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How it works: The World Wide Web

Typically, I know as you read this, you cannot imagine a life without the World Wide Web, or as we arguably wrongly call it, The Internet. 30 years ago, you had to go browse through thousands of books to get any kind of information. Nowadays, all you have to do is take out your smartphone from your pocket and type in what you desire on your browser’s search bar. We, really have come a long way to get to where we are right now. But of course, the journey has not been easy and if a proposal like the World Wide Web might have been said out to the scientists of the 50s and 60s, they would have deemed you absurd and absolutely crazy.

So, what really is the World Wide Web (WWW), and what differentiates it from the internet? And most importantly, how does it work?

Just to spot the difference, let us have a look at the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web. While the Internet is a worldwide network of computers, linked mostly by telephone lines, the World Wide Web, is one of the many applications that run on the internet. So while the internet is the network, the web (WWW) is the files hosted on the Internet. So, while you use the internet to send emails, or chat with someone online, we use the web to update blogs or change our websites. Therefore, in simple terms, the web is a collection of text pages, digital photographs, music files, videos, and animations you can access over the Internet- like this one, that you are reading right now.

Earlier on in the computing world, in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, it was rare, almost impossible for computers to communicate or even exchange information at all. Machines from a single manufacturer were most of the time not compatible with each other, leave alone those from other manufacturers. In the 1970s, even the first personal computers (microcomputers) could not run the same programs. So developers had to write code (instructions) for each computer. It is this problem that arguably led to the godfather of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Bernes Lee, to crack his head together with his counterparts to form what would be iterated severally to make the modern-day web.

Despite computers not being able to communicate, they all had a standard manner of storing and processing information known as ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange). This is the foundation that Berners Lee, together with his colleagues at CERN used to develop protocols very vital for the web.

The first rule was called HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol). It is essentially a protocol for communication between two computers to enable them to exchange information through a simple “conversation”. This protocol was meant not to adhere to the geographical location of either computer. One computer (the client which runs a web browser) asks the other computer (a server) for the information it needs via a series of simple machine-based messages. The web browser and the webserver then communicate briefly, with the browser sending requests for what it wants and the server sending them if it can find and access them.

Rule 2 was to help computers understand the files it has received via HTTP. Berners thus developed a language called HTML (HyperText Markup Language). Still based on ASCII, this language allowed for computers to be able to ‘decode’ the messages sent over the HTML tags.

This is the basic foundation of how the web works: using HTTP AND HTML. HTTP is the simple manner (protocol) in which one computer asks another one for Web pages hosted by it and HTML is the way those pages are written so that any computer that seeks and gets these pages can decode them and display them appropriately


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