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History of the Internet

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The concept of data communication - transmitting data between two different places, connected via some kind of electromagnetic medium, such as radio or an electrical wire - actually predates the introduction of the first computers. Such communication systems were typically limited to point to point communication between two end devices. Telegraph systems and telex machines can be considered early precursors of this kind of communication. The earlier computers used the technology available at the time to allow communication between the central processing unit and remote terminals. As the technology evolved new systems were devised to allow communication over longer distances (for terminals) or with higher speed (for interconnection of local devices) that were necessary for the mainframe computer model. Using these technologies it was possible to exchange data (such as files) between remote computers. However, the point to point communication model was limited, as it did not allow for direct communication between any two arbitrary systems; a physical link was necessary. The technology was also deemed as inherently unsafe for strategic and military use, because there were no alternative paths for the communication in case of an enemy attack.

As a response, several research programs started to explore and articulate principles of communications between physically separate systems, leading to the development of the packet switching model of digital networking. These research efforts included those of the laboratories of Vinton G. Cerf at Stanford University, Donald Davies ( NPL), Paul Baran ( RAND Corporation), and Leonard Kleinrock at MIT and at UCLA. The research led to the development of several packet-switched networking solutions in the late 1960s and 1970s, including ARPANET, Telenet, and the X.25 protocols. Additionally, public access and hobbyist networking systems grew in popularity, including unix-to-unix copy (UUCP) and FidoNet. They were however still disjointed separate networks, served only by limited gateways between networks. This led to the application of packet switching to develop a protocol for internetworking, where multiple different networks could be joined together into a super-framework of networks. By defining a simple common network system, the Internet Protocol Suite, the concept of the network could be separated from its physical implementation. This spread of internetworking began to form into the idea of a global network that would be called the Internet, based on standardized protocols officially implemented in 1982. Adoption and interconnection occurred quickly across the advanced telecommunication networks of the western world, and then began to penetrate into the rest of the world as it became the de-facto international standard for the global network. However, the disparity of growth between advanced nations and the third-world countries led to a digital divide that is still a concern today.

Following commercialization and introduction of privately run Internet service providers in the 1980s, and the Internet's expansion for popular use in the 1990s, the Internet has had a drastic impact on culture and commerce. This includes the rise of near instant communication by electronic mail (e-mail), text based discussion forums, and the World Wide Web. Investor speculation in new markets provided by these innovations would also lead to the inflation and subsequent collapse of the Dot-com bubble. But despite this, the Internet continues to grow, driven by commerce, greater amounts of online information and knowledge and social networking known as Web 2.0.

Three terminals and an ARPA

In the 1950s and early 1960s, before the widespread inter-networking that led to the Internet, most communication networks were limited in that they only allowed communications between the stations on the network. Some networks had gateways or bridges between them, but these bridges were often limited or built specifically for a single use. One prevalent computer networking method was based on the central mainframe method, simply allowing its terminals to be connected via long leased lines. This method was used in the 1950s by Project RAND to support researchers such as Herbert Simon, at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when collaborating across the continent with researchers in Sullivan, Illinois, on automated theorem proving and artificial intelligence.

A fundamental pioneer in the call for a global network, J.C.R. Licklider, articulated the ideas in his January 1960 paper, Man-Computer Symbiosis.

"A network of such [computers], connected to one another by wide-band communication lines [which provided] the functions of present-day libraries together with anticipated advances in information storage and retrieval and [other] symbiotic functions."
—J.C.R. Licklider, 

In August, 1962, Licklider and Welden Clark published the paper "On-Line Man Computer Communication", one of the first descriptions of a networked future.

In October, 1962, Licklider was hired by Jack Ruina as Director of the newly established IPTO within DARPA, with a mandate to interconnect the United States Department of Defense's main computers at Cheyenne Mountain, the Pentagon, and SAC HQ. There he formed an informal group within DARPA to further computer research. He began by writing memos describing a distributed network to the IPTO staff, whom he called "Members and Affiliates of the Intergalactic Computer Network". As part of the information processing office's role, three network terminals had been installed: one for System Development Corporation in Santa Monica, one for Project Genie at the University of California, Berkeley and one for the Compatible Time-Sharing System project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Licklider's identified need for inter-networking would be made obvious by the apparent waste of resources this caused.

