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How the Internet Was Born: ARPANET and Beyond

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What's the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web?

Tech-savvy people know there's a difference, but may be hard-pressed to explain exactly what it is. But most would probably tell you that the Internet came before the Web — and they'd be right.

It all started with ARPANET in the 1960s…

How the Internet Was Born: ARPANET and Beyond

The Early Days of Computing

While computers themselves have been around since Charles Babbage's 1834 Analytical Machine, and programmers since the visionary mathematician Ada Lovelace (daughter of romantic poet Lord Byron) wrote the first theoretical machine algorithm, early computers weren't able to communicate with each other for a long time.

Then, in the mid-20th century, computer technology began to develop rapidly. Researchers and computer scientists were the only ones using them in the 60s, but by the 70s and 80s, personal computers began to be developed and become popular for use in businesses.

But they had all been designed to read the data they were given via magnetic tapes or punch cards, but had no way to network with each other. Computer scientists knew that this lack of communication between computers greatly limited what they were capable of.

Networks Were Born

Computer scientist J. C. R. Licklider came up with the idea for an "Intergalactic Computer Network" in 1963, but it was several years later before any such system was actually created. The first proposal for a computer network by ARPA, the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency, was considered completely unrealistic and impractical by most of the contractors who were asked for bids to build it.

But computer scientists argued for its practical applications, and eventually ARPANET was built and used to sent its first message in 1969.

At first only used by research facilities, universities, and the US government, it wasn't until several decades later that the technology came to the newly popular personal computers.

The rest, as they say, is history! Here's the story.


Transcript: How the Internet was Born

When most people think of the Internet today, they think of the World Wide Web. At 25 years old, it's only part of the Internet, which we have all thanks to the military. The Internet itself dates back to the '50s; when computers were so large they took up an entire room!

The Beginning: ARPANET

  • The Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first manmade satellite, in 1957.
  • The Advanced Research Projects Agency was created in 1958.
    • Its purpose was to focus on computer science, to give America a technological edge over the rest of the world.
      • At this time, computers:
        • Could only read punch cards or magnetic tape.
        • Could not be networked together.
  • In 1966, ARPA called for several research institutions to come together to build a computer network.
    • The goal was to:
      • Increase computing power
      • Decentralize information storage
      • Find a way to distribute information on a large scale, should the U.S. ever be attacked.
  • ARPA reached out to Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (BBN) to develop technology to network computers.
    • They built a network of four computers, each running on different operating systems.
    • The network became known as ARPANET.
      • Established many of the protocols still in use for the Internet today.
        • File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
        • Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol suite (TCP/IP)
  • ARPANET began as four computers in 1969. By 1977, the network grew to 111 computers.
    • Connected computers used satellite links, and spread as far as Hawaii and Europe.
    • They connected:
      • Research facilities
      • Universities
      • Military
    • Few people had access to the system.
    • The general public didn't even know ARPANET existed.

The End of ARPANET

  • The military sector of ARPANET left the network to become MILNET, in 1983.
    • Later, this became part of the Department of Defense Data Network (DDN).
    • They remained connected to ARPANET through a limited number of email gateways.
  • In 1985 and 1986, five supercomputer centers formed a network called NSFNET, or the National Science Foundation Network.
    • NSFNET expanded to encompass many universities.
    • Networks began consolidating, to larger networks.
    • This system of interconnected computers became known as the Internet.
      • The World Wide Web came later, as a way to navigate the Internet.
    • The '70s brought personal computing, but during this time, the Internet wasn't available to the public. It was a resource only for:
      • Government
      • Corporations
      • Universities
  • As ARPANET aged, organizations shifted to other networks, mainly NSFNET.
  • In 1990, the ARPANET project disbanded, as its goals had been met.
    • ARPA is now known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
      • It is responsible for research and development of military and defense technology today.

The World Wide Web

  • The World Wide Web wasn't created until 1989.
    • 20 years after the first "Internet" connection was established.
  • Creator of the WWW, Tim Berners-Lee developed protocols still in use today:
    • HTML: HyperText Markup Language. This is one of the basic languages computers use to display web pages and link documents together.
    • URI: Uniform Resource Identifier. A kind of "address" that is unique to each resource on the Web.
    • HTTP: Hypertext Transfer Protocol. Allows websites to communicate with one another to pull linked information from all areas of the WWW.
  • He served the first web page by the end of 1990.
  • The WWW became available to the public in 1991.

The Military and Technology Today

  • Today, the military uses:
    • Video games for training.
      • DARWARS helps soldiers learn:
        • Communication skills across various cultures
        • How to run convey operations
        • Rules of engagement
      • Tactical Iraqi and UrbanSlim help soldiers learn:

        • Language skills
        • Attack techniques
      • War simulators like Virtual Battlespace 2 enable commanders to construct specific frontline scenarios to assist in training entire companies of soldiers:
        • IED explosions
        • Ambushes
        • Medical evacuations
  • Military researchers are using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance and attack. They will address issues in difficult conditions where a soldier's safety is at risk.
  • DARPA is urging the Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) to expand the UAV program to take on additional responsibility, to help reduce costs.
    • Software assists radar and security experts with building integrated sensors into security systems.
  • Today, members of the military use the Internet to communicate information over private and classified networks.
  • The U.S. military allows for social media access over the Non-Classified Internet Protocol Network, or NIPRNET

The U.S. military has come a long way since the '50s, and it's at least in part due to the world of possibilities it opened up with ARPANET.


KeriLynn Engel

About KeriLynn Engel

KeriLynn has worked as a freelance writer for various websites. She is an advocate for domestic abuse victims and has way too many hobbies.


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