Internet History

Sept 24, 1997

Sections: Part One: Background Part Two: Gestation Part Three: Birth of ARPANet Part Four: Networks Everywhere Part Five: Enter CERN Part Six: Bring on the Web Part Seven: Explosion Related Links

Part 1


Winston Churchill stated that history is just one damn thing after another. Well here are some of the "damn things" which brought us the technology, the computers and the network system we know today as the world-wide-web and the internet.

First, a little clearing of the air. One of the most common mistakes is confusing the Internet and the Web as being the same thing. It's usually not a big problem in conversation, but becomes confusing when looking at the history of the networks. So a little clarification is in order: The Internet is the whole enchilada, it is e-mail, gopher, the web, newsgroups, ftp, IRC, etc... The World-Wide-Web is just one subset of the Internet.

Like almost all of our technologies today, the Internet has a war time past. It is simply amazing that war, and the threat of war has given the world so much technology. The early 1960's, in the middle of the cold war, was possibly the closest this world has ever been to nuclear annihilation. The US Department of Defense wanted a network of computers which would allow them to continue to communicate even if partially damaged.

Enter Paul Baran and his colleagues at the Rand Corporation. The Rand Corporation is a research and development think tank for public policy, created through the urgings of the US Air Force. Paul Baran and his colleagues were given the above problem of maintaining a computer network even if it was damaged some.

The answer they came up with begun the formation of the Internet.

Part 2


Paul Baran and his colleagues at the Rand Corporation came up with one of the crucial ideas behind the Internet, packets. They did not call them packets, and did not develop the technology, but they had the idea.

The idea was to break up the transmissions into a discrete number of pieces. These pieces, each of which contain information on where it is supposed to go, would then be sent out through a network of phone lines connecting numerous computers. Since each piece contained the directions on where it was supposed to go, it did not matter what route it took to get there, and thus did not matter if some computers were down in between. The packets once arriving at their destination are reassembled into the original transmission.

This idea, called "packet-switching" was also independently invented by Prof. Leonard Kleinrock at MIT in July 1961, and Dr. Donald W. Davies at the National Physical Laboratory in England in 1965. The word packets was adopted from the NPL work.

Remember this was just an idea, and nothing had been built, yet. The foundation was now just being laid.

J.C.R. Licklider was the head of Information Processing Technology Office (IPTO) at the United States Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). In 1963, Licklider wrote his historic memo addressed to "Members and Affiliates of the Intergalactic Computer Network." The memo outlined Licklider's thoughts that computer can help researchers share information, and Licklider had the vision of a day when communities of people with common interest would be able to discuss them all on-line.

Licklider was not the only visionary of the times, Lawrence Roberts also foresaw a future in which networking computers together would encourage 'a community use of computers'. In 1965, Roberts linked his TX-2 computer at MIT's Lincoln Lab to his colleague, Thomas Marill's Q-32 computer at System Development Corporation in Santa Monica, CA using a dedicated phone line. (Wow! Talk about a long distance bill for that!)

In 1966, Bob Taylor asked a couple of important questions, which had some profound impacts. Taylor was a psychologist working at IPTO under Licklider. Taylor was lucky to be one of the researchers who had use of ARPA's computer resources to collaborate with 17 computer facilities across the nation. Bob Taylor had three computers in his office, each with a different phone line which connected them to other computers across the country. One to MIT, One to Berkeley, and one to Santa Monica.

Taylor pondered this and asked: Why do I need three computers? Why wasn't there one terminal that could talk to all the computers across the country, or a network to link them? Why couldn't one central terminal do it all?

Part 3

Birth of ARPANet

In 1967, Lawrence Roberts of ARPA, published his "Plan for the ARPANet" computer network, which built upon the ideas of packet-switching for a worldwide network.

In July 1968, ARPA's Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) released a request for a communication system to connect together a few geographically dispersed computers over a shared network. Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN) was awarded this contract. BBN became a backbone/service provider and in August 1997 GTE Corp. acquired the company.

