First things first, the Internet and The World Wide Web are not the same thing. Most people when they say the Internet what they really mean is the Web.
The Web or World Wide Web (www) is part of the Internet. The Internet is the world-wide network of computers that allows for easy communication. One of the services offered by the Internet is the web. So the web is just one big part of the Internet and the web came years after the Internet.
Other services offered by the Internet include instant messaging, electronic mail (e-mail), file transfer etc.
What is the Web?
Simple Wikipedia says that the World Wide Web (The Web) is part of the internet that contains websites and webpages.
To use The Web, you need a web browser, this is a software that allows you to view websites and webpages. An example of a web browser is Safari, Google Chrome or Firefox.
A browser alone isn't sufficient. You also need to have an Internet connection to be able to access the web.
So in short, you first have your computer at the very bottom then network then the Internet then the web etc. See the following diagram
The Web - Behind The Scenes
We have already seen that the browser allows us to access The Web.
Normally, this is the order of things...You open up your computer which is already connected to the Internet and navigate to your browser.
Once you hit your browser e.g. Chrome or Safari you type something like "www.google.com" and by that you mean that you would like to access the website by that name.
On your side, you have a browser software sometimes referred to as a client and it's where the request to access a certain website starts. On the other side there is something called a web server, this is a software whose primary function is to store, process and deliver websites or webpages to the client (web browser).
In other terms, a web server 'stores files and information in the form of a website'.
The act of a web server to store files and information is also known as hosting or web hosting. A host computer is expected to be able to distribute to other computers connected to it.
Look at the simplified diagram below
First Step (Web Address / Domain Name)
In this step, a client (web browser) requests for a website from a webserver. This request can be in a form of a web address like "www.google.com". "www.google.com" or to be exact "google.com" is also referred to as a domain name. So to visit a specific website you either type on your browser a domain name or a web address
A domain name is a human-readable web address e.g. google.com. And a web address is a full address of the website sometimes referred to as URL (Uniform Resource Locator) an example of a web address is https://www.google.com
Please keep in mind that simple difference between a domain name and a web address.
Second Step (DNS)
DNS stands for Domain Name System. This is a system that is used to convert a web address or a domain name into an IP (Internet Protocol) address. I know we haven't talked about what an IP address is...but for now just know that IP address is an address that is used to identify one or more devices on a computer network or in this case the Internet.
An IP address is compared to a postal address, friends can easily locate us when we give them our address. The same way a computer network works, each computer on a network or the web is given a unique IP address and that's how it can be found easily.
Both a domain name and a web address point to an IP address.
You might be asking yourself why do we need an IP address? Or why do we need to convert a domain name into an IP address? …Great question.
As opposed to us humans, computers in a network communicates by using numbers or binary numbers to be specific. We humans use words to communicate. So for us to be able to communicate with computers we need to understand and use numbers like 126.96.36.199 or 188.8.131.52 which is something that isn't easy for us to do. In case you're wondering 184.108.40.206 is the IP address for facebook.com and 220.127.116.11 is the IP address for google.com. Wouldn't it be easier for us to write words than those numbers when we visit those sites?
That said, a system was made up that made it possible for us to use words whenever we refer to a specific IP address. That way, when we type those words e.g. google.com DNS will translate them to 18.104.22.168 numbers that computers can understand. And that's how we were saved from using computer numbers.
DNS is sometimes called the Internet's telephone book because it converts a Website's name that people know, to a number that the Internet actually uses.
The process of converting a domain name to an IP address happens through your Internet Service Provider (ISP) but let's not worry about that for now.
Third Step (Connection between Web Browser and Web Server)
So after the second step, the IP address will be returned back to the browser and that IP address will be used to establish a connection between your browser (client) and a web server. The web server hosts the website that you as a client requested.
One special thing is that a web server is a computer that is constantly connected to the web and like we said before its only function is to respond to all the requests it receives from a client. One big chunk of these requests is to send web pages or websites back to the users.
So in this step, the connection between a client and a server will be live for as long as a client keeps requesting resources from the server.
Fourth Step ( The Web Server)
Now finally, our request reaches the server. And the web server will work on that request and send the website that was requested back to the requesting computer (client).
The web server will respond back and give the resource that was requested back to the web browser and you as a user you will be able to see it.
All these steps happen so fast so you won't be able to tell or see as it happens.
In case what you requested is not available. The web server will respond back to you with a 404 message or 404 error as it is commonly known. So whenever you see a 404 error just know that whatever you requested was not found or it doesn't exist on a web server.
Fifth Step (The Browser)
Now back to you. Here you can see the website you requested and you can even send more requests or even request a new website to be served to you
Hope you enjoyed this broad overview of what happens behind the scenes when you visit a website.
Please leave a comment if you have something to share :)
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