"For each of these three terminals, I had three different sets of user commands. So if I was talking online with someone at S.D.C. and I wanted to talk to someone I knew at Berkeley or M.I.T. about this, I had to get up from the S.D.C. terminal, go over and log into the other terminal and get in touch with them. [...] I said, it's obvious what to do (But I don't want to do it): If you have these three terminals, there ought to be one terminal that goes anywhere you want to go where you have interactive computing. That idea is the ARPAnet."
Robert W. Taylor, co-writer with Licklider of "The Computer as a Communications Device", in an interview with the New York Times, 

Although he left the IPTO in 1964, five years before the ARPANET went live, it was his vision of universal networking that provided the impetus that led his successors such as Lawrence Roberts and Robert Taylor to further the ARPANET development. Licklider later returned to lead the IPTO in 1973 for two years.

Packet switching

At the tip of the problem lay the issue of connecting separate physical networks to form one logical network. During the 1960s, Paul Baran ( RAND Corporation), produced a study of survivable networks for the US military. Information transmitted across Baran's network would be divided into what he called 'message-blocks'. Independently, Donald Davies ( National Physical Laboratory, UK), proposed and developed a similar network based on what he called packet-switching, the term that would ultimately be adopted. Leonard Kleinrock (MIT) developed mathematical theory behind this technology. Packet-switching provides better bandwidth utilization and response times than the traditional circuit-switching technology used for telephony, particularly on resource-limited interconnection links.

Packet switching is a rapid store-and-forward networking design that divides messages up into arbitrary packets, with routing decisions made per-packet. Early networks used message switched systems that required rigid routing structures prone to single point of failure. This led Tommy Krash and Paul Baran's US Military funded research to focus on using message-blocks to include network redundancy, which in turn led to the widespread urban legend that the Internet was designed to resist nuclear attack.

Networks that led to the Internet


Len Kleinrock and the first Interface Message Processor.

Promoted to the head of the information processing office at DARPA, Robert Taylor intended to realize Licklider's ideas of an interconnected networking system. Bringing in Larry Roberts from MIT, he initiated a project to build such a network. The first ARPANET link was established between the University of California, Los Angeles and the Stanford Research Institute on 22:30 hours on October 29, 1969.

"We set up a telephone connection between us and the guys at SRI...," Kleinrock ... said in an interview: "We typed the L and we asked on the phone,  :"Do you see the L?"  :"Yes, we see the L," came the response.  :"We typed the O, and we asked, "Do you see the O."  :"Yes, we see the O."  :"Then we typed the G, and the system crashed... Yet a revolution had begun"....

By December 5, 1969, a 4-node network was connected by adding the University of Utah and the University of California, Santa Barbara. Building on ideas developed in ALOHAnet, the ARPANET grew rapidly. By 1981, the number of hosts had grown to 213, with a new host being added approximately every twenty days.

ARPANET became the technical core of what would become the Internet, and a primary tool in developing the technologies used. ARPANET development was centered around the Request for Comments (RFC) process, still used today for proposing and distributing Internet Protocols and Systems. RFC 1, entitled "Host Software", was written by Steve Crocker from the University of California, Los Angeles, and published on April 7, 1969. These early years were documented in the 1972 film Computer Networks: The Heralds of Resource Sharing.

International collaborations on ARPANET were sparse. For various political reasons, European developers were concerned with developing the X.25 networks. Notable exceptions were the Norwegian Seismic Array ( NORSAR) in 1972, followed in 1973 by Sweden with satellite links to the Tanum Earth Station and Peter Kirstein's research group in the UK, initially at the Institute of Computer Science, London University and later at University College London.

X.25 and public access

Based on ARPA's research, packet switching network standards were developed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in the form of X.25 and related standards. While using packet switching, X.25 is built on the concept of virtual circuits emulating traditional telephone connections. In 1974, X.25 formed the basis for the SERCnet network between British academic and research sites, which later became JANET. The initial ITU Standard on X.25 was approved in March 1976.

The British Post Office, Western Union International and Tymnet collaborated to create the first international packet switched network, referred to as the International Packet Switched Service (IPSS), in 1978. This network grew from Europe and the US to cover Canada, Hong Kong and Australia by 1981. By the 1990s it provided a worldwide networking infrastructure.

Unlike ARPANET, X.25 was commonly available for business use. Telenet offered its Telemail electronic mail service, which was also targeted to enterprise use rather than the general email system of the ARPANET.

The first public dial-in networks used asynchronous TTY terminal protocols to reach a concentrator operated in the public network. Some networks, such as CompuServe, used X.25 to multiplex the terminal sessions into their packet-switched backbones, while others, such as Tymnet, used proprietary protocols. In 1979, CompuServe became the first service to offer electronic mail capabilities and technical support to personal computer users. The company broke new ground again in 1980 as the first to offer real-time chat with its CB Simulator. Other major dial-in networks were America Online (AOL) and Prodigy that also provided communications, content, and entertainment features. Many bulletin board system (BBS) networks also provided on-line access, such as FidoNet which was popular amongst hobbyist computer users, many of them hackers and amateur radio operators.