In the fall of 1969, right after the summer of love, ARPANet began with the successful linking of four computers known as Interface Message Processors (IMPS). Due to Kleinrock's early development of packet switching theory and his focus on analysis, design and measurement, his Network Measurement Center at UCLA was selected to be the first node on the ARPANET. Doug Engelbart's project on "Augmentation of Human Intellect" (which included NLS, an early hypertext system) at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) provided a second node. The other two nodes were added at UC Santa Barbara and University of Utah. These last two nodes incorporated application visualization projects, with Glen Culler and Burton Fried at UCSB investigating methods for display of mathematical functions using storage displays to deal with the problem of refresh over the net, and Robert Taylor and Ivan Sutherland at Utah investigating methods of 3-D representations over the net.

The next few years were spent developing core protocols for ARPANet. Steve Crocker, a graduate student at UCLA, wound up leading the effort to develop the procedures that computers use to communicate with each other over the ARPANET. He led what was called the Network Working Group on the development of "host protocols." Network Control Protocol (NCP) was the first such protocol. NCP supported symmetrical host-to-host communications which is the connection of host machines running on the same network.

Steve Crocker was a high school friend of Vinton Cerf who was at SRI, Stanford's Research Institute.

What ARPANet now needed was a protocol that supported not only computer-to-computer connections but also network-to-network connections.

In 1971, Ray Tomlinson, a scientist from Massachusetts, sends himself an email between two computers in his office. Doesn't sound too interesting today, but those were the first email messages.

The initial "hot" application, electronic mail, was introduced in 1972. In March Ray Tomlinson wrote the basic email message send and read software. In July, Roberts expanded its utility by writing the first email utility program to list, selectively read, file, forward, and respond to messages.

In October 1972 Kahn organized a large, very successful demonstration of the ARPANET at the International Computer Communication Conference (ICCC). This was the first public demonstration of this new network technology, including email, to the public.

Vinton Cerf at Stanford and Robert Kahn head of ARPA's IPTO in 1973, met and discussed the current protocol problems. In September 1973, they presented in a meeting at University of Sussex, England the proposals that come out of their discussions.

They published a paper in May 1974 in the Transactions on Communications of the IEEE, that specified what became the core Internet protocols. In that paper they described the architecture of the system which became the Internet.

ARPANet goes international in 1973, opening up connections to University College in London, England and the Royal Establishment in Norway.

Also in 1973, a graduate student at Harvard outlined the first ideas for Ethernet in his thesis. That student was Bob Metcalfe, who went to work for Xerox PARC in Palo Alto, and developed Ethernet technologies. Metcalfe went on to start a company which would bastardize Candlestick Park with its name, 3COM.

During 1973-1978 researchers led by Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn developed TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol) which solved the network connection problems. Together TCP/IP supported the interoperability and interconnection of diverse computer networks. For that Vinton Cerf has been labeled the "Father of the Internet", though I don't think he feels the label is appropriate.

TCP/IP became the core protocol, it is what's used today, and in 1983 replaced NCP entirely. The TCP/IP and NCP split also divided ARPANet into MILNET and ARPANet, MILNET was used for US Military.

In 1975, the MITS Altair 8800 is released, which was the first personal computer. Two young guys from Harvard decide to move to across the street from MITS, live in a Motel next to drug dealers and prostitutes so they could stay up all night writing code for the Altair. Sound foolish, those guys were Paul Allen and Bill Gates. But that is another story.

Part 4

Networks Everywhere

The abilities that ARPANet demonstrated, especially with electronic mail, urged numerous communities to develop networks. Most of these networks were very specific and closed to the general public. Some of them were:

Also growing rapidly were numerous local area networks (LANs), due to Metcalfe's Ethernet technology. The LAN's along with PCs and workstations in the 1980s allowed the burgeoning Internet to flourish.

At the University of Wisconsin, in 1983, the name server was developed, and the first domain name server (DNS) was introduced in 1984.

