Only Browsing. -- The Basics of Internet Navigation
By now, in our futuristic-sounding century, most people are familiar with the
conventions of using the internet. All you do is fire up your PC; "click" on the
appropriate "icon," and start "surfing." Most people know that surfing means
typing an "address" into your web browser's "address bar," and waiting till
something appears on your screen. Then you "click" on "hyperlinks" and try to
"navigate" your way to where you want to go.
But how does your computer know to display the websites you request? How does
it access them and then return, just like a faithful schnauzer, to your computer
and only your computer? And how does it manage this circum-global feat within
Your computer actually has very little to do with it. The credit for this
fetchery goes to your browser, a piece of software that connects your PC with
other PCs that comprise the networks that connect under servers that make up the
Since the early 1990s, when browsers came into their own, there have been a
handful of commercial brands to choose from. Netscape Navigator was launched in
1994; and in 1995 Microsoft's Internet Explorer entered the fray. These two
browsers form the core of the market. A vast majority of internet users
subscribe to one or the other of them; and their services are essentially the
same. They are both available for free; they both offer perks such as e-mail;
and they both differ substantially from more alternative forms of browsers, such
as the Opera browser. This latter form of browser was first introduced in 1994.
Compared with Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer, Opera uses less
hard-drive space; is consequently faster to download; allows you to cascade more
than one web page in each window; and is not free of charge.
No matter what the brand of browser, its main job is to talk to servers.
Servers function as huge, virtual repositories of information stored in the form
of documents; audio and visual files; multimedia content; and any other data
that goes into the making of websites. Servers give web pages a place to live;
and when you access a particular web page, one copy of it visits your computer
while the real thing remains with the host server.
The internet is like a fabric of servers stitched together. When you ask your
browser to fetch a particular web page by typing its address (or URL, universal
resource locator) in the address bar, the browser converts the alphabetical
address you've typed (such as www.pcstats.com) into its corresponding IP
address. IP stands for Internet Protocol, and it is made up of four sets of 2 or
3-digit numbers, each between zero and 255, separated by periods. The IP
translation of whatever internet address you type is usually revealed in the
lower left-hand corner of your browser window.
In order to do anything with the IP, your browser must know which "protocol"
to use. The default protocol, and the one that's used in most cases, is HTTP, or
Hypertext Transfer Protocol. HTTP is a set of standards that govern how
information is transferred over the internet. Even if you don't preface your
instructions with this prefix (as in http://www.pcstats.com), your computer will
use HTTP to source your destination (in this case, www.pcstats.com). Another
transfer protocol is HTTPS, which stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol
Secured, and allows for such things as safe credit card transactions on the web.
A third variant is FTP, the original protocol developed back in 1973, from which
The IP address tells your internet service provider (ISP) which server your
sought-after website is located on. Once you type in the URL (www.pcstats.com), and your browser
translates it to its corresponding IP (220.127.116.11), your own ISP server uses
HTTP to locate the server that hosts that particular IP address. When it finds
that server, the website is sent back to your ISP server, which passes it along
to your own IP address -- causing it to appear on your computer screen.
And that's all there is to it. Without a browser, you'd be as helpless on the
web as a pen-pal without a postman. Browsers are our slender links to the fast,
deep currents of the internet; and it's good to know a little of how they
operate, even if we're only fledgling swimmers bobbing on the