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Too bad Ted Stevens isn't alive to see this.
July 5, 2012 6:57 PM   Subscribe

A simplified explanation for how the internet works, brought to you by the World Science Festival.
posted by crunchland (20 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I honestly thought at the time that "a series of tubes" wasn't that bad of description of the internet. Stevens' trying to use it to stop net neutrality was bullshit, but otherwise it wasn't that bad.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:06 PM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Internet: Phone system
IP address: Phone number
Port: Extension
Server/service: Person in office
Firewall (or something like inet.d): Secretary
Port scanning: Random dialing of numbers
Reason to run few services as possible: Because the hackers will dial extensions until they find a dumb guy that'll unlock the door for them

Worked for my kids anyway.
posted by DU at 7:24 PM on July 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I thought the answer was just "magic".

Mankind is capable of some pretty awesome stuff. We should apply ourselves in other areas as well.
posted by King Bee at 7:26 PM on July 5, 2012


Oh. OK. Carrier pigeons might be cuter, though.
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 7:29 PM on July 5, 2012


Funny this comes across the FP, as I'm currently listening to a presentation Tubes: Behind the Scenes at the Internet. It's audio only, and sounds like it has some nice visuals that you might miss if you haven't worked in datacenters for a while.
posted by pwnguin at 7:54 PM on July 5, 2012


I honestly thought at the time that "a series of tubes" wasn't that bad of description of the internet.

Me too.

This video was mildly serviceable for a lay introduction, but I think it overemphasized the possibility of packets of the same connection flow taking different paths. In reality that is exceedingly rare, except when your BGP tables are flapping, which is something you don't want to happen.

I think the most brilliant part of how networks are implemented centers around the layering of concerns. This is what makes it possible that my web browser can talk to your web server, regardless of what actual networking hardware is in between (100BASE-T, DOCSIS, 802.11g, 1000BASE-LX, 10GBASE-ER, etc.)
posted by Rhomboid at 8:05 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it overemphasized the possibility of packets of the same connection flow taking different paths. In reality that is exceedingly rare, except when your BGP tables are flapping

Right. On the scale of loading a website (1 second), traffic usually follows the same path. But on an hourly or daily time scale, traffic paths can fluctuate due to loading issues. But the concept is helpful to understand.
posted by stbalbach at 8:13 PM on July 5, 2012


Duh. It's wireless!
posted by schmod at 9:03 PM on July 5, 2012


so the internet is a series of kayaks on the Hudson river?
posted by progosk at 11:02 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


It didn’t seem to explain that your computer needs to go to a
domain name server to begin with in order to get the IP address.
I think this is an important part of the explanation....how does your
computer get the IP addresses, it makes it look like your computer already
knows it.
posted by quazichimp at 11:55 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was my thought as well, quazichimp, but I figured that including that in the video means they have to talk about the packets being sent back and forth first, and then when they come to the webpage being served, they've lost their audience.

I was quite frankly more annoyed by the narrator's horrible intonation.
posted by brokkr at 12:44 AM on July 6, 2012


You really can be ignorant to how a lot of things you take for granted work. But then again if you tried to understand the broken down workings of everything you would probably end up in a mental institution haha.
posted by UKgroundcare at 1:50 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


This only explains ordinary internet traffic. A major volume of internet traffic involves porn, and that is handled differently.

When you surf porn, all of your sperm-like packets are directed straight through Hell. Some of these packets are routed through Puritan centers, where guilt-encoding is added to the transmission, the better to reach England or the U.S.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:32 AM on July 6, 2012


Several years ago, I posted an explanation of how Pakistan took down YouTube, which is somewhat related to this. I went into a little more detail about routing than this video does, so the first half of the post is a nice supplement. I did plenty of handwaving, but slightly less than this video does.

