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How the Internet Works

Last Updated: Friday, 09-Jan-2015 12:32:45 PST

Clients and Servers

The Internet is the largest network of computers connected together across the entire world. There are two basic distinctions in the types of computers: one type is called a client and the other is called a server. The computer that the average user uses like a desktop computer, a laptop, a handheld computer, a mobile phone, a game console, and the like is a client. The user connects to the Internet to access information and services provided by specialized computers called servers.

Whereas a client computing device usually has a graphical interface, a monitor, a printer, and is made of commodity parts, a server is made of industrial strength components that are very reliable and high performance, because they provide services and information for many people at once. These servers are constantly connected to the Internet, do not have monitors, or any kind of graphical interface, and have components designed for high speed access and constant use.

Servers run specialized software like web servers, email servers, chat servers, time synchronization servers, and the like. The web browser is the client software that receives information from the web server. The web server provides a central location for the website to reside at and transfers the information to the client web browser and the two talk to each other as you browse a website. The same is true with email programs, chat programs, and the like.

Legal Issues

Many people think that that since the data is out there somewhere in cyberspace that no normal laws apply, but that is not true. The data is only in one location at once which is stored on a computer in a certain city, in a certain district, in a certain country at any one time. All normal laws apply to the data, depending on where it is located in the world.

Some of the most important laws are called intellectual property (IP) laws. Two main types of intellectual property are the patent and the copyright. A patent is an idea applied to a technology using a specific method and requires others to license or pay money to the owner of that method for the use of that method. File formats, protocols, APIs, and almost every other aspect of computers can be patented. A copyright governs the copying and distribution of creative works including writing, graphics, music, video, software, and the like.

Whenever information is transfered to or from a server or from one computer drive to another, the file is copied. Generally copyrighted material must be paid for per copy, so uploading a file to a server is violating copyright law, each time it is downloaded or uploaded. The original copyright laws came in effect in colonial America, because people were printing other people's books, because of the explosion of the printing press. So the reason for copyright originally was because it was easier to copy IP due to the technology. And copyright laws will become more and more invasive as it gets easier and easier to copy information.

Everything created after 1989 is automatically copyrighted even if no notice of copyright is given. The mere creation of something covered by copyright law such as writing, creating art work, recording music, coding software, and more creates a copyright. That means that everything on the web is copyrighted unless it is labeled as public domain.

There are a number of different licenses where the author retains the copyright but allows certain usage of the copyrighted material under certain conditions. Examples of this situation are open source and creative commons licenses. The best way to avoid copyright infringement (a fancy word for stealing) is to not use what someone else created without their permission. The moral concept behind copyright law is to compensate someone else for their work.

How a Website Works

Websites are just a collection of files in various folders, on a computer some where. The first part of the address is http://, which means the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol, which is corresponds to the language in which the web server communicates with the web browser client.

The next part is the domain name, followed by a domain name extension depending on use and country. That is the part. The other major US extensions are .net, .us, .info, .biz, and the like, which all can be purchased for any use. US .gov and .edu extensions must provide proof they are part of the government or are a certified institution of higher learning like a college or university.

The final part of the web address is the collection of files and folders that lead to the file you are browsing. Every / stands for another folder. At the very end you will either see a / which means a folder default file like index.html or you will see a filename at the end with an extension like .html, .php, .asp, .jsp, cfm, or really any type of file. HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language and the other ones correspond to server programs that return to the client web browser HTML.

How Web Pages and Plugins Work

When you click on what is called a link, you go from one web page to another. To create a web page, you use a web page editor or any program that can save to the HTML file format. To get it to the website, you upload it using an FTP or File Transfer Application program or web folders.

An HTML page consists of what are called tags that mark what is called structure in a document, like: title, heading 1, heading 2, ordered list, unordered list, list item, link, emphasis, strong emphasis, table, table row, table data, and the like. All the pictures used on a web page as well as the formatting are in separate files and are linked in. The same picture like a logo only has to download on the first page browsed to and then for every other page, it stays on your client computer, in what is called a cache and is just referenced to its location in each HTML document.

Any other file format other than HTML and a couple picture file formats like JPEG, PNG, and GIF need another viewer application to see it, like a web browser for other types of files. Some of these viewers run inside an HTML page, within the browser and are called plugins like Flash or Quicktime. For the web browser to determine what program to open these other files with, it looks at the extension at the end of the file like .pdf, .swf, or .mp4.

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