A Brief History of the Internet and Related Networks
A Brief History of the Internet and Related Networks
A Brief History of
the Internet and Related Networks
In 1973, the U.S. Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiated a research program to investigate
techniques and technologies for interlinking packet networks of various kinds.
The objective was to develop communication protocols which would allow
networked computers to communicate transparently across multiple, linked packet
networks. This was called the Internetting project and the system of networks
which emerged from the research was known as the "Internet." The
system of protocols which was developed over the course of this research effort
became known as the TCP/IP Protocol Suite, after the two initial protocols
developed: Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP).
In 1986, the U.S. National Science
Foundation (NSF) initiated the development of the NSFNET which, today, provides
a major backbone communication service for the Internet. With its 45 megabit
per second facilities, the NSFNET carries on the order of 12 billion packets
per month between the networks it links. The National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Energy contributed additional
backbone facilities in the form of the NSINET and ESNET respectively. In
Europe, major international backbones such as NORDUNET and others provide
connectivity to over one hundred thousand computers on a large number of
networks. Commercial network providers in the U.S. and Europe are beginning to
offer Internet backbone and access support on a competitive basis to any
"Regional" support for the
Internet is provided by various consortium networks and "local"
support is provided through each of the research and educational institutions.
Within the United States, much of this support has come from the federal and
state governments, but a considerable contribution has been made by industry.
In Europe and elsewhere, support arises from cooperative international efforts
and through national research organizations. During the course of its
evolution, particularly after 1989, the Internet system began to integrate
support for other protocol suites into its basic networking fabric. The present
emphasis in the system is on multiprotocol interworking, and in particular,
with the integration of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) protocols into
Both public domain and commercial
implementations of the roughly 100 protocols of TCP/IP protocol suite became
available in the 1980's. During the early 1990's, OSI protocol implementations
also became available and, by the end of 1991, the Internet has grown to
include some 5,000 networks in over three dozen countries, serving over 700,000
host computers used by over 4,000,000 people.
A great deal of support for the
Internet community has come from the U.S. Federal Government, since the
Internet was originally part of a federally-funded research program and,
subsequently, has become a major part of the U.S. research infrastructure.
During the late 1980's, however, the population of Internet users and network
constituents expanded internationally and began to include commercial
facilities. Indeed, the bulk of the system today is made up of private
networking facilities in educational and research institutions, businesses and
in government organizations across the globe.
The Coordinating Committee for
Intercontinental Networks (CCIRN), which was organized by the U.S. Federal
Networking Council (FNC) and the European Reseaux Associees pour la Recherche
Europeenne (RARE), plays an important role in the coordination of plans for
government- sponsored research networking. CCIRN efforts have been a stimulus
for the support of international cooperation in the Internet environment.
Over its fifteen year history, the
Internet has functioned as a collaboration among cooperating parties. Certain
key functions have been critical for its operation, not the least of which is
the specification of the protocols by which the components of the system
operate. These were originally developed in the DARPA research program mentioned
above, but in the last five or six years, this work has been undertaken on a
wider basis with support from Government agencies in many countries, industry
and the academic community. The Internet Activities Board (IAB) was created in
1983 to guide the evolution of the TCP/IP Protocol Suite and to provide
research advice to the Internet community.
During the course of its existence,
the IAB has reorganized several times. It now has two primary components: the
Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Research Task Force. The
former has primary responsibility for further evolution of the TCP/IP protocol
suite, its standardization with the concurrence of the IAB, and the integration
of other protocols into Internet operation (e.g. the Open Systems
Interconnection protocols). The Internet Research Task Force continues to
organize and explore advanced concepts in networking under the guidance of the
Internet Activities Board and with support from various government agencies.
A secretariat has been created to
manage the day-to-day function of the Internet Activities Board and Internet
Engineering Task Force. IETF meets three times a year in plenary and its
approximately 50 working groups convene at intermediate times by electronic
mail, teleconferencing and at face-to-face meetings. The IAB meets quarterly
face-to-face or by videoconference and at intervening times by telephone,
electronic mail and computer-mediated conferences.
Two other functions are critical to
IAB operation: publication of documents describing the Internet and the
assignment and recording of various identifiers needed for protocol operation.
Throughout the development of the Internet, its protocols and other aspects of
its operation have been documented first in a series of documents called
Internet Experiment Notes and, later, in a series of documents called Requests
for Comment (RFCs). The latter were used initially to document the protocols of
the first packet switching network developed by DARPA, the ARPANET, beginning
in 1969, and have become the principal archive of information about the
Internet. At present, the publication function is provided by an RFC editor.
The recording of identifiers is
provided by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) who has delegated
one part of this responsibility to an Internet Registry which acts as a central
repository for Internet information and which provides central allocation of
network and autonomous system identifiers, in some cases to subsidiary
registries located in various countries. The Internet Registry (IR) also
provides central maintenance of the Domain Name System (DNS) root database
which points to subsidiary distributed DNS servers replicated throughout the
Internet. The DNS distributed database is used, inter alia, to associate host
and network names with their Internet addresses and is critical to the
operation of the higher level TCP/IP protocols including electronic mail.
There are a number of Network
Information Centers (NICs) located throughout the Internet to serve its users
with documentation, guidance, advice and assistance. As the Internet continues
to grow internationally, the need for high quality NIC functions increases.
Although the initial community of users of the Internet were drawn from the
ranks of computer science and engineering, its users now comprise a wide range
of disciplines in the sciences, arts, letters, business, military and
In 1980-81, two other networking
projects, BITNET and CSNET, were initiated. BITNET adopted the IBM RSCS
protocol suite and featured direct leased line connections between
participating sites. Most of the original BITNET connections linked IBM
mainframes in university data centers. This rapidly changed as protocol
implementations became available for other machines. From the beginning, BITNET
has been multi-disciplinary in nature with users in all academic areas. It has
also provided a number of unique services to its users (e.g., LISTSERV). Today,
BITNET and its parallel networks in other parts of the world (e.g., EARN in
Europe) have several thousand participating sites. In recent years, BITNET has
established a backbone which uses the TCP/IP protocols with RSCS-based
applications running above TCP.
CSNET was initially funded by the National
Science Foundation (NSF) to provide networking for university, industry and
government computer science research groups. CSNET used the Phonenet MMDF
protocol for telephone-based electronic mail relaying and, in addition,
pioneered the first use of TCP/IP over X.25 using commercial public data
networks. The CSNET name server provided an early example of a white pages
directory service and this software is still in use at numerous sites. At its
peak, CSNET had approximately 200 participating sites and international
connections to approximately fifteen countries.
In 1987, BITNET and CSNET merged to
form the Corporation for Research and Educational Networking (CREN). In the
Fall of 1991, CSNET service was discontinued having fulfilled its important
early role in the provision of academic networking service. A key feature of
CREN is that its operational costs are fully met through dues paid by its
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