After about halfway, it starts getting specific about the Youtube incident, which won't be terribly relevant. But you might enjoy the first part.
posted by Malor at 4:16 AM on July 6, 2012


Yeesh, as a network engineer, this makes me cringe. No mention of DNS, that there are multiple network providers carrying your traffic, that a web page is actually just a text file that tells your computer where to get the images from, etc. As mentioned above, if your return packets are taking more than one path, then the networks are horribly mismanaged.
This is like explaining how an internal combustion engine works by saying, "You push the pedal and gas explodes and then you arrive at your destination!"
posted by Mr. Big Business at 11:53 AM on July 6, 2012


Stevens' trying to use it to stop net neutrality was bullshit

Ron And Rand Paul: Net Neutrality And The Public Domain Are Really Evil Collectivist Plots
posted by homunculus at 11:59 AM on July 6, 2012


First of all, what's up with the weird narration? He's MAKING all these STATEMENTS VERY FORCEFULLY for no apparent reason.

Also, there is some massive simplification going on - totally skipping over the layers of the stack: HTTP over TCP over IP. Which leads to being incorrect because an http request doesn't need to be in one packet. In reality, a TCP connection is setup (using packets) and that TCP connection creates the illusion of a stream where you can send and receive text. The request and response are encoded as text on that stream. One of the key things TCP does is make sure the packets get assembled in the right order.

I find it annoying when things are simplified down to the point where they are wrong.
Ron And Rand Paul: Net Neutrality And The Public Domain Are Really Evil Collectivist Plots
Yeah the "libertarian" argument against net neutrality is very weird. They view the communications networks as "private property" (owned by the phone company). But they completely miss the fact that those networks were built by the government forcing property owners to allow those companies to put lines on their property.

The key thing is that it's impossible for anyone to compete by putting down a new network because you have to negotiate with local governments to get those easements, in order to get access to the land.

In reality, it's obvious that the government should regulate those networks to maintain fair competition, because local governments created a monopoly situation for local access.

The physical infrastructure of the internet only exists because local governments have coordinated the property rights of everyone in order to allow it to be built. Obviously it needs to be regulated to be fair.
posted by delmoi at 1:33 AM on July 7, 2012


Ron And Rand Paul: Net Neutrality And The Public Domain Are Really Evil Collectivist Plots
Also, the author of that piece is confused about why the Pauls seem to be complaining about copyright and "property" on the internet, when they were opposed to SOPA. But actually, they're not talking about copyright at all. The "property" they refer to only means the physical infrastructure making up the network.

Interestingly, they talk about the iPhone and the "app economy" as an example of being able to do things without government regulation. In reality, that's kind of silly - without government regulation there wouldn't be a cellular network at all: the entire radio band would be a free for all. WiFi exists on totally unregulated bands, and it works, but it's a Hodge podge. You can't get smooth wifi service across a city.

As far as apps go, it actually happened sooner in other countries with different regulatory frameworks (like japan). In the US, however, the government didn't mandate any kind of phone neutrality the way they did in other countries. So the result was that phone company's kept a tight grip on features that they thought they might be able to monetize.

Apple went to the companies one by one and convinced them to change, for them, and AT&T was willing to do it. But if we'd had the same regulation as the rest of the world, we could have had smartphones years earlier --- again, like the rest of the world.
posted by delmoi at 2:25 AM on July 7, 2012


WiFi exists on totally unregulated bands

The ISM band is not totally unregulated. Here's the relevant code. It mandates things like bandwidth utilization (number of channels, channel separation), maximum transmitter power output, maximum EIRP (total of antenna gain and power output), and so on. You can't just use that frequency band to do whatever you want -- otherwise you'd have a "loudness war" with each new consumer device putting out more and more power or using more spectrum in an effort to outperform competitors and sell product. Government regulation is the only reason that it's a functional Hodge-podge and not a complete toxic swamp.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:07 AM on July 7, 2012


Yeah, I should probably have pointed that out, it's just not nearly as regulated as most frequencies.
posted by delmoi at 2:37 AM on July 13, 2012


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