In 1984 the British JANET, and in 1985 the U.S. NSFNET announce their intent to serve the entire higher education community, regardless of discipline. Indeed, a condition for a U.S. university to receive NSF funding for an Internet connection was that "... the connection must be made available to ALL qualified users on campus."

In 1985, Dennis Jennings came from Ireland to spend a year at NSF leading the NSFNET program. Working with the community Jennings help decided that NSFNET would use TCP/IP as the mandatory protocol. In 1986, Steve Wolff took over the NSFNET program. Wolff recognized the need for a wide area networking infrastructure to support the general academic and research community.

Now in 1985, the Internet consisted mainly of e-mail, telnet, USENET, FTP, and some other applications which allowed communication, and file sharing across the networks.

Part 5

Enter CERN

Between 1985-1988, CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva, expanded TCP/IP throughout their network CERNET, but no outside connections were allowed using TCP/IP.

In 1987 Ben Segal, CERN's TCP/IP Coordinator met with Len Bosack, founder of a small company called Cisco Systems. At the time Cisco was a 20 employee company making routers and IP filtering systems. CERN needed two IP routers to act as IP filters between CERN's public Ethernet and a new secure IP segment for a new Cray Supercomputer. This was a major step for TCP/IP at CERN, connecting their ethernet to a very secure environment using this protocol.

In 1988, Ben Segal had a visitor Daniel Karrenberg, the system manager of "mcvax", a celebrated machine at the Amsterdam Mathematics Centre that acted as the gateway for all transatlantic traffic between the US and European sides of the world-wide USENET. Karrenberg wanted to convert the European side (EUnet) into an IP network which the US side were doing also, but he needed the hardware to allow him to run IP over some lines that used X.25. Segal pointed him to Cisco, which had the routers and the European IP network begun.

In January 1989, CERN opened up its first external connections to the Internet.

Part 6

Bring on the Web

The opening of CERN's network to the external Internet was all Tim Berners-Lee, a CERN researcher, needed to try and implement something he had been working on throughout the 80's, his "hypertext ideas." The hypertext concept was created in the early 1960s by Ted Nelson as part of the "Xanadu project." Hypertext allows document creators to insert links and names to point to other relevant items.

In March 1989, Berners-Lee introduced a proposal to CERN titled "Information Management: A Proposal: Introduction of linked information systems, non-linear text systems." This proposal introduced the ideas of hypertext, the foundation of the world wide web.

Berners-Lee had to recirculate his proposal in May 1990, it was not taking off as he had hoped. It was not until November 1990 that he developed an initial program on his NeXT machine. This program was a WYSIWYG browser and editor, and showed his ideas of using hypertext to display information in a non-linear way.

In March 1991, a line-mode browser (www) was released to a limited audience in CERN. The line-mode browser was released by anonymous FTP to the general public in January 1992.

The WWW project was setup to facilitate communication between high energy physicists. The first US server was at Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC), in May 1991.

By November 1992, the WWW web project now had a total of 26 servers, including recently added National Center of Super Computing's (NCSA).

Browsers begin to pop up everywhere, for all the different computer platforms. April 29th, 1991 release of Finnish "Erwise" GUI client for X. May 1991, Pei Wei's "Viola" GUI browser for X test. In January 1993, a CERN Mac browser is released as alpha. Also now there were around 50 known HTTP servers.

February 1993, NCSA released the first alpha version of a browser created by one of their scientist. The scientist Marc Andreessen, the browser Mosaic for X.

By September 1993, NCSA released working versions of its Mosaic browser for most common platforms, X, PC/Windows and Macintosh. By October there were now over 200 HTTP servers running.

I start browsing around on Linux, a text based browser, over a telnet connection. Download times are slow, 1 meg took almost an hour for me.

Also in 1993, InterNIC was created by the National Science Foundation to maintain and provide services for the Internet and the Web. These services included Directory and Database Service by AT&T, Registration services by Network Solutions, and Information Services by General Atomics and CERFNet.

