How does the Internet Work?

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  • Originally Written By: R. Kayne
  • Revised By: Bott
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2018
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Also known as the worldwide web, or simply the web, the Internet gives people all over the world access to vast amounts of information. The web is a worldwide network that adheres to specific methods of data transfer in order to establish a standardized communication highway. Information is transferred through telephone lines that read and transfer data back and forth between a computer and a website. Anyone with access can send and receive information over the web by using Internet-enabled software, which understands the online protocols, or language, of the Internet.

Telephone Lines

The backbone of the world wide web consists of a powerful set of telephone lines including T3 lines, capable of transferring data at a very fast rate of about 45 megabytes per second. The lines link metropolitan cities and include national access points or feeds. These feeds are equivalent to major highways on a road map, explaining why the Internet is often referred to as the Information Superhighway.

The telephone lines are operated and maintained by various companies and organizations working cooperatively, without centralized ownership. Redundancy is built into the data routes of the web so that if one or more major lines go down, traffic can be rerouted, much like a traffic detour when a highway is temporarily under construction. While this might slow Internet traffic, it will not ‘break’ the world wide web.


While T3 lines provide the backbone for the web, secondary lines provide local support by establishing dedicated lines that link into the web’s data routes at national access points. Revisiting the map analogy, these smaller lines can be equated with boulevards and major streets that lead to freeways. These alternate lines are leased and maintained by various Internet Service Provider (ISP) co-ops using routers to direct traffic.

Internet Protocol Address

Every computer connected to the web is assigned a unique Internet Protocol (IP) address. When using a computer, one can point-and-click on a website link, at which point the browser sends out a request that is addressed to the website that houses the desired content. Routers along the way read the data packet’s address and relay it along the best route available.

When the data packet arrives at the website, the server reads the request and sends the requested page back to the computer via a return address in the data packet: this is the computer’s IP address. The data packet is routed back to the computer in several data packages, and the browser interprets the content and displays the page on the screen. In essence, the world wide web is akin to a highway filled with rushing data packets versus cars.


The first whisperings of an Internet-like network reach all the way back to Leonard Kleinrock’s, "Information Flow in Large Communication Nets," 1961, and J.C.R. Licklider / W. Clark’s, "On-Line Man Computer Communication," 1962. Licklider then headed up the United States Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to develop these designs into what was to become the Internet, initially dubbed the ARPANET. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) funded the project in 1969, interested in developing a non-centralized, redundant communication system that could survive a nuclear attack. The rest, as they say, is history.


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Post 14

anon62715-- Yep, that's right. Let's say I'm sending a picture to my friend online. The data that makes up the picture is divided into lots of smaller data pieces. Each piece has all the information it needs to know where it's going and how it fits with all the other pieces. The pieces go through different networks to get to the recipient and then come together to re-form the picture. It's just amazing.

Post 13

As far as I know, when we use the internet (interconnected networks), we're basically sending information back and forth across various network webs. This doesn't mean that the information needs to be stored in one place. The information doesn't get delivered in one chunk either.

There is a platform of internet providers and data is exchanged back and forth between their networks so that we can access whatever we want on the internet. The great thing about having so many networks connected to one another in a single platform is that there are many different routes that data can take to reach its destination. It improves dependability of the networks so the chances of the whole internet system going down are very slim.

Post 12

@deborah-- I'm wondering the same thing. Most of us don't use dial-up anymore. I personally use a 3G wireless internet network, so I don't even have a modem at home.

I think it works through signals just like cell phones but I don't know about the details.

Post 10

@debrah: Dial-up is connecting to your internet provider through a regular phone call. DSL is faster and doesn't interfere with your phone. Internet comes to your home through a modem. A router will read from your modem and divide the signal through several wires or over the air (wireless). Your computer reads the router from a connection in the back from wires or through a wireless antenna.

Post 7

the internet is not stored in one specific place. it is hosted on many computers around the world..think of it like a torrent -- you get little bits from everywhere.

Post 5

This is helpful, but where is all the information stored? There's so much of it, there must be some computers somewhere that hold all the

information, right?

Post 4

what is wireless internet? what is the difference between it and dial up?

Post 1

Of course, there was that one US politician (I think it was the head of the Senate technology committee, ironically enough) who kept pointing out that the Internet is a "series of tubes..."

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