Who controls this web, this cloud, this network of networks? Well, no one, really. The Internet seems to be both institutional and anti-institutional at the same time, massive and intimate, organized and chaotic. In a sense the Internet is an international cooperative endeavor, with its member networks kicking in money, hardware, maintenance, and technical expertise.
The U.S. government has had a big influence on the federally funded parts of the Internet. The National Science Foundation (NSF), as mentioned, initiated the NSFNET in the mid 1980s, a nationwide backbone in the United States that connected many mid-level networks, which in turn connected universities and other organizations. At the time of this writing, the NSFNET production backbone is being phased out and connectivity will be offered by other providers, including commercial networks, in the near future. But you may still hear people refer to the NSF and its influence on the Internet. The NSF funds an experimental high-speed network and will continue to provide funding for a short time to assist universities and schools in getting Internet connections.
Explaining the magic of networks, Mike Bookey of Digital Network Architects asks you to imagine a car plunked down in the jungle. Checking it out, you might find it a very useful piece of equipment indeed. A multipurpose wonder, it would supply lights, bedding, radio communications, tape player, heat, air conditioning, a shield against arrows and bullets, and a loud horn to frighten away fierce animals. In awe of the features of this machine, you might never realize that the real magic of a car comes in conjunction with asphalt.
For the first 10 years of the personal computer era, according to Bookey, we have used our computers like cars in the jungle. We have plumbed their powers for processing words and numbers. All too often, home computers have ended up in the closet unused. We have often failed to recognize that most of the magic of computing stems from the exponential benefits of interconnection.
The standards process of the Internet is more centralized, but no less exciting. Development and improvement of TCP/IP protocols is sanctioned by the Internet Society (ISOC), a nonprofit professional organization run by its members (both individuals and organizations in various communities, including academic, scientific, and engineering). ISOC is dedicated to encouraging cooperation among computer networks to enable a global research communications infrastructure. The society sponsors several groups that determine the needs of the Internet and propose solutions to meet them. One of these groups is the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), which provides direction to two principal task forces: the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF). The IETF is concerned with operational and technical issues of the Internet, and the IRTF is involved in research and development matters.
Anyone interested in promoting the Internet can become involved in ISOC. Similarly, anyone with great ideas for protocol development and improvement can join the IETF. All you need is desire, the ability to travel to meetings three times a year, and the willingness to volunteer your time in working groups.
Of particular interest to business users are the commercial Internet providers that have sprouted up around the world—in the United States, companies such as UUNET Communications Services, Performance Systems International (PSI), Advanced Network & Services, Inc., Sprintlink, NETCOM On-line Communications Services, and the California Education and Research Federation Network (CERFnet). Many of the commercial networks, such as UUNET, PSI, Sprintlink, and CERFnet, have interconnected their backbone networks to form the Commercial Internet Exchange, or the CIX (pronounced "kicks"). In addition to connecting organizations' networks, all of these commercial providers offer users with modem-equipped PCs and Macs individual access to the Internet. The United States is not the only place where commercial Internet providers have appeared. Quite a few commercial ventures have sprouted up in Australia, Europe, and Japan, for example.
Other projects have the interests of businesses in mind. These include the Enterprise Integration Network (EINet), spearheaded by Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCIC). EINet offers value-added services, creating an infrastructure purely in support of business and commercial applications. EINet addresses sensitive and complex issues that face organizations who do business online, including security and enhanced electronic mail services.
Another group interested in electronic commerce on the Internet is CommerceNet, a coalition of Silicon Valley (Northern California) organizations. CommerceNet's focus is on commercial use of the Internet, with an emphasis on reliability, security, and ease of use. The coalition hopes to accomplish these goals by developing protocols that address business requirements. Third-party providers can then develop business applications based on these protocols.
(See the Appendix for information about contacting these organizations.)
As you can imagine, with all the people, networks, and government agencies participating in the Internet, there are bound to be rules, restrictions, and policies for parts of it. Probably the best-known document outlining some rules is NSFNET's Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), which basically states that transmission of "commercial" information or traffic (any for-profit activities) is not allowed across the NSFNET backbone, whereas all information in support of academic and research activities is acceptable.
The NSF's AUP is rapidly becoming a non-issue as the networking landscape changes in the United States; the NSFNET production backbone is being phased out, and all the mid-level networks will be obtaining Internet connectivity from other providers. Then it won't matter what type of traffic is sent across it—commercial, research, or academic. But you will probably hear the NSF AUP referenced from time to time, so it's good to know the history behind it.
