How Does the Internet Work?

Have you ever considered how the internet actually works, about how all these machines talk and share information with each other?

The internet has become a massive part of our lives. It's hard to imagine life without this technology. Yet most people lack an even basic understanding of how it works. You don't need to know of course, but at Alertra we like to expand the mind a little and keep you informed.

We're going to keep this pretty simple. It's more about understanding things from an overall point of view, rather than trying to understand the specifics of the technology.

A common language aids communication

At a very basic level, there are two key components of the internet: hardware and protocols.

The hardware is all the physical stuff that makes up the network. From the servers, to the cables, to the routers, to the satellites to the end clients, i.e. your personal devices.

In order for all this hardware to talk to each other and transfer data in the way that we find useful, you need a set of rules that the machines can follow. So the internet follows a series of standard protocols which allows computers across the world to share information.

Every computer connected to the internet understands a protocol called TCP/IP. This is made up of the Transmission Control Protocol and the Internet Protocol.

They both perform two vital functions. The TCP breaks down the information you want to send or receive across the network into lots of small pieces, or 'packets'. The IP then routes these packets across the network to the destination computer. When all these bits of information arrive at their destination, the TCP this time puts all the pieces back together like a jigsaw - so what you see is now recognizable to a human.

So protocols are both the method of data transfer and the common language used by machines in the network. They establish the rules for how information passes through the internet and allow communication to happen in a meaningful way.

Imagine many different routes to the same location

To understand one of the marvels of the internet you can't think of the transfer of information as being in one block. It's not the case that the information is broken into small parts and then each small part follows the same route from one computer to the next.

Those packets of data we talked about earlier may take many different routes across the network. Each one is wrapped in a header and footer of information that describes what it is, where it came from and where it is going - so it can easily be pieced back together.

It's a wonderful concept that information is broken down into tiny pieces, then travels across the world on many different routes, all to be reconstructed again at the other end, in one destination.

With so many possible connections (and more and more by the day) the internet has no single point of failure. Major parts of the network can be blocked or destroyed and the information packets will re-route around the blockage. Information will follow along the path of least resistance. It's this decentralization of the internet that makes it so resilient and effective.

Of course all this happens in a fraction of a second. You ask to see a web page or a file of information and at the click of a finger it's there. There is a lot more to the internet than we have covered here. But if that isn't just a little bit magical, then we don't know what is.

To ensure your website is always live on the internet, you don't need to know how the internet works. But you do need to know when your website is unavailable. That's why we provide you with a fast and cost-effective website monitoring service.