“The Internet gave us access to everything; but it also gave everything access to us.”— James Veitch, Comedian
Table of contents
The Internet is an increasingly important part of everyday life for people around the world. But if you’ve never used the Internet before, all this new information will clear your mind about surfing the Internet.
Throughout this tutorial, we’ll try to answer some basic questions you might have about the Internet and how it’s used. By the end of this article you will have a good understanding of how the internet works, how to connect to the internet and how to navigate the web.
What is the Internet?
The Internet is a global network of billions of computers and other electronic devices. With the Internet, it is possible to access almost any information, communicate with anyone else in the world, and do much more.
You can do all this by connecting a computer to the Internet, which is also called going online. When someone says that a computer is online, it is just another way of saying that it is connected to the Internet.
What is the Web?
The World Wide Web, commonly called the Web for short, is a collection of different Websites that you can access over the Internet. A Website consists of text, images and other related resources.
Web pages can resemble other forms of media, such as newspaper articles or television programs, or they can be interactive in a way unique to computers.
The purpose of a website can be almost anything: a news platform, an advertisement, an online library, an image sharing forum or an educational site like us!
The Internet vs. The Web
The Internet is a “vast interconnection of computer networks” that spans the globe. It consists of millions of computing devices that trade volumes of information. Desktop computers, mainframe computers, GPS units, cell phones, car alarms, video game consoles, and even soda pop machines are networked.
The Internet began in the late 1960s as a US military project and has since evolved into a massive public spider web. No single organization owns or controls the Internet. The network has grown into a spectacular mix of non-profit broadcasters, the private sector, government and entrepreneurs.
The Internet hosts many layers of information, with each layer dedicated to a different type of documentation. These different layers are called “protocols”. The most popular protocols are the World Wide Web, FTP, Telnet, Gopher space, instant messaging, and email.
The World Wide Web, or “Web” for short, is the most popular part of the Internet. The network is viewed through web browser software.
A – F
Add-Ons (Extensions) and Plugins – Browser add-ons (in Firefox) or extensions (in Chrome) are small pieces of software that provide extra functionality to your browser. They can introduce huge benefits, but are also potential privacy risks. It’s important to note that add-ons are different than plugins. Plugins, such as Java and Flash Player, are runtimes to access a specific type of content on a page. Plugins are a special kind of web browser addon. Plugins are essentially required addons, if you wish to view very specialized web pages. Examples include: Adobe Flash or Shockwave player, Microsoft Silverlight player, Adobe Acrobat pdf reader.
Attachment – When referring to e-mail, an attachment is a file sent with an e-mail message. An attachment can be a picture, Microsoft Word document, movie, sound file, Excel spreadsheet, or any other file.
Browser – A browser is a free software program or mobile application that displays web pages, graphics, and other content on the Internet. Popular web browsers include Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, and Safari, but there are many others. Internet users access the web through web browser software that is included with or can be downloaded to computers and mobile devices. Every website has a unique address called a URL, which can be entered into a browser’s address bar to navigate directly to a site. Browser software is specifically designed to convert HTML and XML computer code into human-readable documents.
Bookmark – A bookmark (aka “favorite”) is a marker that you can place on web pages and files. You would bookmark something because:
- You want to return to the page or file later
- You want to recommend the page or file to someone else
Bookmarks/Favorites can be made using your right mouse click menu, or the menus/toolbars at the top of your web browser. Bookmarks/Favorites can also be made on your Mac or Windows computer files.
Cloud – The “cloud” is a common term for a set of someone else’s servers devoted to an internet service. Dropbox, Gmail, and Office Online are all cloud services because remote servers handle the work instead of your PC.
Cookies – Most websites pop-up with a message asking you to ‘accept cookies’. A cookie is a small piece of data that is stored on your computer, smartphone or tablet when you visit a website. They allow the website to track information about your activity on the website, such as how many times you have visited and how long you spent on the website. You don’t have to accept cookies, but it might mean that you can’t access some websites.
