The History of the Internet

Brett Stone-Gross

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Word Count: 1,734




Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. The Origins and Early Years of the Internet

  A. 1960-1980

  B. 1980-1990

III. Commercialization and Privatization (Modern Internet)


IV. The Next Generation Internet

V. Conclusion



I. Introduction

            One of the most profound innovations of the 20th century was the creation of the modern Internet.  It revolutionized nearly all aspects and forms of communication, research, education, commerce, and everyday life.  The original internet had to confront many difficult problems such as the heterogeneity of different computer types, the variability of information exchange (delays, jitter, and losses), the convolution of such a large scale, and network security.  Although early computer networking was conceptually complicated, there were several determining core ideas that the founders utilized that produced the dramatic and immense technological success of the Internet.  Most significantly the contemporary Internet was based upon a network of networks that communicated using sets of unique protocols that enabled both tremendous functionality and versatility through email, web browsing, and numerous information sharing distributed applications. 


II. The Origins and Early Years of the Internet

    A. 1960-1980

The foundation for the Internet was established more than 40 years ago by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), other research labs, and private companies including Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN) who created the first routing device.  In 1961 the theory of packet switching was first introduced in a publication by Leonard Kleinrock at MIT.  Accordingly, the modern concept of the Internet was initially presented by J.C.R Licklider, (also of MIT) who published On-Line Man Computer Communication that envisioned global networks of computers communicating with other networks.  The first packet switching devices known as Interface Message Processors (IMP) were developed and utilized for the first node of the Internet at UCLA in 1969 (see Figure 1a and 1b).  These first packet switches were large, expensive, and slow by modern standards consisting of Honeywell 516 mini computers with only 12K of memory.  Nevertheless, within a couple of months the network included four nodes at the University of Utah, Stanford Research Institute, UCLA, and UCSB.  One year later the Network Control Protocol (NCP) was conceived in order to allow all the hosts connected to the ARPANET to communicate.  By 1972 the first email software had been fabricated developing into the first revolutionary application of the Internet.  In addition, several other valuable services were added in the same year for remote access such as Telnet and the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) that became an economical way of duplicating the power of other distant, costly computers.










a)                                                                                                   b)






Figure 1. a): First block diagram of the first node of the ARPANET at UCLA Sept. 1969.  Source: [8]

       b) Leonard Kleinrock with the first Interface Message Processor (IMP).

Source: [6]


In parallel with the growing ARPANET, the ALOHAnet was created in 1970 by Norman Abramson.  It was somewhat similar to the ARPANET with the exception of the ALOHA protocol specifically developed to allow geographically distributed users to share a single broadcast communication medium. (Kurose, 2005 [2])  This consequently motivated Bob Metcalfe to develop the Ethernet protocol to connect multiple computers and their various components together (see Figure 2).  Most significantly, the Ethernet protocol became the standard for communication on Local Area Networks (LAN) in the 1990s.

            One of the main conceptual ideas of the early Internet was to allow for the concept of open architecture networking where various independent networks could have their own distinct interface, but still have the capability to communicate with an outside network.  This idea was explored by Robert Kahn and Vint Cerf of ARPA to pioneer the innovative Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) that eventually became split with the modern Internet Protocol (IP) to form TCP/IP.  This new protocol solved numerous problems with electronically transmitting information between computers, and ensuring that the data was sent and received successfully on both end systems by adding packet error correction handling.









              Figure 2:

              Metcalfe's original conception of the Ethernet

              Source: [3]


    B. 1980-1990

By 1982 the Department of Defense had established TCP/IP as the Internets standard protocol.  The IP protocol dealt with forwarding and addressing individual packets, while the TCP protocol handled the control flow of the packets to assure that they had successfully reached their destination.  TCP/IP was also incorporated into the Unix BSD operating system at Berkeley that widely contributed to its successful adoption by disseminating it to the rest of the early Internet community.  Furthermore, an alternative to TCP was created called the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) that provided direct access to the basic services of IP.  By 1984, the U.S. military split off from the ARPANET and formed MILNET, paving the way for a predominantly educational and research based ARPANET.  As the number of Internet hosts began to grow dramatically an important feature was added known as the Domain Name System (DNS) created by Paul Mockapetris of USC/ISI.  This permitted a user to remember a human readable name of an Internet address instead of the previous existing 32 bit numerical IP address, and became particularly convenient after the development of the World Wide Web (WWW) and Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP).  Another important development in the 1980s was the Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) standard created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) that produced common network criteria between a variety of propriety networks with the OSI stack model.

