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The Internet and the Web: What's the Difference?

You may be wondering how your new Lab 99 Web Design website fits into the general scheme of things. Is a website part of the internet? Aren’t they the same thing? How does it all work? Does a website get beamed into a computer like a TV signal into a television? Is it all a series of tubes?

Firstly, the internet and the web are not the same thing. They were developed about 20 years apart: the internet in the 1970s, the world wide web in 1991.

What is the Internet?

The internet is an international network of computers. It comprises:

  • the computers themselves: personal computers, mobile devices, web servers, email servers, and more;
  • the software, such as the web browser software you are using right now, that enables those machines to behave in a certain way;
  • the whole telephone system that connects those computers, including domestic phone lines, telephone exchanges, mobile transmitters, and the massive fibre–optic cables that run from one continent to another.

The Opera Development site contains a detailed explanation of how the internet works.

What is the Web?

The internet is a physical system for transmitting information. The web, on the other hand, is just one of many types of information that can be sent and received over the internet. As well as websites, the internet can be used to transmit:

  • email;
  • instant messages;
  • VoIP phone messages;
  • software;
  • digital documents such as music and photographs …

… and more. In the future, the internet will no doubt be used to transmit information in forms that we cannot yet imagine.

What is a Website?

A website is a collection of individual web pages. Each web page is a collection of digital documents in various formats. A modern web page will typically comprise, as a minimum:

  • one document in HTML format containing the basic structure and text of the page;
  • one or more documents in CSS format containing the layout instructions;
  • and several decorative images, usually in .jpg, .png or .gif formats.

These documents are stored, or ‘hosted’, on a specially configured computer known as a web server.

To visit a web page, you need to do one of two things:

  • activate a hyperlink, such as web design in Sussex, using your mouse or keyboard;
  • or type the web page’s URL, or web address, such as http://www.lab99.com/portfolio/, into the address bar of your web browser software.

When you visit a web page, you are using the internet to:

  1. get access to one specific computer, somewhere in the world;
  2. copy a particular set of digital documents that are stored on that computer;
  3. and send those copies to your computer.

The web browser software on your computer then interprets and combines those documents, and displays the resulting web page.

The Internet is “a Series of Tubes”

If you were unsure exactly what this new–fangled internet thing is, don’t worry. You weren’t the only one. The late Ted Stevens, a US senator, provided this famous misunderstanding:

I just the other day got … an internet [an email] was sent by my staff at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday [and] I got it yesterday [Tuesday]. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially …

They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.

And if you don’t understand, those tubes can be filled. And if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it’s going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material.

Here’s an audio clip of his speech:

In a metaphorical sense, the internet could perhaps be interpreted as a series of tubes. But it isn’t an actual series of tubes, and it definitely isn’t a truck.

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