In 1979, two students at Duke University, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis, came up with the idea of using simple Bourne shell scripts to transfer news and messages on a serial line with nearby University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Following public release of the software, the mesh of UUCP hosts forwarding on the Usenet news rapidly expanded. UUCPnet, as it would later be named, also created gateways and links between FidoNet and dial-up BBS hosts. UUCP networks spread quickly due to the lower costs involved, ability to use existing leased lines, X.25 links or even ARPANET connections, and the lack of strict use policies (commercial organizations who might provide bug fixes) compared to later networks like CSnet and Bitnet. All connects were local. By 1981 the number of UUCP hosts had grown to 550, nearly doubling to 940 in 1984. - Sublink Network, operating since 1987 and officially founded in Italy in 1989, based its interconnectivity upon UUCP to redistribute mail and news groups messages throughout its Italian nodes (about 100 at the time) owned both by private individuals and small companies. Sublink Network represented possibly one of the first examples of the internet technology becoming progress through popular diffusion.


In 1965, Donald Davies of the National Physical Laboratory (United Kingdom) proposed a national data network based on packet-switching. The proposal was not taken up nationally but by 1970 he had designed and built a packet-switched network to meet the needs of the multidisciplinary laboratory and prove the technology under operational conditions. By 1976 12 computers and 75 terminal devices were attached and more were added until the network was replaced in 1986.

Merging the networks and creating the Internet


Map of the TCP/IP test network in February 1982

With so many different network methods, something was needed to unify them. Robert E. Kahn of DARPA and ARPANET recruited Vinton Cerf of Stanford University to work with him on the problem. By 1973, they had soon worked out a fundamental reformulation, where the differences between network protocols were hidden by using a common internetwork protocol, and instead of the network being responsible for reliability, as in the ARPANET, the hosts became responsible. Cerf credits Hubert Zimmerman, Gerard LeLann and Louis Pouzin (designer of the CYCLADES network) with important work on this design.

The specification of the resulting protocol, RFC 675 - Specification of Internet Transmission Control Program, by Vinton Cerf, Yogen Dalal and Carl Sunshine, Network Working Group, December, 1974, contains the first attested use of the term internet, as a shorthand for internetworking; later RFCs repeat this use, so the word started out as an adjective rather than the noun it is today.

With the role of the network reduced to the bare minimum, it became possible to join almost any networks together, no matter what their characteristics were, thereby solving Kahn's initial problem. DARPA agreed to fund development of prototype software, and after several years of work, the first somewhat crude demonstration of a gateway between the Packet Radio network in the SF Bay area and the ARPANET was conducted. On November 22, 1977 a three network demonstration was conducted including the ARPANET, the Packet Radio Network and the Atlantic Packet Satellite network—all sponsored by DARPA. Stemming from the first specifications of TCP in 1974, TCP/IP emerged in mid-late 1978 in nearly final form. By 1981, the associated standards were published as RFCs 791, 792 and 793 and adopted for use. DARPA sponsored or encouraged the development of TCP/IP implementations for many operating systems and then scheduled a migration of all hosts on all of its packet networks to TCP/IP. On January 1, 1983, known as flag day, TCP/IP protocols became the only approved protocol on the ARPANET, replacing the earlier NCP protocol.

ARPANET to several federal wide area networks: MILNET, NSI, and NSFNet

BBN Technologies TCP/IP internet map early 1986

After the ARPANET had been up and running for several years, ARPA looked for another agency to hand off the network to; ARPA's primary mission was funding cutting edge research and development, not running a communications utility. Eventually, in July 1975, the network had been turned over to the Defense Communications Agency, also part of the Department of Defense. In 1983, the U.S. military portion of the ARPANET was broken off as a separate network, the MILNET. MILNET subsequently became the unclassified but military-only NIPRNET, in parallel with the SECRET-level SIPRNET and JWICS for TOP SECRET and above. NIPRNET does have controlled security gateways to the public Internet.

The networks based on the ARPANET were government funded and therefore restricted to noncommercial uses such as research; unrelated commercial use was strictly forbidden. This initially restricted connections to military sites and universities. During the 1980s, the connections expanded to more educational institutions, and even to a growing number of companies such as Digital Equipment Corporation and Hewlett-Packard, which were participating in research projects or providing services to those who were.

Several other branches of the U.S. government, the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy (DOE) became heavily involved in Internet research and started development of a successor to ARPANET. In the mid 1980s, all three of these branches developed the first Wide Area Networks based on TCP/IP. NASA developed the NASA Science Network, NSF developed CSNET and DOE evolved the Energy Sciences Network or ESNet.

