Internet Primer

Table of Contents


Image of the Internet Backbone 

The Internet

Imposing isn't it? This is a pictorial representation of the links between computers that make up a part of the Internet. The points on the map are clusters of computers such as those at BGSU. The points above the map are large computers whose task it is to act as hubs to pass the communication packets around the internet. The lines between these points are the pathways that connect computers together. The heaviest of these lines, the ones that pass between the large points above the map, are what is know as a backbone. This backbone is the main conduit for the communications packets that make the Internet what it is in North America. This is not by any means the whole Internet, it is only a graphical representation of North America's piece of the Internet. 

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Network Protocols

When you connect to the Internet and utilize an application such as a world wide web browser you are communicating over what is called a packet switching network. The internet takes the data that you are sending and chops it up into bite sized chunks that are addressed with the senders and recipients internet addresses. These packets then make their way out across the internet and hopefully reach their destination. Replies to these packets retrace the course of the ones first sent and return to your computer. This process is all seamlessly implemented by the internet and your internet client program. 

This Packet switching network called the Internet is governed by a host of rules that tell the hardware and software of the Internet how to handle each and every packet it encounters. These rules or protocols tell each software and hardware system how to interact with the other parts of the internet near it. 

One example of a protocol that you may be familiar with is the PPP, or Point to Point Protocol. This is the method that the majority of WCIC clients use to connect to the internet. This protocol allows a high speed modem to call in over standard phone lines and make a network connection to the wcic terminal server xyplex. This network protocol allows you to see the world wide web in all its glory, graphics and all. 

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Internet domains are an addressing scheme meant to make the Internet address a little more user friendly than it actually is. Lets take the case of our familiar wcnet.org address. The address takes the form of a series of letters separated into parts by periods. In our case the two parts of the domain name are wcnet and org. The domain name is split up in this manner to allow anyone on the internet to find a new Internet address. The org part of the address stands for organization and is a domain that is reserved for not-for-profit organizations. Another top level domain is com this domain stands for commercial and is the realm of the business internet site. Each domain maintains a list of the domains one level directly under it. So the org domain maintains a list of all sites that have two parts and end in org. Each domain in that list maintains a list of the domains one level under them and so on. With this addressing scheme it is possible for local systems to make changes in the structure of the internet and to have those changes implemented immediately over the entire internet addressing scheme. 

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E-mail is often one of the first ways that we interact with the internet at large. It is a method of sending "private" messages over the internet network, much in the same manner that you might post a letter to a friend using the US postal service. There are two major differences, however, between the US postal service and Internet E-mail: Internet e-mail is free and you don't have to cut down trees to use it. All you need to send e-mail is access to an e-mail account and the address of the recipient. If you have an account with the WCIC freenet then you have an e-mail account. Your address is in the form of jpublic@wcnet.org. This address is separated into two parts by the "@" symbol. The part to the left of the "@" is the name of the email account on the machine that is addressed by the part of the address to the right of the "@" symbol. In the case above we have an e-mail account named jpublic at a domain called wcnet.org. 

E-mail can provide a number of varied services, many of which are unknown to the majority of users. It can, of course, be used to send a single private message to a friend cross town or across the globe. There are email interfaces to WAIS databases and to ARCHIE. There are mailing lists that copy the messages that you send to the list and distribute them to everyone else who is also on the list, sort of a mass mailing for the internet. These mailing lists generally have topics and people who are on the list are always there by choice. It is is extremely rude to include someone on a mailing list against their wishes or to make an unsolicited mass mailing. 

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World Wide Web

The popularity of the world wide web or WWW or web, as I will refer to it in the future, is probably responsible for the phenomenal growth in the Internet today. The web is a system, or structure, that allows users to navigate a vast array of electronic documents at the click of a mouse. These documents are published on machines all over the globe using a kind of programming language called HTML or Hyper Text Markup Language. This language is descended from the markup languages originally used for the first computerized type-setting systems in the printing industry. The web can be seen as a series of pages that are linked together at a great many points. A user may choose one link and be connected to the home page of one of our clients at wcic freenet such as the one found at http://www.wcnet.org/~cobee/  or to a search engine such as Yahoo. These pages are linked to this document and you may access them just by clicking on the link. This process of moving over the links of the web is sometimes called "surfing the web." It usually means a sort of wandering progression where you simply follow your nose and look for things of interest. There is a vast array of information out on the web and it grows and changes everyday. 

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Usenet Newsgroups

The Usenet Newsgroups are a messaging system that incorporates a myriad of topics: 4000 different ones and growing every day. These newsgroups are a way for a large number of people to interact in the same set of conversations all with common threads. Here at the WCIC freenet we have a few special newsgroups just for our use. All of these are under the top level name of wcnet and take the form of wcnet.general, wcnet.announce, ect. All of the usenet newsgroups take this general form. The main top level groups in the newsgroups are: rec for recreational, alt for alternative, misc for miscellaneous, comp for computer, bit for bitnet. These top level groups are further divided into sub groups and so on until you come to an actual message area. In the case of the Usenet newsgroup dedicated to the New Orleans Saints football team the news group is called alt.sports.pro.football.no-saints. This shows how complicated the names can get. 

This form of messaging can be a wild and woolly place. The Usenet newsgroups are a, largely, uncontrolled media where a lot of material of questionable content can be found. Parents may want to monitor the usenet newsgroups that young children access. Fortunately the names of the usenet newsgroups are pretty specific. There is little question that a newsgroup named alt.sex.erotica may be unfit for young children. 

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File Transfer Protocol

FTP is the copy command of the internet. It's a little more complicated than that because of the slightly more complicated nature of the internet. There are two sorts of FTP. First the is the sort of FTP that allows you to upload your web page to your public_html directory. This sort of connection is one that you can make through the wcnet machine to your own account space. It requires that you know your username and your password. The other type is called anonymous ftp. With anonymous ftp you can logon to a computer that allows this sort of connection by typing in a username of anonymous and the password being your username e.g.. jpublic@wcnet.org. This sort of connection allows you to peruse the collection of files found on anonymous ftp servers around the world. If you want a place to start, you might try the software collection at oak.oakland.edu, a truly enormous ftp site. Be aware that if you access these sites using the ftp available over the wcic terminal connection, you will be required to master a few ftp commands. The essentials are: 
cd (directory name) 
"change directory" where (directory name) is name of the directory that you wish to change to. Remember that the vast majority of anonymous servers are unix systems and the two directories "mydir" and "Mydir" are two completely different directories. In other words, case matters. The majority of files available for download are found in the "pub" directory. 
cd .. 
"change to the parent directory" just like the regular cd command except that the two periods mean the directory directly above the current directory. 
"directory" this command lists the contents of the current directory. 
get (filename) 
"download a file" where (filename) is the name of the file you want to download. 
send (filename) 
"upload a file" where (filename) is the name of the file you wish to upload. 
"end you FTP session" This function is used when you wish to terminate the FTP connection. 
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Telnet is the terminal emulation of the internet. It allows PPP users to login to the wcnet machine directly and it allows all users to login to computer systems across the globe. To logon to another computer system you will most likely need an account on that machine. In some cases the username guest, with the password guest, is a valid combination. Other systems may in some way publish a guest account and password. The use of a telnet client is mostly used to logon to the WCIC freenet machine to change your password. 

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Internet Relay Chat

The IRC networks that dominate the chat scene are Dalnet, Effnet, and Undernet. These are all large chat networks where live interactive chat can be found at any hour of the day or night. In fact, the night is probably the busiest time. Like the Usnet Newsgroups, IRC is an area of very little control and in the opinion of myself, chris obee, it is the place on the internet most likely to pose serious threats to the safety of children. The interactive nature of IRC allows unscrupulous characters to solicit private information from a user while easily posing as a non-threatening character. This, perhaps, overstates the threat of IRC; it is mostly a place of silly inconsequential chat. There have been serious uses applied to IRC. During some natural disasters, and other world wide events, IRC can be a source of the very latest breaking news. 

IF you have a desire to use the IRC networks, do yourself a favor and look for the mIRC shareware IRC client. 

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Gopher was the original point and click interface of the internet. It has now been largely replaced by the world wide web. Gopher servers still survive around the world but the majority of new information being put on the Internet is being served by http web servers. Gopher is a text based rodent oriented interface meant to permit easy access to a large number of text documents. It still serves this purpose to some extent as most web browsers are perfectly happy accessing gopher servers. This backwards capability means that the information on the gopher network need not be moved to a web environment to be accessible. Thus, there is no need to migrate the text documents currently being maintained by gopher servers to web servers. 

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Veronica is a gopher space search engine. The Veronica search engine can search all known gopher servers for key words, names of directories or the like. Veronica, since it is part of the nearly defunct gopher network is now nearly defunct itself. 

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Archie is the precursor of the web based software search engine. Archie's purpose is to keep track of the location of all the files on the Internet that are available by anonymous FTP. The archie server cataloged files by name and description and made it possible for a user to search by keyword or filename. Archie then returned a list with associated locations for matches to the search criteria. One of the nice features of archie is the e-mail interface. It allows users to mail in their archie search queries and receive results by return e-mail. 

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WAIS stands for Wide Area Information Server. This is a distributed system database. That is to say that the information available to be searched is contained in many different systems. The advantage of a WAIS database over a gopher site or an achie index is that the documents themselves can be searched for their content as well as for their title or description. The archie system and veronica gopher search engine could never look inside a document for a keyword. This works much the same way that the web based search engines work. Multiple hits are recorded when a document has many repetitions of the same search term within it. WAIS, like veronica and archie, has been hit hard by the proliferation of the World wide web. 

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Universal Resource Locator

The URL or Universal Resource Locator is the a combination of three things. First let us consider a simple URL: 


Lets look at the URL one part at a time. The first part of the URL indicates the protocol to be used. In this case it's http, which is the protocol of the world wide web. Some other possible protocols are telnet, news or gopher. The second part of the URL is the domain name of the server where the document is located. In this case, www.wcnet.org indicates our WCIC freenet world wide web server. The next part is a file name. Here the file is ~cobee/saints.html, telling the computer it's in the account of cobee, with a name of saints.html and is an html document. The Universal resource locator is a very complete way of specifying all the information that is needed to manage the complexities of accessing a file on the Internet today. 

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