The Internet, the World Wide Web, Library Web Browsers, and Library Web Servers

Article excerpt

This article first examines the difference between two very familiar and sometimes synonymous terms, the Internet and the Web. The article then explains the relationship between the Web's protocol HTTP and other high-level Internet protocols, such as Telnet and FTP, as well as provides a brief history of Web development. Next, the article analyzes the mechanism in which a Web browser (client) "talks" to a Web server on the Internet. Finally, the article studies the market growth for Web browsers and Web servers between 1993 and 1999. Two statistical sources were used in the Web market analysis: a survey conducted by the University of Delaware Libraries for the 122 members of the Association of Research Libraries, and the data for the entire Web industry from different Web survey agencies.

Many librarians are now dealing with the Internet and the Web on a daily basis. While the Web is sometimes synonymous with the Internet in many people's minds, the two terms are quite distinct, and they refer to different but related concepts in the modern computerized telecommunication system.

The Internet is nothing more than many small computer networks that have been wired together and allow electronic information to be sent from one network to the next around the world. A piece of data from Beijing, China may traverse more than a dozen networks while making its way to Washington, D.C. We can compare the Internet to the Great Wall of China, which was built in the Qin dynasty around the third century B.C. by connecting many existing short defense walls built by previous feudal states. The Great Wall not only served as a national defense system for ancient China, but also as a fast military communication system. A border alarm was raised by means of smoke signals by day, and beacon fires at night, ignited by burning a mixture of wolf dung, sulfur, and saltpeter. The alarm signal could be relayed over many beacon-fire towers from the western end of the Great Wall to the eastern end (4,500 miles away) within a day. This was considered light speed two thousand years ago. However, while the Great Wall transferred the message in a linear mode, the Internet is a multidimensional network.

The Web is a late-comer to the Internet, one of the many types of high-level data exchange protocols on the Internet. Before the Web, there was Telnet, the traditional command-driven style of interaction. There was FTP, a file transfer protocol useful for retrieving information from large file archives. There was Usenet, a communal bulletin board and news system. There was also e-mail for individual information exchange, and e-mail lists, for one-to-many broadcasts. In addition, there was Gopher, a campus-wide information system shared among universities and research institutions, and WAIS, a powerful search and retrieval system developed by Thinking Machines, Inc. In 1990 Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau at CERN (www.cern.ch), the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, created a new information system called "World Wide Web" (WWW). Designed to help the CERN scientists with the increasingly confusing task of exchanging information on the Internet, the Web system was to act as a unifying force, a system that would seamlessly bind all file-protocols into a single point of access. Instead of having to invoke different programs to retrieve information via various protocols, users would be able to use a single program, called a "browser," and allow it to handle all the details of retrieving and displaying information. In December 1993 WWW received the IMA award, and in 1995 Berners-Lee and Cailliau received the Association for Computing (ACM) Software System Award for its development.

The Web is best known for its ability to combine text with graphics and other multimedia on the Internet. In addition, the Web has some other key features that make it stand out from earlier Internet information exchange protocols. Since the Web is a late-comer to the Internet, it has to be compatible backwards with other communications protocols in addition to its native language, HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP). …