Download – Downloading is a broad term that describes when you make a personal copy of something you find on the Internet or World Wide Web. Commonly, downloading is associated with songs, music, and software files (e.g. “I want to download a new musical ringtone for my cell phone”, “I want to download a trial copy of Microsoft Office 2010”). The larger the file you are copying, the longer the download will take to transfer to your computer. Some downloads will take 12 to 15 hours, depending on your Internet speed. Be warned: downloading itself is fully legal, as long as you are careful not to download pirated movies and music.
Database: A collection of information organized so that a computer application can quickly access selected information; it can be thought of as an electronic filing system. Traditional databases are organized by fields, records (a complete set of fields), and files (a collection of records). Alternatively, in a Hypertext database, any object (e.g., text, a picture, or a film) can be linked to any other object.
Encryption and Authentication – Encryption is the mathematical scrambling of data so that it is hidden from eavesdroppers. Encryption uses complex math formulas to turn private data into meaningless gobbledygook that only trusted readers can unscramble. Encryption is the basis for how we use the internet as a pipeline to conduct trusted business, like online banking and online credit card purchasing. When reliable encryption is in place, banking information and credit card numbers are kept private.
Authentication is directly related to encryption. Authentication is the complex way that computer systems verify that you are who you say you are.
Firewall – Firewall is a generic term to describe a barrier against destruction. In the case of computing, a firewall consists of software or hardware that protects a computer from hackers and viruses. Computing firewalls range from small antivirus software packages to complex and expensive software and hardware solutions. Some firewalls are free. Many computers ship with a firewall you can activate. All computer firewalls offer some kind of safeguard against hackers vandalizing or taking over a computer system.
File – A computer file is a block of information which is available to a computer program. The file name is made up of:
- The name of the file, which is any name whoever creates the file chooses to give
- An extension that indicates what type of program is needed to be able to read and/or display the contents of the file. For example: myfile.docx, mypic.jpg.
Some common file types are:
- Text File: Words or words and pictures. (.txt, .docx are some extension examples)
- Image File: These are all different formats to display a picture or movie.( .bmp, .jpg, .mpg, gif.)
- Audio File: This can be a sound file or one containing a song or entire album of songs(.mp3).
G – K
HTTP and HTTPS – HTTP is the acronym for Hypertext Transfer Protocol—the data communication standard of web pages. When a web page has this prefix, the links, text, and pictures should work correctly in a web browser. HTTPS is the acronym for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. This indicates that the web page has a special layer of encryption added to hide your personal information and passwords from others. Whenever you log in to your online bank account or a shopping site that you enter credit card information into, look for https in the URL for security.
HTML and XML – Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is the programming language of web pages. HTML commands a web browser to display text and graphics in a specific fashion. Beginning internet users don’t need to know HTML coding to enjoy the web pages the programming language delivers to browsers. XML is eXtensible Markup Language, a cousin to HTML. XML focuses on cataloging and data basing the text content of a web page. XHTML is a combination of HTML and XML.
Hotspot – In general, a hotspot refers to a device or location where you can access the internet through Wi-Fi. Hotspot can also refer to the function of smartphones to broadcast their own Wi-Fi networks using mobile data. Further still, portable hotspots are dedicated devices sold by cell companies that provide Wi-Fi anywhere.
Hashtag # – A hashtag is a simple form of metadata for posts on social media sites, particularly Twitter and Instagram. It allows you to mark your post so that others can easily find it and others about a specific topic.
IP Address – Your computer’s ‘internet protocol’ address is a four-part electronic serial number. An IP address looks something like ‘220.127.116.11’, complete with dot separators. Every computer, cell phone, and device that accesses the Internet is assigned at least one IP address for tracking purposes. Wherever you browse, whenever you send an email or instant message, and whenever you download a file, your IP address acts like a type of automobile license plate to enforce accountability and traceability.
