How Does the Internet Work?

Though most of us know what the Internet is and can browse and chat without much trouble, we may still be unaware of how the Internet really works or may still be unfamiliar with the meanings of the terms, which are used so frequently in connection with the Internet.

Some people I have come into contact with know more about browsing or chatting than I do, but get all confused when asked about their modem type or their ISP’s (Internet service provider) proxy settings. So what, you ask, as long as I can chat and browse and send my emails, why on earth should I worry about the behind-the-scenes workings of the Internet?

Well, you are right but imagine when the day you log on and are unable to browse, you call your ISP’s helpline and are told that you better change the port of the proxy server. Now what? How, for heaven’s sake, do you change the port and what difference does it make? Chances are you will find the experience very frustrating if you do not already know how to change the ports or where to put the server settings.

For that, it is important that you learn a few basic things about the Internet and how it works. In simple terms, roughly an ordinary user would need four things to get connected; namely a computer, a phone line, a modem, and an Internet account with some ISP. You have those four things and no one can stop you from getting on to the Internet. But there are some more things that you better know if you plan to use the Internet for more than one day. These are mail servers such as SMTP and POP, DNS and proxy server, the types of modems, and the protocols.


Let us start with the modem, one device you must-have if you want to get on the Net. The modem is a connecting device, which dials up the ISP’s number for you, contacts the modem at your ISP’s end, and gets you connected to the Internet. There are a few other ways to get connected but here we are talking about an ordinary user like you and me, and it’s better to stick to the most common methods of getting online.

There are two common types of modems, internal and external. Internal modems are not very easy to configure yourself because they are plugged into a slot inside your computer. Therefore most people would leave the job to some computer expert. They are cheaper but slower than the external modem. Because they are neatly hidden inside tour computer, there are no extra cables to worry about.

External modems, on the other hand, are faster and are separate devices, which can be plugged in and out of your computer easily as they are visible to the naked eye. They can be installed by the user himself and are easy to manage. Though they are slightly higher in the price they still have an edge over the internal ones in most other aspects.


Now of course you know who a service provider is, still for a layman it is important to know why we need an ISP and what role do they play in the quality of our connection. The Internet service providers can be a big company with several local and foreign offices or it may be a small organization with a local presence only. But that is not the only thing that matters, the most important thing is the quality of the connection you are provided with, and by that, I mean the speed at which you can surf the Net and the price you are charged to do so.

Also do not forget the fact that there are many an ISP who because of a very large number of users fail to get you connected at first attempt. Sometimes you have to dial up their number more than once because you are either getting a busy line or if you get connected you fail to browse because of heavy traffic at their server. Do find out more and more about an ISP and the quality of their service before you become their customer.


Servers are nothing but computers with more space and power than your ordinary desktop. They are present at your ISP’s end and they contact the sites for you when you send a request. Now let’s get into more details when you dial up the number of your ISP, you are actually sending a request to your service provider to connect you to the Net. The request meets the server at the other end, where your user name and password are present in a database. The user name and password you provide are looked up in the database and if they match, you get the permission to get online. Otherwise, you will receive an error message.

Once that has been done, you start browsing. When you type the address of the site you wish to see, the server is sent a request, which it acknowledged and goes on a search for you, gets the file and download it on your PC.

Proxy server on the other hand is present to help the main server. It is present between your computer and the main server. Most of the sites especially the frequently visited ones have been cached on this server and this enables you to get the file you requested for faster. Proxy server shares the load with the main server so that the main server can work even when the traffic is at its peak.


Mail servers, as the name suggests, are servers that are responsible for sending and receiving your emails for you. They are different from the other servers mentioned above, your password for this can be entirely different from your dial-up password though username would remain the same. There are some people who are more interested in email than the Internet on the whole. These people would limit their account to Emails only, which means that though they can send and receive their emails, they are allowed to do nothing more.

But even if you do not specifically buy only an email account, you will always get an email account; as soon as you subscribe to particular ISP. Email is always a part of the whole package being offered by your ISP. Now whether you use it or not is entirely up to you, because in case you are in a habit of switching from one ISP to another, its better you don’t use this email address and stick to web based email account.

But if you do plan to use this email account which sure has its advantages, you are required to use mail server settings. Your ISP is bound to tell you about what those settings are but you will have to manually put them in your Email software. There are two different addresses usually, one for sending mail (SMTP SERVER) and another for receiving mails (POP SERVER). Outgoing mails would use SMTP server settings while incoming will have to pass through POP or the latest POP3 server settings. Their addresses vary from ISP to ISP but the format will always be something like;, where candy is the server’s user-friendly name and, is your ISP’s name.


TCP/IP protocol is a software that not only helps you get connected but also understands NET language which otherwise would have been extremely difficult. Often when you encounter a problem in your connection, your ISP will want to know if TCP/IP is configured properly on your system. TCP/IP is the protocol for the Internet. TCP/IP has different layers each performing specific tasks from setting up the connection and checking the hardware to receiving and decoding data.

This software will be installed automatically on your computer if you are using Windows 95 or later. But with older versions, you will have to install the software yourself. All you must know about this protocol is how to find out whether TCP/IP is installed or not. This you can do by typing “ping” on command prompt: if you get a response it means TCP/IP is installed and is working properly.

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