The situation is changing in places, but the country or network where you get your Internet access may have specific restrictions (such as no commercial use) and acceptable use guidelines (for research and education use only). The Internet as a whole continues to move to support—or at least to allow access to—more and more commercial activity. Users may have to deal with some conflicting policies while that process evolves, but at some point in the near Internet future, free enterprise will likely prevail, and commercial activity will have a defined place, making the whole issue moot. In the meantime, if you're planning to use the Internet for commercial reasons, make sure that the networks you're using support your kind of activity.
Even though the Internet is becoming more commercial, there are still "unwritten" laws that frown upon certain activities, such as direct email advertising. Chapters 3 and 5 discuss some common mistakes to avoid if you're planning on using the Internet for business.
You'll soon learn how to plunge into the Internet, but before then—as with almost any new adventure in a foreign land—you'll need to acquire a bit of new vocabulary. The basic concepts are simple, and because the network protocols do much of the work, you don't have to become an Internet wizard to travel its highways and byways.
If you've ever traveled in a country where you couldn't read the street signs or figure out how they numbered the houses, you'll understand the wisdom of learning the Internet's name and address system. Most computers on the Internet can be identified in two ways. Each computer, or host, has a name and a numerical address (both unique), just as most of us can be located by our names or numerically by our phone numbers. It's easier to remember a name than a phone number, and it's the same on the Internet. An Internet computer name is usually several words separated by periods, such as planet10.yoyodyne.com. An Internet address—technically an IP address—is four numbers also separated by periods, for example, 126.96.36.199.
When you're saying these names and addresses out loud, you should substitute "dot" for "period" to sound as though you belong. This is known as dotspeak, and there's a whole lot of it in the Internet. In the examples above, you would say "planet10 dot yoyodyne dot com" and "161 dot 44 dot 128 dot 70."
The idea is for people to use the computers' names when accessing resources, and to let the computers and routers work with the IP addresses. Each Internet-connected organization keeps a database of the names and addresses of all the computers connected to its own networks. Because there are so many computers on the Internet and there is no real central authority, name assignment is best left to the local networks. Imagine if everyone had to get their new phone numbers from Washington, D.C.!
Actually, if you need to register for an IP network number or a domain name (explained below), you'll get close to D.C. The InterNIC Registration Services, run by Network Solutions, Inc., of Herndon, Virginia, provides a central registering authority in the United States for organizations' second-level domain names and network numbers. The InterNIC also registers countries' top-level contact information. Each organization or country then assumes responsibility for assigning names and numbers to its computers.
There are registries for Canada, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Australia [[ link 1--- link 2--- link 3--- link 4--- link 5--- ]] (see the Appendix for contact information). If you're outside the United States, you can contact the U.S. InterNIC, which will forward your request to your country's registration services. You can also query the InterNIC's WHOIS database to find out the contact yourself. Chapter 5 explains how to do this.
If you're an individual user with a PC or Mac and a modem, you don't have to worry about registering anything; your Internet provider will take care of that for you. The InterNIC does more than register networks and domains, though; Chapter 5 explains about other InterNIC offerings, including user services, resource guides, and training. See the Appendix for InterNIC contact information.
So how does this hostname/IP address stuff work? Suppose you want to learn your way around the subway system of major cities. There's a Subway Navigator on the metro.jussieu.fr computer to which you can connect using the remote login tool (you'll learn about Telnet in Chapter 4, but the exact command is telnet metro.jussieu.fr 10000). Before you can access this service, a database in France is consulted to find out the IP address of that computer. The address (not the name) is passed on to the routers so that they can make the connection. This is done quickly, automatically, and transparently to you.
Why, then, do you need to know about IP addresses when the system was designed so that you shouldn't ever need to concern yourself with them? The answer, as you may suspect, is that things don't always work perfectly, and there may come a time when you will need to know an IP address to access a resource. For this reason, many resources are often listed with the computer's name and its IP address. The recommended practice is always to use the computer name, since IP numbers—like telephone numbers—can change, while names tend to stay the same.
For those occasions when you need to get a computer's IP address, you might be able to look it up yourself using a "directory assistance" tool like nslookup and dig. To use either, just invoke them with the name of the computer. For example, nslookup glas.apc.org will return the IP address: 188.8.131.52, or the command dig mtv.com will return 184.108.40.206 (unless those numbers have changed, which is entirely possible).
Copyright © 1994 by Tracy LaQuey and Editorial Inc.