In the early 1980s several new networks formed including BITNET, CSNET, and most prominently the NSFNET.  In 1985 the National Science Foundation founded NSFNET in order to stimulate interest in the Internet for education.  The NSF even made a policy requirement that the connection must be made available to ALL qualified users on campus [3] in order to receive funding for an Internet connection.  The NSF also created a backbone infrastructure that connected the west and east coast of the U.S. and by 1988 had paved the way for the commercialization of the Internet by encouraging commercial network traffic at the local and regional level, while denying its access to national-scale transport. [3]   The backbone initially consisted of six 56 kbps nodes and eventually grew to twenty one T3 45Mbps nodes and connected to other networks across the world and even in space (see Figure 3).















            Figure 3: This image is taken from a visualization study of inbound traffic measured in billions of bytes on the NSFNET T1 backbone for September 1991.

            Source: [5]


III. Commercialization and Privatization (Modern Internet), 1990-Present

The evolution and the growth of the NSFNET brought about the official end to the ARPANET in 1990.  However, within five years the NSFNET was no longer the dominate backbone of the Internet, thus eliminating the commercial restrictions that were previously imposed.  Thereafter dial-up Internet Service Providers such as America Online, Compuserve, and Prodigy began offering Internet access to individual homes.  Perhaps one of the most important advancements of the Internet during this period came in 1991 when the World Wide Web was created by CERN.  Shortly afterward, the first user friendly graphical user interface Mosaic was developed in order to efficiently navigate through websites, and a few years later the first search engines including Yahoo! (1994) were developed to quickly search through the vast amounts of information on thousands (and later millions) of websites.  By 1995 the Web became the most popular application in terms of packets and bytes sent surpassing data sent via FTP, beginning the virtually exponential increase in the number of hosted websites (see Figure 4).






















Figure 4: The commercialization of the Internet caused a considerable increase in the number of websites.

Source: [4]


Subsequent to the introduction of the Web, large commercial companies began offering marketable services including online banking and shopping.  In 1997, The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) was established to handle administration and registration of IP numbers to the geographical areas currently handled by Network Solutions (InterNIC). [1] This became imperative to tracking the geographical location of where data was being sent and received, which later became exploited by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to locate and prosecute Internet users for illegally distributing copy protected music over peer- to-peer networks such as Kazaa.  Over the last decade the Internet has continuously grown and experienced more distributed applications through peer-to-peer networks, instant messaging, online gaming, and even large complex mathematical models exploiting the power of hundreds of thousands of machines worldwide in order to solve medical and scientific problems.

IV. The Next Generation Internet

            With new fiber optic technologies such as Optical Carrier (OC) connections, gigabit speeds and possibly faster will become possible for the home consumer.

             (see Figure 5). 












  Figure 5: The next generation Internet backbones with optical connections (OC).

  Source: [7]


The future of the Internet will undeniably be much faster with considerably more bandwidth than the current internet and be able to enhance both audio (high quality Internet telephony) and video streams (video conferencing) in near real-time.  One of the latest trends has been to integrate wireless and other portable handheld devices comprising mostly of cellular phones, personal digital assistant (PDA), and other home appliances with the Internet.  The increased speeds will also spawn a new set of applications that will be employed to provide the Internet with even more services and benefits, and therefore require new and more efficient routing algorithms and protocols. 

According to current projections, there will be over one billion users, nearly one-sixth or 17 percent of the entire worlds population by 2005 (see Figure 6).  Another important consideration for the future of the Internet involves security, handling high traffic volume, and combating malicious software programs.  These issues will be crucial to address in order to protect sensitive information, prevent denial of service (DOS) attacks, and avert massive Internet traffic congestion caused by computer worms (Blaster, Sasser, Code Red, Sobig, MyDoom).


Figure 6: Internet Population Statistics Projection.

Source: [4]











V. Conclusion

There were various physical and technological barriers that the founders encountered in creating such a vast and complex system.  However, these early engineers were able to effectively confound the main problems, in effect laying the groundwork for the modern and next generation Internet.  As a direct result of these pioneering achievements, the Internet has been one of the most significant factors in globally unifying the world and tearing down the physical barriers of long distance communication (see Figure 7).  By designing the basic networking infrastructure to be versatile and flexible the creators ensured that the Internet will play a large role in the future and ultimately become a part of nearly everyones life on the planet.




Figure 7: 3-D Image of the Internet connections superimposed on the globe






1.      Cringley, Robert X. (2005). Nerds 2.0.1: Internet Timeline [Online]:



2.     Kurose, James F. Computer Networking: A Top Down Approach Featuring the Internet. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc, 2005.


3.      Leiner, Barry M. (2005). A Brief History of the Internet [Online]: Available:


4.      Marshall, Dave (2002). History of the Internet [Online]:



5.      Riel, Margaret (2005). Technical Definitions of the Internet [Online]:



6.      Stewart, Bill (2005). Internet History: ARPANET [Online]:



7.      VanderBaan, Kabe (2005). Internet 2: Access Grid Nodes [Online]:



8.       Zakon, Robert H. (2004). Hobbes Internet Timeline: The Definitive ARPAnet & Internet History [Online]: