Internet Connection March 1996

Once you have finally configured your Internet Connection software (after a few calls to the tech support center of your Internet Provider!) you have only to click one or two buttons and your surfing the net with the best of them. Depending on what type of software your Internet Provider (IP) offers you for connecting to the Internet, you may even get lucky and not have to call them in the first place. Many Internet Providers offer bundled software at no extra charge that configures everything for you.

Once you are connected, you just launch the software for the task you wish to accomplish. (ie. Netscape to search the Web, Claris emailer for email, and Fetch for FTP, and you’ll be pointing and clicking your way around the net!)

What happens on the other end of the line is what this column is all about. You know the familiar sound your modem makes when you dial in to your IP, but you may be surprised to learn what is going on there that you don’t know about!

Much depends on which IP (Internet Provider) you are using. Some folks are calling locally to a provider right in the same neighborhood, while others are calling a provider located hundreds of miles away. In either case, most people are calling a local number where there are a group of modems, which are connected to the provider’s network.

Let’s back up a few steps and look at how your IP gets connected to the Internet. The Internet is a huge system of fiber optic and other types of cables running all over the world. Much of it was initially paid for, and used by, the Defense Department. Now it’s available to most anyone who can afford to connect to it. Your IP must first shell out some serious capital to get connected. They hire one of the major communication companies, like Sprint or MCI ( I wonder if they can switch back and forth for the $50.00 bucks?) to hook them up to the closest Internet access point via a T1 line. This point is called a node. These nodes are in various places all across the country, and are physically connected to the information superhighway. The difference between T1, T3, and ISDN is bandwidth. Bandwidth is the measurement of how fast and how much data can travel through the lines. T3 has the most bandwidth and ISDN has the least. In any case, all are very expensive!

Once they have this connection, many IP’s install T1 or ISDN lines of their own to different locations to provide local access numbers to a wide variety of people. For example, a provider here in Boston could have a T1 or ISDN line connected to a pool of modems on Cape Cod; this would give all the folks on Cape Cod a local access number to dial into the Internet.

Once the Internet Providers are connected, then they need to have the hardware required to allow you to connect to the Net.

When you dial in the first thing you come across is their modem pool. The more modems they have, the better. Frank Gangi, who runs World Net here in Norwood, is fanatical about having enough modems so that no customer will ever get a busy signal. If the IP is in your area, the modems might be in the same building with all their network computers. However, if you’re using a national provider, the modems (node) are local, but connected to a huge fiber optic line called a T1 or T3 line that connects the modems to their computer, wherever it may be.

Once you are connected, you come across several high powered computers all running different software that controls a different aspect of the Internet. First, there is a router. This is like a switching device that channels information to its proper destination. Then they have a Domain Name Server. (A server is another name for a software program that serves you information). A domain name server acts like directory assistance for the Web. All Web addresses have a numerical equivalent. The addresses you see are only to make them easier to remember and look more attractive. The Internet is actually set up so you must use a numerical address for all sites. This is an automatic function between your browser and the domain name server. Your browser takes the address you type in and “looks up” the numerical address.Then there is the mail server, the newsgroup server, an FTP server, and a Web server.

Here’s how the Web works. A Web page is just a file that is on a computer which runs software to serve your page on the Internet. We’ll use the My Mac site as an example. All the information for this site is on World Net’s computer in Norwood, MA. The first thing you would do is type in our address , then your computer talks to your IP’s Domain Name Server and finds out what our numerical address is. Once your computer has this numerical address it goes through the router, over the Net, and downloads the information necessary to view our site. Your Web browser reads the information and displays the page.

The other types of programs; for example, FTP, email, newsgroups, etc., all work basically the same way. Once you are connected to the network, your software goes through your router to the corresponding software on another computer anywhere in the world. As long as you type the correct address, and the computer you are trying to reach is turned on, connected to the Net and working correctly, you should be able to connect without any difficulty.

As more and more Internet Providers start up businesses the rates we pay will continue to fall. Don’t settle for an IP that doesn’t give you unlimited time on line, or at least more than you need. And make sure the software they provide is adequate, and more importantly, Free!

Next month we will look into domain name service. Many Internet Providers let you use your special domain name for a small fee. So instead of your site having an address like this: http://www.theircomputer/yourname/home.html, you can have whatever you like such as . We’ll also answer any question we have created with this month’s column. Please write in if you have any questions, and have fun surfing the Net!


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