prodigy offered pipelines to the Internet, and commercially available software allowed anyone to automatically configure their computer for Internet use.

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Discussion Comments
By IceCarver — On Oct 20, 2010

I wonder if the origins of the Internet were actually based on other types of analog systems. The way the telegraphs were relayed through telegraph stations is similar to the way the data signals are routed through major network servers in this day and age with our current technology. While it is vastly more complicated and obviously a digital single set of an audible analog signal is transferred over these wires, even since it is still a network.

Without these telegraph networks I wonder if our concepts of what the Internet can be would be the same. After all if we originally created the Internet incident telegraphs the concept of sending e-mail across the nation would be mind-boggling because telegraphs have been previously invented we are now able to understand how a message can be sent thousands of miles in a matter of seconds.

By jeancastle00 — On Oct 20, 2010

While we currently think of the Internet as one massive unit, it was not always so. As the author of this article describes the Internet is actually a culmination of many different networks that have come together. Some of these networks were scientific and some of these networks were based in the military. Because they were able to connect it allowed also for consumer part of it to emerge.

The problem with this now is that the amazing culmination we had occurred could be coming to an end. There are people that actually want to create different sections to the Internet. Imagine this if you will as making three different sidewalks for you to be able to walk, and if you pay for the higher sidewalk you'll be able to walk above everybody else on the street. Most people consider the street a public place. And I think the Internet should be considered like that to. If we make it segregated based on finances the Internet will cease to be the amazing open communication system that it is today.

By fitness234 — On Oct 20, 2010

it simply is amazing to me that through our scientific community and our military-industrial complex we were actually able to achieve a network of communication that is now become the amazing entity that is the Internet. It is this amazing and incredible creature of the living and breathing being that we now describe as the world wide web. The reason I described it as being alive is because there are so many people actively searching that there are truly human beings behind the bits of data that you are viewing.

The origins of the Internet are mixed, and it is a big thanks to a lot of different communities that we owe an amazing relief that the communication of the Internet has brought us. I am thankful for the Internet connectivity that I have and the people that it originated from.

By youbiKan — On Oct 20, 2010

I was once told that Al Gore actually invented the Internet. And why didn't believe this at first I actually found out that there is some validity to this statement. What Al Gore did not actually invent the technology that was created for the Internet what he did allow was the bills that were required to allow for the infrastructure to be developed to go through Congress. He had a vital role in the passage of this legislation and because of his acts in Congress, we now can rely on the infrastructure of the Internet and how it was developed by scientists.

So in a way Al Gore did have a major role in the development of the Internet but how big a role is truly up to a subjective mind. I do think that he has a big hand in its creation, and we should recognize him for that role.

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