Internet Behind the Scenes



small-gearsFor the purpose of this example let’s say that you want to send a file to a friend who lives on the opposite side of the country. You select the file that your friend wants and you send it to him via email. Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) prepares the data to be sent and received. TCP/IP ensures that a Macintosh network can exchange data with a Windows, or a Unix network, and vice-versa.

The file that you are sending does not travel to your friends computer directly, or even in a single continuous stream. The file you are sending gets broken up into separate data packets. The Internet Protocol side of TCP/IP labels each packet with the unique Internet address, or IP address of your friends computer. Since these packets will travel separate routes, some arriving sooner than others, the Transmission Control Protocol side of TCP/IP assigns a sequence number to each of packets. These sequence numbers will tell the TCP/IP in your friends computer how to reassemble the packets once he receives them. Amazingly, the complicated process of TCP/IP takes place in a matter of milliseconds.

Animated illustration of how information moves through the Internet

The packets are then sent from one “router” to the next. Each router reads the IP address of the packet and decides which path will be the fastest. Since the traffic on these paths is constantly changing each packet may be sent a different way.


It is possible to discover the paths between routers using a utility known as Traceroute. Using your favorite search engine, type in “traceroute” to find different Web sites hosting it.

Also, check out the Internet Traffic Report to find out how much global Internet traffic there is at this moment…and where the “bottlenecks” are. This information may not useful to you…but it’s interesting! The Internet Traffic Report monitors the flow of data around the world. It then displays a value between zero and 100. Higher values indicate faster and more reliable connections. This information may not useful to you…but it’s interesting! The Internet Traffic Report monitors the flow of data around the world. It then displays a value between zero and 100. Higher values indicate faster and more reliable connections.