I.M – I.M. (usually spelled ‘IM’ without the periods) is instant messaging, a form of modern online chatting. IM is somewhat like texting, somewhat like email, and very much like sending notes in a classroom. IM uses specialized no-cost software that you install on your computer. That IM software in turn connects you to potentially thousands of other IM users through the Internet. You locate existing friends and make new friends by searching for their IM nicknames. Once the software and your friends list is in place, you can send instantaneous short messages to each other, with the option of including file attachments and links. While the recipient sees your message instantly, they can choose to reply at their leisure.
IP Number (Internet Protocol Number) – Sometimes called a dotted quad. A unique number consisting of 4 parts separated by dots, e.g. 18.104.22.168 Every machine that is on the Internet has a unique IP number – if a machine does not have an IP number, it is not really on the Internet. Many machines (especially servers) also have one or more Domain Names that are easier for people to remember.
IPv4 (Internet Protocol, version 4) – The most widely used version of the Internet Protocol (the “IP” part of TCP/IP.) IPv4 allows for a theoretical maximum of approximately four billion IP Numbers (technically 232), but the actual number is far less due to inefficiencies in the way blocks of numbers are handled by networks. The gradual adoption of IPv6 will solve this problem.
IPv6 (Internet Protocol, version 6) – The successor to IPv4. Already deployed in some cases and gradually spreading, IPv6 provides a huge number of available IP Numbers – over a sextillion addresses (theoretically 2128). IPv6 allows every device on the planet to have its own IP Number.
ISP – ISP is Internet Service Provider. That is the private company or government organization that plugs you into the vast Internet around the world. Your ISP will offer varying services for varying prices: web page access, email, hosting your own web page, hosting your own blog, and so on. ISP’s will also offer various Internet connection speeds for a monthly fee. (e.g. ultra high speed Internet vs economy Internet). Today, you will also hear about WISP’s, which are Wireless Internet Service Providers. They cater to laptop users who travel regularly.
L – P
Malware – Malware is the broad term to describe any malicious software designed by hackers. Malware includes: viruses, trojans, ratware, keyloggers, zombie programs, and any other software that seeks to do one of four things:
- vandalize your computer in some way
- steal your private information
- take remote control of your computer (‘zombie’ your computer) for other ends
- manipulate you into purchasing something
Malware programs are the time bombs and wicked minions of dishonest programmers.
Phishing – Phishing is the use of convincing-looking emails and web pages to lure you into typing your account numbers and passwords or PINs. Often in the form of fake PayPal warning messages or phony bank login screens, phishing attacks can be convincing to anyone who is not trained to watch for the subtle clues. As a rule, all users should distrust any email link that says, “You should log in and confirm this.”
Online/Offline – This one’s simple online means that your computer, phone, or other device is connected to the internet. Conversely, if you’re offline, you don’t have a connection and are thus cut off from the rest of the online world.
PDF (Portable Document Format) – A file format designed to enable printing and viewing of documents with all their formatting (typefaces, images, layout, etc.) appearing the same regardless of what operating system is used, so a PDF document should look the same on Windows, Macintosh, Linux, OS/2, etc. The PDF format is based on the widely used Postscript document-description language. Both PDF and Postscript were developed by the Adobe Corporation.
P2P – P2P file sharing (‘peer-to-peer’) is the most voluminous Internet activity today. P2P is the cooperative trading of files amongst thousands of individual users. P2P participants install special software on their computers, and then voluntarily share their music, movies, eBooks, and software files with each other. Through ‘uploading’ and ‘downloading’, users trade files that are anywhere from 1 megabyte to 5 gigabytes large. This activity, while in itself a fully legal pastime, is very controversial because thousands of copyrighted songs and movies trade hands through P2P.
Proxy – In simple terms a proxy is an intermediate server or a network that enables indirect communication between computer networks. In some cases the proxy server serves as a separation point between an organization and the outside world and enables monitoring, blocking or changes in HTML pages based on different criteria. A proxy server enables the blocking of web pages with undesirable content and access to illegal downloads. The anonymous proxy enables privacy and anonymity, by replacing the IP address of a user on the internal (protected) network with its own IP address for all traffic passing through it. The proxy provides the same ability to browse the Internet as any other Web browser. A proxy site allows the user to type in a specific web address and be directed to that specific page in a window.
