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22 Aug 2019
A Ridiculously Simplified Explanation of How the Internet Works
Academy, ICT

A Ridiculously Simplified Explanation of How the Internet Works 

IP Address

Your Internet Protocol (IP) Address is where you live on the Internet, similar in concept to your postcode when finding the location of your house. Just as your postcode is made up from a standard formula of letters and numbers e.g. BR12 8GH (random details allocated here) so your internet protocol is made up from four main sets of numbers e.g. 215.192.45.13 (random details allocated again). Your IP Address lets others know where you live on the Internet.

Domain Name and Domain Name Server (DNS)

Your Domain Name is the name given to your website or email address using the recognisable alphabet instead of a set of four numbers (IP address) e.g. www.mywebsite.co.uk. The Domain Name Server (DNS) is the computer where your website or email resides on the internet and links your domain name to your IP address. Think of your ‘domain name’ and ‘IP address’ being the same as ‘The Willows’ and ‘BS12 8GH’

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A VPN is a third-party service which disguises or hides your location on the Internet. VPNs are used in sensitive situations where privacy is of importance e.g. online banking.

Email and Webmail

Sending an Email is similar in concept to sending a letter. A letter leaves you when you put it in the letter box. The collection postman picks it up, and takes it to the sorting office. The sorting office delivers it down the road to another sorting office linked to the postcode in the address you wrote down. The delivery postman collects the letter and physically puts it through your letter box.

An email leaves you when you click ‘Send’. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP – the people you pay to set you up on the Internet) picks it up and sends it to a collection email server (sorting office). The email server delivers it to another server on the Internet (and probably many more in between) indicated by the domain name (linked to the IP address – think postcode here) that you wrote down in the ‘To:’ section of the email (e.g. email@yourdomain.co.uk).

Here’s the difference between sending a letter and sending an ‘Email’. If the ‘Email’ is downloaded onto your computer (so now the ‘Email’ physically resides on your computer and not the email server somewhere out there on the Internet) that’s the same as receiving a letter through your letter box. You can now open the email using an email handling software application e.g. Microsoft Outlook. Should the ‘Email’ come attached with a virus, trojan or any other malware, that’s your problem, and you need to project yourself from a higher level of potential attack.

Webmail is different, for the simple reason that instead of having the ‘Email’ physically delivered through your ‘letter box’ (the Inbox in Outlook) you can view the ‘Email’ content over the Internet (hence the term ‘web’) while it still resides at the delivery email server (local sorting office) without having the ‘Email’ delivered to your door (on your computer). So what’s the difference, it’s the same ‘Email’ with the same content? The difference is the ‘Email’ has not landed on your computer, so any malware attachments remain at the location of the email server, a much lower level of potential attack.

Browser and Search Engine

A Browser is a software application that runs on your device (computer, laptop, iPad, smart phone, Kindle etc) and lets you access the Internet. There are many versions of browsers from various developers, e.g. Microsoft Explorer, Safari (Apple) Chrome (Google), Firefox, Opera to name the more popular. By far the biggest usage on the Internet today is Chrome from Google.

A Search Engine is a separate software application that runs inside your browser e.g. Google (from Google), Bing, Yahoo!. Any search engine can run in any browser so it’s not uncommon for Apple users to run Google inside their Safari browser or Microsoft users to run Bing inside their Explorer browser. By far the most popular adoption today is the Google developed search engine called ‘Google’ (Google chose to name their search engine ‘Google’ just to confuse everybody). By far the most popular combination of browser and search engine is the Google search engine (used by 90% of today’s Internet users) running inside the Chrome browser (used by over 50% of today’s Internet users)

Universal Resource Locator

The Universal Resource Locator (URL) is a window located at the top of your browser. If you can’t see the URL window you will need to adjust your browser settings to display it.

From within the URL window you can type/cut/paste the exact domain name link details you want to look at. This is NOT a search engine function on all browsers (although Chrome now does both – ‘Search Google or type URL’). By typing in the exact details of the domain name link you are instructing the browser to go directly to this location and nowhere else. The difference between this and using the search engine is, with the search engine, you can estimate or predict the type of words or phrases you would expect to use to find a website online e.g. ‘amazon fishing rods and reels’ will offer you a choice of combinations it will direct you to …

 

… instead of the direct domain name link in the URL window ‘https://www.amazon.co.uk/slp/fishing-rods-and-reels/uf36qms2fwxa3pu’

 

 

You decide which is easier, and why search engines are ultimately useful.

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