NASA developed a TCP/IP based Wide Area Network, NASA Science Network (NSN), in the mid 1980s connecting space scientists to data and information stored anywhere in the world. In 1989, the DECnet-based Space Physics Analysis Network (SPAN) and the TCP/IP-based NASA Science Network (NSN) were brought together at NASA Ames Research Centre creating the first multiprotocol wide area network called the NASA Science Internet, or NSI. NSI was established to provide a total integrated communications infrastructure to the NASA scientific community for the advancement of earth, space and life sciences. As a high-speed, multiprotocol, international network, NSI provided connectivity to over 20,000 scientists across all seven continents.

In 1984 NSF developed CSNET exclusively based on TCP/IP. CSNET connected with ARPANET using TCP/IP, and ran TCP/IP over X.25, but it also supported departments without sophisticated network connections, using automated dial-up mail exchange. This grew into the NSFNet backbone, established in 1986, and intended to connect and provide access to a number of supercomputing centers established by the NSF.

Transition towards the Internet

The term "internet" was adopted in the first RFC published on the TCP protocol ( RFC 675: Internet Transmission Control Program, December 1974) as an abbreviation of the term internetworking and the two terms were used interchangeably. In general, an internet was any network using TCP/IP. It was around the time when ARPANET was interlinked with NSFNet in the late 1980s, that the term was used as the name of the network, Internet, being a large and global TCP/IP network.

As interest in wide spread networking grew and new applications for it were developed, the Internet's technologies spread throughout the rest of the world. The network-agnostic approach in TCP/IP meant that it was easy to use any existing network infrastructure, such as the IPSS X.25 network, to carry Internet traffic. In 1984, University College London replaced its transatlantic satellite links with TCP/IP over IPSS.

Many sites unable to link directly to the Internet started to create simple gateways to allow transfer of e-mail, at that time the most important application. Sites which only had intermittent connections used UUCP or FidoNet and relied on the gateways between these networks and the Internet. Some gateway services went beyond simple e-mail peering, such as allowing access to FTP sites via UUCP or e-mail.

Finally, the Internet's remaining centralized routing aspects were removed. The EGP routing protocol was replaced by a new protocol, the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), in order to allow the removal of the NSFNet Internet backbone network. In 1994, Classless Inter-Domain Routing was introduced to support better conservation of address space which allowed use of route aggregation to decrease the size of routing tables. The picture on the right hand side shows a system made with the help of the high-tech company BBN.

TCP/IP becomes worldwide

CERN, the European Internet, the link to the Pacific and beyond

Between 1984 and 1988 CERN began installation and operation of TCP/IP to interconnect its major internal computer systems, workstations, PCs and an accelerator control system. CERN continued to operate a limited self-developed system CERNET internally and several incompatible (typically proprietary) network protocols externally. There was considerable resistance in Europe towards more widespread use of TCP/IP and the CERN TCP/IP intranets remained isolated from the Internet until 1989.

In 1988 Daniel Karrenberg, from Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) in Amsterdam, visited Ben Segal, CERN's TCP/IP Coordinator, looking for advice about the transition of the European side of the UUCP Usenet network (much of which ran over X.25 links) over to TCP/IP. In 1987, Ben Segal had met with Len Bosack from the then still small company Cisco about purchasing some TCP/IP routers for CERN, and was able to give Karrenberg advice and forward him on to Cisco for the appropriate hardware. This expanded the European portion of the Internet across the existing UUCP networks, and in 1989 CERN opened its first external TCP/IP connections. This coincided with the creation of Réseaux IP Européens ( RIPE), initially a group of IP network administrators who met regularly to carry out co-ordination work together. Later, in 1992, RIPE was formally registered as a cooperative in Amsterdam.

At the same time as the rise of internetworking in Europe, ad hoc networking to ARPA and in-between Australian universities formed, based on various technologies such as X.25 and UUCPNet. These were limited in their connection to the global networks, due to the cost of making individual international UUCP dial-up or X.25 connections. In 1989, Australian universities joined the push towards using IP protocols to unify their networking infrastructures. AARNet was formed in 1989 by the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee and provided a dedicated IP based network for Australia.

The Internet began to penetrate Asia in the late 1980s. Japan, which had built the UUCP-based network JUNET in 1984, connected to NSFNet in 1989. It hosted the annual meeting of the Internet Society, INET'92, in Kobe. Singapore developed TECHNET in 1990, and Thailand gained a global Internet connection between Chulalongkorn University and UUNET in 1992.