Pop-up – A small window that suddenly appears (or ‘pops up’) on a webpage, usually an advertisement or an alert.
Link (or Hyperlink) – Text, an image or a button that you can click or tap on in order to access a website. The link may be blue in color and underlined, and may include wording such as ‘click here for more information’ or ‘find out more’. An underlined word(s), phrase(s), or graphics on a Web page that transports the reader to additional or related information on the Internet.
LAN: A local area network is a small network that’s confined to a local area. For example, your home network or an office network is a LAN. Connects a group of computers for the purpose of sharing resources such as programs, documents, or printers. Shared files often are stored on a central file server.
Localhost: The hostname “localhost” always corresponds to the device you’re using. This uses the loopback network interface a network interface implemented in software to connect directly to your own PC.
MAC Address: Each network interface has a media access control address, or MAC address also known as a physical address. This is a unique identifier designed to identify different computers on a network. MAC addresses are usually assigned when a manufacturer creates a network device.
Q – U
URL – Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) are the web browser addresses of internet pages and files. With a URL, you can locate and bookmark specific pages and files in a web browser.
Here is an example format of a URL:
This format is frequently shortened to this:
Sometimes URLs are longer and more complicated, but all follow acknowledged rules for naming.
URLs consist of three parts:
- Protocol: The protocol is the portion ending in //:. Most web pages use the protocol http or https, but there are other protocols.
- Host: The host or top-level domain frequently ends in .com, .net, .edu, or .org but can also end in one of many others that have been officially recognized.
- Filename: The filename or page name.
Router (aka ‘Network Router’) – A router or router-modem combination is the hardware device that acts as the traffic cop for network signals arriving at your home or business from your ISP. A router can be wired or wireless or both. A router provides a defense against hackers and directs content to the specific computer, device, streaming device, or printer that should receive it. Often your ISP provides the network router it prefers for your internet service. When it does, the router is configured appropriately. If you choose to use a different router, you may need to enter information into it.
Spam (or Spamming) – An inappropriate attempt to use a mailing list, or USENET or other networked communications facility as if it was a broadcast medium (which it is not) by sending the same message to a large number of people who didn’t ask for it. The term probably comes from a famous Monty Python skit which featured the word spam repeated over and over. The term may also have come from someone’s low opinion of the food product with the same name, which is generally perceived as a generic content-free waste of resources. (Spam® is a registered trademark of Hormel Corporation, for its processed meat product.)
Spyware – A somewhat vague term generally referring to software that is secretly installed on a users computer and that monitors use of the computer in some way without the users’ knowledge or consent. Most spyware tries to get the user to view advertising and/or particular web pages. Some spyware also sends information about the user to another machine over the Internet. Spyware is usually installed without a users’ knowledge as part of the installation of other software, especially software such as music sharing software obtained via download.
Server – A computer, or a software package, that provides a specific kind of service to client software running on other computers. The term can refer to a particular piece of software, such as a WWW server, or to the machine on which the software is running, e.g. “Our mail server is down today, that’s why e-mail isn’t getting out.” A single server machine can (and often does) have several different server software packages running on it, thus providing many different servers to clients on the network. Sometimes server software is designed so that additional capabilities can be added to the main program by adding small programs known as servlets.
SQL (Structured Query Language) – A specialized language for sending queries to databases. Most industrial-strength and many smaller database applications can be addressed using SQL. Each specific application will have its own slightly different version of SQL implementing features unique to that application, but all SQL-capable databases support a common subset of SQL.
SSL (Secure Socket Layer) – A protocol designed by Netscape Communications to enable encrypted, authenticated communications across the Internet.
Search engine – Search engines enable you to find websites and ask questions on the internet. Popular search engines include Google and Bing. You can type in some keywords to find out information or access websites. Someone might tell you to ‘google’ something, which means to look up information online using a search engine.
Security certificate – This is a piece of information on a website which shows the website is what it claims to be, and that the website is secure. A security certificate is also known as a digital certificate or a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate.
Software – Software is a catch-all term for something that runs on your computer, tablet or smartphone. Examples include apps on your phone and tablet, video calling programs like Skype and Zoom, or anti-virus programs. You might also see them described as ‘programs’.
Trojan – A Trojan is a special kind of hacker program that relies on the user to welcome it and activate it. Named after the famous Trojan horse tale, Trojan programs masquerade as legitimate files or software programs. Sometimes, it is an innocent-looking movie file or an installer that pretends to be actual anti-hacker software. The power of the Trojan attack comes from users naively downloading and running the Trojan file. Protect yourself by not downloading files that are sent to you in emails or that you see on unfamiliar websites.
Tab – Tabs are at the very top of your internet browser. You can click on the ‘+’ symbol to open a new tab, where you can visit a different website without losing access to the webpage you’re on. Some apps might also have tabs at or near the top, which you can click or tap on to switch between different parts of the app.
Upload – To transfer files or data stored on your smartphone, tablet or computer to the internet. For example, you might upload a picture to social media or cloud storage.
V – Z
VPN (Virtual Private Network) – Usually refers to a network in which some of the parts are connected using the public Internet, but the data sent across the Internet is encrypted, so the entire network is “virtually” private.
Virus – A chunk of computer programming code that makes copies of itself without any conscious human intervention. Some viruses do more than simply replicate themselves, they might display messages, install other software or files, delete software of files, etc. A virus requires the presence of some other program to replicate itself. Typically viruses spread by attaching themselves to programs and in some cases files, for example the file formats for Microsoft word processor and spreadsheet programs allow the inclusion of programs called “macros” which can in some cases be a breeding ground for viruses.
Web Page – A web page is what you see in a web browser when you’re on the internet. You are on a web page right now. Think of the web page as a page in a magazine. You may see text, photos, images, diagrams, links, advertisements, and more on any page you view. Often, you click or tap on a specific area of a web page to expand the information or move to a related web page. Clicking a link, which is a snippet of text that appears in a color different from the rest of the text, takes you to a different web page. If you want to go back, use the arrow buttons provided for that purpose.
Website – A Web site consists of a “page”, or a collection of pages, containing text, pictures, links for downloading games, music or software and sound and video clips. Web sites can be news sites, educational sites, online stores, blogs (online diaries) and there are many other types of Web sites.
Wi-Fi – WiFi (short for “wireless fidelity”) is used for connecting devices like PCs and Smartphones to the internet without wires, through a wireless network. Wi-Fi technology is becoming popular as an alternative to a wired LAN at the home or in the office. The WiFi signal can reach a few close rooms and up to several hundred meters. Many restaurants, airports and other public places offer Wi-Fi free of charge to their customers.
WWW (World Wide Web) – World Wide Web (or simply Web for short) is a term frequently used (incorrectly) when referring to “The Internet”, WWW has two major meanings: First, loosely used: the whole constellation of resources that can be accessed using Gopher, FTP, HTTP,telnet, USENET, WAIS and some other tools. Second, the universe of hypertext servers (HTTP servers), more commonly called “web servers”, which are the servers that serve web pages to web browsers.
WAN (Wide Area Network) – Any internet or network that covers an area larger than a single building or campus.
0 – 10
404 – One of the most common errors seen online, a 404 simply means that the page you’re looking for doesn’t exist. Typically, you’ll see this when you click a link to a page that’s no longer available or enter an incorrect address into your browser.
3G/4G/5G – Mobile data that you can use on your phone or tablet without using Wi-Fi is transmitted uses 3G or 4G. The higher the number, the faster the connection. 5G will be the next technology available and stands for ‘fifth generation’ network.