Part 7


In December 1993, John Markov writes a page and a half on WWW and Mosaic in "The New York Times" business section. "The Guardian"(UK) publishes a page on WWW, and "The Economist" (UK) analyses the Internet and WWW.

The web had attracted the attention of the general public and was ready erupt into the system we know today. There were plenty of people there to help it along also.

In January 1994, O'Reilly, Spry, and others announce "Internet in a box" product to bring the Web into homes. AOL, which was established in 1985 by Steve Case, did not begin offering Web services until 1995.

In March of 1994, Marc Andreessen, creator of the Mosaic browser and James H. Clark, who also founded Silicon Graphics, founded Netscape Communications.

In early 1994 at the University of Washington, students and faculty in the Department of Computer Science gathered to discuss the new popularity of the Internet and WWW. At this seminar students introduce small projects, it was here that Brian Pinkerton introduced a small single-user application to find information on the Web, called The WebCrawler.

A web interface was implemented for the WebCrawler and the first release on April 20, 1994, had a database containing documents from over 6000 different servers on the Web. With added funding WebCrawler became Pinkerton's thesis and it quickly became one of the web's more popular search engines, as well as its first. WebCrawler was sold to American Online in March 1995, to become a commercially operated and supported engine. In November of 1996, WebCrawler was acquired from America Online by Excite, Inc.

Also in April 1994, two students at Stanford University, David Filo and Jerry Yang started a guide to keep track of their personal interests on the web. They named this guide "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle" (Yahoo!) which may have been named just for that acronym. Filo and Yang insist they selected the name because they considered themselves yahoos. As their lists of links grew to unmanageable sizes, they converted their pages and links to databases, with some customized software they wrote. This software allowed users to add and update links also.

In early 1995, Marc Andreessen offered to host their site on Netscape's larger computers, which allowed Yahoo! to grow into the most popular site visited on the web, that is not a default bookmark. April 11th, 96, Yahoo! went public with an initial public offering of 2,600,000 shares at $13.00 a share. August 11th, 1997, Yahoo stock splits in a 3 for 2 split. Today, Sept 22nd, 1997, Yahoo closed at 53.65. Yahoo has become the most profitable and popular on-line web service.

March 6th, 1995, Netscape Unveils Netscape Navigator 1.1 a new version of Internet's most popular navigator now available on Net

April 1995, Sun releases Java Development kit, a programming language tailored for the web, with its write once run everywhere architecture.

September 1995, Netscape announces Navigator 2.0, and Navigator 2.0 GOLD, both supporting embedding Java programs, integrated e-mail and news programs, in-line plug-ins, frames, and a new user interface.

It wasn't until late 1995, after their release of Windows 95 in August, did Microsoft enter the browser market with their Internet Explorer 1.0.

December 4, 1995, Netscape and Sun announce JavaScript, with 28 Industry-leading companies to endorse JavaScript as a complement to Java for easy online application development.

Some key organizations coming on-line:

Some key technologies:

Related Links

How it works by V. Cerf
From the Vinton Cerf, a co-creator of TCP/IP, an explanation on how TCP/IP and the Internet work.

A Brief History of the Internet
History from the W3C Organization. Includes links to many of the documents and proposals that laid out the networks.

March 1989 Proposal
The legendary proposal by Tim Berners-Lee that outlined his ideas on a network environment using hypertext.

History of the Internet
A somewhat wild and wacky history of the internet, not a standard formatting or layout.

  • CERN, European Laboratory for Particle Physics
  • Hobbe's Internet Timeline
  • A Brief History of the Internet
  • History of the Internet - Timeline

  • Nerds 2.0.1
    (VIDEO) Triumph of the Nerds and Nerds 2.0.1: A Brief History of the Internet

    These are two great PBS specials focusing on the technology industry. They give an in depth background on the players and personalaties involved in building the technology and internet. Highly recommended.


    The information gathered in these articles were obtained from the above sites, and my thanks go to all the people involved in the development of the internet technologies.