Digital divide

While developed countries with technological infrastructures were joining the Internet, developing countries began to experience a digital divide separating them from the Internet. On an essentially continental basis, they are building organizations for Internet resource administration and sharing operational experience, as more and more transmission facilities go into place.


At the beginning of the 1990s, African countries relied upon X.25 IPSS and 2400 baud modem UUCP links for international and internetwork computer communications.

In August, 1995, InfoMail Uganda, Ltd., a privately held firm in Kampala now known as InfoCom <>, and NSN Network Services of Avon, Colorado, sold in 1997 and now known as Clear Channel Satellite, established Africa's first native TCP/IP high-speed satellite Internet services. The data connection was originally carried by a C-Band RSCC Russian satellite which connected InfoMail's Kampala offices directly to NSN's MAE-West point of presence using a private network from NSN's leased ground station in New Jersey. InfoCom's first satellite connection was just 64kbps, serving a Sun host computer and twelve US Robotics dial-up modems.

In 1996 a USAID funded project, the Leland initiative, started work on developing full Internet connectivity for the continent. Guinea, Mozambique, Madagascar and Rwanda gained satellite earth stations in 1997, followed by Côte d'Ivoire and Benin in 1998.

Africa is building an Internet infrastructure. AfriNIC, headquartered in Mauritius, manages IP address allocation for the continent. As do the other Internet regions, there is an operational forum, the Internet Community of Operational Networking Specialists.

There are a wide range of programs both to provide high-performance transmission plant, and the western and southern coasts have undersea optical cable. High-speed cables join North Africa and the Horn of Africa to intercontinental cable systems. Undersea cable development is slower for East Africa; the original joint effort between New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and the East Africa Submarine System (Eassy) has broken off and may become two efforts.

Asia and Oceania

The Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC), headquartered in Australia, manages IP address allocation for the continent. APNIC sponsors an operational forum, the Asia-Pacific Regional Internet Conference on Operational Technologies (APRICOT).

In 1991, the People's Republic of China saw its first TCP/IP college network, Tsinghua University's TUNET. The PRC went on to make its first global Internet connection in 1994, between the Beijing Electro-Spectrometer Collaboration and Stanford University's Linear Accelerator Centre. However, China went on to implement its own digital divide by implementing a country-wide content filter.

Latin America

As with the other regions, the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Addresses Registry (LACNIC) manages the IP address space and other resources for its area. LACNIC, headquartered in Uruguay, operates DNS root, reverse DNS, and other key services.

Beyond Earth and TCP/IP

The first live Internet link into low earth orbit was established on January 22, 2010 when astronaut T. J. Creamer posted the first unassisted update to his Twitter account from the International Space Station, marking the extension of the Internet into space. (Astronauts at the ISS had used email and Twitter before, but these messages had been relayed to the ground through a NASA data link before being posted by a human proxy.) This personal Web access, which NASA calls the Crew Support LAN, uses the space station's high-speed Ku band microwave link. To surf the Web, astronauts can use a station laptop computer to control a desktop computer on Earth, and they can talk to their families and friends on Earth using Voice over IP equipment.

Communication with spacecraft beyond earth orbit has traditionally been over point-to-point links through the Deep Space Network. Each such data link must be manually scheduled and configured. In the late 1990s NASA and Google began working on a new network protocol, Delay-tolerant networking (DTN) which automates this process, allows networking of spaceborn transmission nodes, and takes the fact into account that spacecraft can temporarily lose contact because they move behind the Moon or planets, or because space "weather" disrupts the connection. Under such conditions, DTN retransmits data packages instead of dropping them, as the standard TCP/IP internet protocol does. NASA conducted the first field test of what it calls the "deep space internet" in November 2008.

Opening the network to commerce

The interest in commercial use of the Internet became a hotly debated topic. Although commercial use was forbidden, the exact definition of commercial use could be unclear and subjective. UUCPNet and the X.25 IPSS had no such restrictions, which would eventually see the official barring of UUCPNet use of ARPANET and NSFNet connections. Some UUCP links still remained connecting to these networks however, as administrators cast a blind eye to their operation.

World Internet Hosts: 1981 - 2009

During the late 1980s, the first Internet service provider (ISP) companies were formed. Companies like PSINet, UUNET, Netcom, and Portal Software were formed to provide service to the regional research networks and provide alternate network access, UUCP-based email and Usenet News to the public. The first commercial dialup ISP in the United States was The World, opened in 1989.

In 1992, Congress allowed commercial activity on NSFNet with the Scientific and Advanced-Technology Act, 42 U.S.C.  § 1862(g), permitting NSFNet to interconnect with commercial networks. This caused controversy amongst university users, who were outraged at the idea of noneducational use of their networks. Eventually, it was the commercial Internet service providers who brought prices low enough that junior colleges and other schools could afford to participate in the new arenas of education and research.

