How Does the Internet Work?

Last Updated: April 17, 2019By


The internet has two main components – the hardware and the protocols. The hardware includes cables that carry data, radios, routers, satellites, servers, Smartphones, mobile phone towers, and other devices. These devices together form a network of networks. The internet is a flexible system. Although elements leave and join networks around the world, the internet doesn’t change significantly. Some of those elements are more peripheral, while others form the internet’s backbone and may remain quite static.

These elements are connections, and some of them are endpoints such as Smartphones, computers or other devices you are using. Those are called endpoints clients. The devices that store the data you are looking for online are called servers. Nodes are an element that acts as a connecting point along a traffic route. There are transmission lines that can be wireless signals from 4G towers satellites, radios or mobile phones. Transmission lines can be physical too. Examples include fiber optics and cables.

The internet wouldn’t work on hardware alone. It needs protocols, the sets of rules that devices follow to complete a task. If there’s no universal set of protocols that all devices connected to the internet should follow, communication between devices could not occur. The devices would not be able to send data in a meaningful manner or even understand each other. The protocols provide both a common language and the method for devices to use to transmit information.


There are different protocols on the internet. If you are using an FTP server, you are using the file transfer protocol. Hypertext transfer protocol is used to view websites through a browser. Remember the “HTTP” at the front of the website address? That’s what the hypertext transfer protocol is all about. Protocols form the framework within that all devices should follow to be part of the internet. The IP (Internet Protocol) and TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) are two of the most important protocols. These protocols set the rules for how data passes through the internet. If these rules don’t exist, you’d need direct connections to other devices to access the data stored in them. You also need both the target computer and your computer to comprehend a common language.

Perhaps you are already familiar with IP addresses. All devices connected to the internet have an IP address. These addresses follow the IP and allow machines to find each other through the extensive network. The IP version that’s commonly used today is IPv4. It’s based on a 32-bit address system, but there is a big concern about this system. There’s not enough IP address to meet the growing demand. In 1991, the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) decided that developing a new IP version is needed to create more addresses to meet the demand. The IP version that was made was IPv6, which is based on a 128-bit address system. This development created enough addresses to meet the increasing demand for internet access.

The TCP sorts out how data packets move back and forth between from one computer to another. It determines how to get the information from the source to its destination. The TCP arranges for the data to be broken into several packets, transmitted and rearranged into the right order once it reaches its destination.

TCP/IP protocols allow you to retrieve information from or send a message to another computer. Requests go out over the network and hit the DNS (domain name servers) to locate the target server. The domain name servers point the request in the proper direction. When the target server gets the request, it sends a response back to the user’s computer. The information might travel a different path to return to you. This approach is one of the reasons why the internet is a powerful tool.

How Data Travels Across the Internet

If you are wondering how data travel across the internet, it all starts when you open your web browser and connect to a website. Your computer sends an electronic request to your ISP or internet service provider, which then routes the request to another server on the internet. The request will eventually hit a DNS. The server will find a match for the domain name you have entered. If a match is found, your request will be directed to the IP address of the right server. In case a match is not found, your request will be sent further up the chain to another server with more data.

The requested data will be sent in a series of packets, portions of a file that are 1,000 to 1,500 bytes in size. Packets have footers and headers that tell the computer what it contains and how the data fits with other packets to form a complete file. These packets travel back to your computer. Not all packets take the same part. They will usually travel the path with least resistance. Since packets can travel different paths to reach their destination, data may route around crowded areas on the internet. As long as there is still some connection, data could travel from one path to another. However, it would take longer for the information you need to arrive.

When the packets reach their destination, your computer arranges them based on the rules set by the protocols. The process is the same for emails. Phone calls done online also convert conversations into several packets using VoIP or voice over Internet protocol.


The internet moves data or computerized information from place to another. The devices that comprise the internet treat all the data they handle in the same way. The internet doesn’t focus on one type of data and doesn’t specialize in chat messages, emails, or web pages. All data is passed on and managed in the same manner. The internet can be used to run new apps like Skype. When the app was made, the developers didn’t need to rebuild the entire internet. They only had to write a program that is capable of turning speech into internet data or computerized information and back again.