Friday, January 26, 2007

COM125 Week2: History of the Internet

The history of the Internet is said to have come about as a fail-safe against a nuclear attack. The idea behind it was that should the United States of America suffer a nuclear attack in any of its locations, it would still have control over its nuclear arms for a counter-attack (Kristula, 2001). This could only have been done due to the nature of the network being decentralized - a concept that the Internet has built upon to make it what it is today.

Packet-switching was the brainchild behind the concept of the decentralized network. In short, packet-switching works in that "messages are broken into units of equal size and are routed by the network along a functioning path to their destination where they are reassembled into coherent wholes" (Rheingold, 2000). These individual packets carry with them certain information that will help it get to its destination - the sender's Internet Protocol address, the intended receiver's Internet Protocol address, the number of packets the data has been broken into, and the number of particular packets. (Howstuffworks: What is a packet?, 2000) With the help of routers to facilitate the movement of information within and among networks, packet-switching is indeed an effective and efficient way of getting information sent from one destination to another. What this also means, is that like the instance of a nuclear attack, if nodes go down, then the packets will merely be routed around it through existing functional nodes to reach its destination - virtually unstoppable.

The Internet today is very much influenced by the development of the packet-switching technology. In fact, packet-switching is the basis for how virtually all kinds of information and communication are sent and received through the Internet. Take for example the electronic mail. What happens during the electronic mailing process is that after an electronic mail has been written and the "send" button clicked, the data is then broken down into individual packets that are routed through networks to arrive and reassemble at their destination (Howstuffworks: What is a packet?, 2000).

Another example would be Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), or Internet telephony. Just like the electronic mail, or any data transferring over the Internet for that matter, the user's voice in this instance, is broken down into individual packets. These packets are then sent around through routers to arrive at their destination where they are reassembled into a complete whole once more. This, of course, happens in split seconds, attributing some lag time to physical distance between the communicators or congested networks (Vines, 2005).

Yet another example would be BitTorrent - a recent peer-to-peer file sharing technology. BitTorrent is based around packet-switching. Files are broken into packets, and these packets are downloaded and shared by others within the network. In a nutshell, when a BitTorrent client program opens a torrent file, it connects to trackers specified in the torrent file, gaining a list of peers who are currently downloading pieces of the file. The client then attempts to connect to those peers to obtain the various pieces. The amazing thing is that the file can be downloaded piece by piece, in any random order. When all the pieces are finally downloaded, they are reassembled to make the whole (BitTorrent).

The packet-switching technology has undoubtedly gone through many changes. From its humble beginnings of merely transferring text data from one computer to another, packet-switching has evolved in many ways. Now, we are able to transfer not only text data, but as stated above, even voice, video, and audio data. In the future, we could even be experiencing touch and smell-sensory data through the Internet via an evolved packet-switching technology!

As the Internet grows, the implications of sharing data has also taken on a new meaning. Now, everything on the Internet is at an international level. An electronic mail written in Singapore can easily make its way to Alaska in a matter of split seconds! The world is indeed getting smaller - the virtual world at least. Packet-switching technology will continue to flourish, and we will undoubtedly benefit from it.

References

BitTorrent. (2006, August 15). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 26, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BitTorrent#Downloading_torrents_and_sharing_ files

Howstuffworks: What is a packet? (2000) Retrieved January 26, 2007 from http://computer.howstuffworks.com/question525.htm

Kristula, D. (2001, August). The History of the Internet. Retrieved January 26, 2007 from http://www.davesite.com/webstation/net-history.shtml

Rheingold, H. (2000). The Virtual Community. [Electronic version]. Visionaries and Convergences: The Accidental History of the Net, 3.

Vines, R. (2005). VoIP? Retrieved January 26, 2007 from http://www.geekgirls.com.net_voip.htm

3 comments:

Kevin said...

Well done Graham "Ah Long" Choo. Try fixing some of your in-text citations:

(Howstuffworks: What is a packet?, year?)

(Vines, 2005) comma missing

Good start. You've got the full grade. :)

Graham "Ah Long" Choo said...

Thanks sir, I'll get down to editing it right away. Just a comment that I had some problems writing the blog 'cause i kept pressing "ctrl+s" periodically to save whatever I'd written. And it would publish whenever I did that! Arghh... I had to delete the post several times. Apologies if your RSS reader had problems.

Kevin said...

Graham: Good job! I've given you maximum points for this assignment.

I know that feeling. I would hit Command-S on my Mac and save a bunch of web pages on my desktop accidentally :P