By 1990, ARPANET had been overtaken and replaced by newer networking technologies and the project came to a close. In 1994, the NSFNet, now renamed ANSNET (Advanced Networks and Services) and allowing non-profit corporations access, lost its standing as the backbone of the Internet. Both government institutions and competing commercial providers created their own backbones and interconnections. Regional network access points (NAPs) became the primary interconnections between the many networks. The final commercial restrictions ended in May 1995 when the National Science Foundation ended its sponsorship of the Internet backbone.

Internet Engineering Task Force

Requests for Comments (RFCs) started as memoranda addressing the various protocols that facilitate the functioning of the Internet and were previously edited by the late Dr. Postel as part of his IANA functions.

The IETF started in January 1985 as a quarterly meeting of U.S. government funded researchers. Representatives from non-government vendors were invited starting with the fourth IETF meeting in October of that year. In 1992, the Internet Society, a professional membership society, was formed and the IETF was transferred to operation under it as an independent international standards body.


The first central authority to coordinate the operation of the network was the Network Information Centre (NIC) at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Menlo Park, California. In 1972, management of these issues was given to the newly created Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). In addition to his role as the RFC Editor, Jon Postel worked as the manager of IANA until his death in 1998.

As the early ARPANET grew, hosts were referred to by names, and a HOSTS.TXT file would be distributed from SRI International to each host on the network. As the network grew, this became cumbersome. A technical solution came in the form of the Domain Name System, created by Paul Mockapetris. The Defense Data Network—Network Information Centre (DDN-NIC) at SRI handled all registration services, including the top-level domains (TLDs) of .mil, .gov, .edu, .org, .net, .com and .us, root nameserver administration and Internet number assignments under a United States Department of Defense contract. In 1991, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) awarded the administration and maintenance of DDN-NIC (managed by SRI up until this point) to Government Systems, Inc., who subcontracted it to the small private-sector Network Solutions, Inc.

Since at this point in history most of the growth on the Internet was coming from non-military sources, it was decided that the Department of Defense would no longer fund registration services outside of the .mil TLD. In 1993 the U.S. National Science Foundation, after a competitive bidding process in 1992, created the InterNIC to manage the allocations of addresses and management of the address databases, and awarded the contract to three organizations. Registration Services would be provided by Network Solutions; Directory and Database Services would be provided by AT&T; and Information Services would be provided by General Atomics.

In 1998 both IANA and InterNIC were reorganized under the control of ICANN, a California non-profit corporation contracted by the United States Department of Commerce to manage a number of Internet-related tasks. The role of operating the DNS system was privatized and opened up to competition, while the central management of name allocations would be awarded on a contract tender basis.

Globalization and 21st century

Since the 1990s, the Internet's governance and organization has been of global importance to commerce. The organizations which hold control of certain technical aspects of the Internet are both the successors of the old ARPANET oversight and the current decision-makers in the day-to-day technical aspects of the network. While formally recognized as the administrators of the network, their roles and their decisions are subject to international scrutiny and objections which limit them. These objections have led to the ICANN removing themselves from relationships with first the University of Southern California in 2000, and finally in September 2009, gaining autonomy from the US government by the ending of its longstanding agreements, although some contractual obligations with the Department of Commerce continue until at least 2011. The history of the Internet will now be played out in many ways as a consequence of the ICANN organization.

In the role of forming standard associated with the Internet, the IETF continues to serve as the ad-hoc standards group. They continue to issue Request for Comments numbered sequentially from RFC 1 under the ARPANET project, for example, and the IETF precursor was the GADS Task Force which was a group of US government-funded researchers in the 1980s. Many of the group's recent developments have been of global necessity, such as the i18n working groups who develop things like internationalized domain names. The Internet Society has helped to fund the IETF, providing limited oversight.

Use and culture

E-mail and Usenet

E-mail is often called the killer application of the Internet. However, it actually predates the Internet and was a crucial tool in creating it. E-mail started in 1965 as a way for multiple users of a time-sharing mainframe computer to communicate. Although the history is unclear, among the first systems to have such a facility were SDC's Q32 and MIT's CTSS.

The ARPANET computer network made a large contribution to the evolution of e-mail. There is one report indicating experimental inter-system e-mail transfers on it shortly after ARPANET's creation. In 1971 Ray Tomlinson created what was to become the standard Internet e-mail address format, using the @ sign to separate user names from host names.

