An Atlas of Cyberspace
If you've ever wondered where your information goes when you click send to send an email or press search to find a website or when you type in an address into your browser and press enter, then read on.
The internet or net is made up of millions of computers which can connect to each other and exchange information. The internet provides the vehicle for us to send email. It is also the home of the World Wide Web which is made up of millions of web sites built using a range of compatible "protocols", or programming languages enabling people, using all sorts of computers and all sorts of software, to access and read the sites.
Your home PC or Mac connects you to the internet via your Internet Service Provider (ISP) , a company like Xtra, Paradise and IHUG. We usually connect to our ISP by dialling up on a telephone line or via a cable connection. The ISP then checks the nearest Domain Name Server which translates domain names such as yellowpages.co.nz, jobs.govt.nz, chbc.school.nz, ardeon.org, google.com into IP addresses, which are a unique series of numbers such as 188.8.131.52.
From here your message or request is directed out one of our national gateway routers (the cyberspace equivalent of an international airport) via the undersea trans-Pacific Internet cable to the gateway router of the country where the Internet Service Provider resides that is listed as hosting the domain name you've requested. From there it is transmitted on to the web server or email server at the Internet Service Provider that your message or request is addressed to.
If it is an email it then gets downloaded from that ISP onto the home or work computer of the person or company you are emailing. If it is a website you've requested then the ISP sends you to their webserver and dishes up the page or site you are looking for.
If, when your ISP checks the nearest Domain Name Server, it can't find the Domain Name you're looking for it then sends your message, or request, off to the Root Domain Name Servers located in the USA. These hold the definitive Domain Name Register allowing it to redirect the message to the correct Domain Name Server which will know the location of the address you need. From there it redirects you to the country where the ISP hosting that domain name is located and so on from there.
In short it is an extraordinary multi-step process that may take your message, or request, right around the world. If you wish to look at a range of representations of the geography of the internet have a look at http://www.cybergeography.org/atlas/atlas.html. If you are a first time user check out our next column as we will be looking at Browser Basics.