Many people mistakenly believe that Internet was developed in the 1990s. The history of the Internet actually goes much deeper than that. The Internet we use today has evolved over the past 40+ years from a simple communications network to one that spans the globe and includes participants in every country in the world. Many people are also surprised that the Internet started out as a Cold War military project.
The original concept for the Internet was developed in 1962 by Paul Baran of the RAND Corporation. RAND in the 1960s was a Cold War military think tank. RAND was commissioned by the US military to find a way to maintain military communication in the event of a nuclear attack. The idea was to create a network that has no central control that could be targeted in an attack. Baran laid out a plan using packet switching technology to maintain communications through a network of multiple communications paths. The idea for multiple paths allowed communications to continue in the even that any one or more sections of the network were neutralized due to a nuclear blast.
In 1968, a contract was awarded by ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) to a company called BNN to build the first network model, which was then called ARPANET. The original ARPANET used a Honeywell computer to handle the network switching. The original network linked four nodes: the University of California in Santa Barbara, the University of California in Los Angeles, the University of Utah and SRI in Stanford.
A major event in the history of the Internet occurred in 1972 when Ray Tomlinson of BNN developed the first e-mail program. Also in 1972, ARPA changed its name to DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). DARPA and Stanford were collaborating on the development of TCP/IP, which became the main communications protocol for the Internet. TCP/IP was a huge breakthrough because it allowed different types of computers on different networks to communicate with one another. Prior to this breakthrough, computers could only communicate with other computers on the same type of network. The name "Internet" was first used in the development of TCP
In 1976, Dr. Robert Metcalfe of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Facility developed Ethernet, which allowed data to be moved extremely fast. This breakthrough allowed local area networks (LANs) to become practical. Actually, in 1976, extremely fast meant a 56Kbps connection, which is the same speed that most narrowband dial-up connections still operate on due to the limitation of telephone wiring.
In 1983, every computer connected to ARPANET was required to use TCP/IP, which became the core Internet communications protocol. Also in 1983, the University of Wisconsin developed the Domain Name System (DNS), which allowed TCP/IP packs to be delivered to a server representing a domain name. Because the Internet actually operates on IP addresses, domain names must be translated into IP addresses by Domain Name Servers. This made it much easier to remember addresses for different nodes on the Internet.
1984 saw the Internet split into two entities. MIL NET became focused on the needs of the military and military development projects. ARPANET became focused on advanced research. The US Department of Defense continued to fund and support both networks. Also in 1994, the first high-speed Internet backbones were installed by MCI. The new network was called NSFNET (National Science Foundation Network)
In 1985, the first .com domain name was registered by Symbolics, who still uses it today. In 1985, the Internet was strictly a text-based system. There were no images or web sites as we see today. Internet sites consisted of pages of text messages.
In 1990, the US Department of Defense replaced the old ARPANET infrastructure with the the new, high-speed NSFNET backbone. Also in 1990, Tim Berne’s-Lee of CERN began working with a hypertext system that would eventually lead to the creation of the World Wide Web, for which he is best known. Tim Berners-Lee is frequently called the father of the world wide web due to his work in developing the concepts
In 1992, the World Wide Web was introduced by CERN. The World Wide Web incorporated hypertext linking capabilities, a standardized HTML scripting language, standardized resource identifiers (URIs/URLs) and utilized a client-server model for requesting web pages and objects using a hypertext transport protocol (HTTP) model.
In 1993, the National Science Foundation created interNIC, which leads to the implementation of several Internet services, including formalized domain registration services by Network Solutions. Marc Andersen and the University of Illinois introduced Mosaic, the first graphical user interface for the World Wide Web. Andreessen would go on to start Netscape in order to further develop and commercialize the use of browsers. Compuserve and other subscription information services began offering businesses and home users access to the Internet through their information networks.
By 1995, large numbers of users were were joining the Internet community and business began thinking of ways to use the Internet to sell products and services. Since then, the evolution and growth of the Internet has been rapid.
It is important to note that the Internet and the World Wide Web are not really one and the same. The Internet refers to the massive network of networks, which is basically the hardware infrastructure. The World Wide Web is a combination of methods and protocols for accessing the information over the Internet.
How big is the Internet?
No one knows for certain because it is growing so rapidly. Estimates range from 12 billion web documents to over 20 billion. It could actually be much larger than that.
Was the Internet really developed for the US military?
The original concept developed by RAND was for a military communications network. It evolved into more of an academic study involving better ways to communicate information. For many years the Internet was only available to universities and research facilities. There was military funding and research from DARPA, which kept the project alive, so there was a strong military interest as the project evolved through the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s.
There are people who played important roles in the history of the Internet project who say it was not a military project, but that is a bit of a denial regarding where the concept originated and where much of the funding came from. It is safe to say that by the time the concept of the World Wide Web started to emerge, the Internet was no longer a military project.
Internet History Resources