A number of protocols were developed to deliver e-mail among groups of time-sharing computers over alternative transmission systems, such as UUCP and IBM's VNET e-mail system. E-mail could be passed this way between a number of networks, including ARPANET, BITNET and NSFNet, as well as to hosts connected directly to other sites via UUCP. See the history of SMTP protocol.

In addition, UUCP allowed the publication of text files that could be read by many others. The News software developed by Steve Daniel and Tom Truscott in 1979 was used to distribute news and bulletin board-like messages. This quickly grew into discussion groups, known as newsgroups, on a wide range of topics. On ARPANET and NSFNet similar discussion groups would form via mailing lists, discussing both technical issues and more culturally focused topics (such as science fiction, discussed on the sflovers mailing list).

During the early years of the Internet, e-mail and similar mechanisms were also fundamental to allow people to access resources that were not available due to the absence of online connectivity. UUCP was often used to distribute files using the 'alt.binary' groups. Also, FTP e-mail gateways allowed people that lived outside the US and Europe to download files using ftp commands written inside e-email messages. The file was encoded, broken in pieces and sent by e-mail; the receiver had to reassemble and decode it later, and it was the only way for people living overseas to download items such as the earlier Linux versions using the slow dial-up connections available at the time. After the popularization of the Web and the HTTP protocol such tools were slowly abandoned.

From gopher to the WWW

As the Internet grew through the 1980s and early 1990s, many people realized the increasing need to be able to find and organize files and information. Projects such as Gopher, WAIS, and the FTP Archive list attempted to create ways to organize distributed data. Unfortunately, these projects fell short in being able to accommodate all the existing data types and in being able to grow without bottlenecks.

One of the most promising user interface paradigms during this period was hypertext. The technology had been inspired by Vannevar Bush's " Memex" and developed through Ted Nelson's research on Project Xanadu and Douglas Engelbart's research on NLS. Many small self-contained hypertext systems had been created before, such as Apple Computer's HyperCard. Gopher became the first commonly-used hypertext interface to the Internet. While Gopher menu items were examples of hypertext, they were not commonly perceived in that way.

This NeXT Computer was used by Sir Tim Berners-Lee at CERN and became the world's first Web server.

In 1989, while working at CERN, Tim Berners-Lee invented a network-based implementation of the hypertext concept. By releasing his invention to public use, he ensured the technology would become widespread. For his work in developing the World Wide Web, Berners-Lee received the Millennium technology prize in 2004. One early popular web browser, modeled after HyperCard, was ViolaWWW.

A potential turning point for the World Wide Web began with the introduction of the Mosaic web browser in 1993, a graphical browser developed by a team at the National Centre for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (NCSA-UIUC), led by Marc Andreessen. Funding for Mosaic came from the High-Performance Computing and Communications Initiative, a funding program initiated by the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991 also known as the Gore Bill. Indeed, Mosaic's graphical interface soon became more popular than Gopher, which at the time was primarily text-based, and the WWW became the preferred interface for accessing the Internet. (Gore's reference to his role in "creating the Internet", however, was ridiculed in his presidential election campaign. See the full article Al Gore and information technology).

Mosaic was eventually superseded in 1994 by Andreessen's Netscape Navigator, which replaced Mosaic as the world's most popular browser. While it held this title for some time, eventually competition from Internet Explorer and a variety of other browsers almost completely displaced it. Another important event held on January 11, 1994, was The Superhighway Summit at UCLA's Royce Hall. This was the "first public conference bringing together all of the major industry, government and academic leaders in the field [and] also began the national dialogue about the Information Superhighway and its implications."

24 Hours in Cyberspace, "the largest one-day online event" (February 8, 1996) up to that date, took place on the then-active website, It was headed by photographer Rick Smolan. A photographic exhibition was unveiled at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History on January 23, 1997, featuring 70 photos from the project.

Search engines

Even before the World Wide Web, there were search engines that attempted to organize the Internet. The first of these was the Archie search engine from McGill University in 1990, followed in 1991 by WAIS and Gopher. All three of those systems predated the invention of the World Wide Web but all continued to index the Web and the rest of the Internet for several years after the Web appeared. There are still Gopher servers as of 2006, although there are a great many more web servers.

As the Web grew, search engines and Web directories were created to track pages on the Web and allow people to find things. The first full-text Web search engine was WebCrawler in 1994. Before WebCrawler, only Web page titles were searched. Another early search engine, Lycos, was created in 1993 as a university project, and was the first to achieve commercial success. During the late 1990s, both Web directories and Web search engines were popular—Yahoo! (founded 1994) and Altavista (founded 1995) were the respective industry leaders. By August 2001, the directory model had begun to give way to search engines, tracking the rise of Google (founded 1998), which had developed new approaches to relevancy ranking. Directory features, while still commonly available, became after-thoughts to search engines.

Database size, which had been a significant marketing feature through the early 2000s, was similarly displaced by emphasis on relevancy ranking, the methods by which search engines attempt to sort the best results first. Relevancy ranking first became a major issue circa 1996, when it became apparent that it was impractical to review full lists of results. Consequently, algorithms for relevancy ranking have continuously improved. Google's PageRank method for ordering the results has received the most press, but all major search engines continually refine their ranking methodologies with a view toward improving the ordering of results. As of 2006, search engine rankings are more important than ever, so much so that an industry has developed (" search engine optimizers", or "SEO") to help web-developers improve their search ranking, and an entire body of case law has developed around matters that affect search engine rankings, such as use of trademarks in metatags.

The sale of search rankings by some search engines has also created controversy among librarians and consumer advocates. As of June 3, 2009, Microsoft launched its own search engine. Bing became immediately popular with the masses searching the internet. It has multiple sites belonging to separate countries e.g. the United States version is different from the Australian version. In the US, Bing ranked 17th among all websites out of over 450,000 websites, up from 5120 the week before the official launch when the website was merely a placeholder. Within the Search Engines category, Bing ranked 4th out of the search engines tracked by Hitwise and Bing Image Search ranked 15th for the week ending June 6, 2009.

Dot-com bubble

Suddenly the low price of reaching millions worldwide, and the possibility of selling to or hearing from those people at the same moment when they were reached, promised to overturn established business dogma in advertising, mail-order sales, customer relationship management, and many more areas. The web was a new killer app—it could bring together unrelated buyers and sellers in seamless and low-cost ways. Visionaries around the world developed new business models, and ran to their nearest venture capitalist. While some of the new entrepreneurs had experience in business and economics, the majority were simply people with ideas, and didn't manage the capital influx prudently. Additionally, many dot-com business plans were predicated on the assumption that by using the Internet, they would bypass the distribution channels of existing businesses and therefore not have to compete with them; when the established businesses with strong existing brands developed their own Internet presence, these hopes were shattered, and the newcomers were left attempting to break into markets dominated by larger, more established businesses. Many did not have the ability to do so.

The dot-com bubble burst on March 10, 2000, when the technology heavy NASDAQ Composite index peaked at 5,048.62 (intra-day peak 5,132.52), more than double its value just a year before. By 2001, the bubble's deflation was running full speed. A majority of the dot-coms had ceased trading, after having burnt through their venture capital and IPO capital, often without ever making a profit.

Online population forecast

A study conducted by JupiterResearch anticipates that a 38 percent increase in the number of people with online access will mean that, by 2011, 22 percent of the Earth's population will surf the Internet regularly. The report says 1.1 billion people have regular Web access. For the study, JupiterResearch defined online users as people who regularly access the Internet from dedicated Internet-access devices, which exclude cellular telephones.

Mobile phones and the Internet

The first mobile phone with Internet connectivity was the Nokia 9000 Communicator, launched in Finland in 1996. The viability of Internet services access on mobile phones was limited until prices came down from that model and network providers started to develop systems and services conveniently accessible on phones. NTT DoCoMo in Japan launched the first mobile Internet service, i-Mode, in 1999 and this is considered the birth of the mobile phone Internet services. In 2001 the mobile phone email system by Research in Motion for their Blackberry product was launched in America. To make efficient use of the small screen and tiny keypad and one-handed operation typical of mobile phones, a specific document and networking model was created for mobile devices, the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP). Most mobile device Internet services operate using WAP. The growth of mobile phone services was initially a primarily Asian phenomenon with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan all soon finding the majority of their Internet users accessing resources by phone rather than by PC. Developing countries followed, with India, South Africa, Kenya, Philippines and Pakistan all reporting that the majority of their domestic users accessed the Internet from a mobile phone rather than a PC. The European and North American use of the Internet was influenced by a large installed base of personal computers, and the growth of mobile phone Internet access was more gradual, but had reached national penetration levels of 20–30% in most Western countries. The cross-over occurred in 2008, when more Internet access devices were mobile phones than personal computers. In many parts of the developing world, the ratio is as much as 10 mobile phone users to one PC user.


Some concerns have been raised over the historiography of the Internet's development. Specifically that it is hard to find documentation of much of the Internet's development, for several reasons, including a lack of centralized documentation for much of the early developments that led to the Internet.

"The Arpanet period is somewhat well documented because the corporation in charge - BBN - left a physical record. Moving into the NSFNET era, it became an extraordinarily decentralized process. The record exists in people's basements, in closets. [...] So much of what happened was done verbally and on the basis of individual trust."
Doug Gale (2007), 
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