The Internet & The World Wide Web Are Not the Same Thing [MakeUseOf Explains]

internetglobe   The Internet & The World Wide Web Are Not the Same Thing [MakeUseOf Explains]The two terms “Internet” and “World Wide Web” have been used interchangeably ever since the Internet itself became a household “utility” as common as electricity or cable TV. People talk about “surfing the web” and “searching the Internet” like the two terms are one and the same.

Are you one of those people? It may be surprising for a lot of people to learn that the basic foundation of the two terms are very distinct. They were defined at a time when the Internet was first being formed, and despite the fact that people use them to refer to the same thing, they are actually very different pieces of the overall network we call the World Wide Web.

In this article, I’m going to separate these two terms into the pieces of the global network they represent. On the one hand, the Internet represents the hardware of the net – the infrastructure that is laid out and operates with a common protocol that makes everything all work. On the other hand, the World Wide Web is the software of the net – the vast network of applications and protocols that make everything communicate and “talk”. It is almost literally a “web” of links between not only the individual Internet access points, but also the millions, billions or trillions of individual links that form the massively growing network.

Internet vs. World Wide Web

So, basically, picture the global network we know as the Internet as made up of two layers. Picture a “solid” layer made up of all of the wires, servers, routers, switches, computers and everything else that makes up the physical networks across the entire world. That’s what we’ll call the “Internet”.

How The Internet is Designed

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of how the Internet came to be. The Internet was an infrastructure with a foundation going as far back as 1969 and the U.S. DoD’s Advanced Research Project Agency’s effort to create a strong communication network in case of war. This physical network connected critical Universities working on Defense projects with government and military departments.  Eventually “ARPAnet” grew and transformed into the impressive system that we now know today as the “Internet”.

The World Wide Web, on the other hand, is the brains of the whole thing.  Take all of that hardware and infrastructure and picture installing software onto those servers and computers. These would include Internet browsers and other software that can communicate via the TCP/IP protocol that everything connected to the Internet uses to “talk”.

internetdiagram   The Internet & The World Wide Web Are Not the Same Thing [MakeUseOf Explains]

These days, you’re not just talking computers and web browsers. People now physically connect to the Internet with devices like tablets, smartphones, music devices, game stations, cable TV devices and even things like digital photo frames and digital cameras. Lots of devices are becoming “internet-enabled”, giving those devices the ability to connect to that massive Internet infrastructure through your home “access point”.

So, how does that all work? There you are with your tablet or laptop and you’re typing “www.makeuseof.com” into the web browser. Once you hit “enter”, you are requesting information from the World Wide Web – the software-based web of connections and information. The flow of your traffic once you hit the enter key looks like this.

internettraffic   The Internet & The World Wide Web Are Not the Same Thing [MakeUseOf Explains]

From your computer, your request goes out of your router and to your ISP (Internet Service Provider). The traffic for that URL is directed based on the configuration of DNS servers in your area. Every registered domain is listed in DNS servers around the world – the entire purpose of those servers is to provide the IP address where information (web pages) are stored. The DNS server reports back with the IP information, so now the ISP knows where to go to retrieve the web page you’ve requested.

The traffic flows through Network Service Provider networks (NSP), which include networks like SprintNet, IBM, PSINet, etc.  These are the major Internet backbone networks. If you could watch your packets of information flowing through the Internet like a river, you’d see that traffic arrive at your nearest NSP before slipping through sort of virtual “doorways” known as “Network Access Points” (NAP) that allow your packet to leap from one NSP to another.

trafficjumps   The Internet & The World Wide Web Are Not the Same Thing [MakeUseOf Explains]

Eventually, your request makes it to the remote computer – in this case a web server – which will reply to your request by serving up the web page. That traffic flows back across the Internet in the same manner. All of this happens lightning-fast, in the blink of an eye.

How The World Wide Web Is Designed

So, that is an explanation of how the Internet works, but that is only scratching the very surface when it comes to the World Wide Web. The WWW is not really limited to the structure of how hardware or network wires are laid out. The web is quite literally a web of links – online connections to pages, files, music, media, video, downloads and just about anything else that might be stored on a server or a computer somewhere that is “plugged in” to the massive physical network known as the “Internet”.

colorfullinks   The Internet & The World Wide Web Are Not the Same Thing [MakeUseOf Explains]

Picture every web page stored on a server as one “node” that can contain a long list of links to many other nodes on this massive network. Every link can be to absolutely any single piece of information – text, media and more – that is connected to the Internet. It is the interconnection of all of those links that forms what is known as the “World Wide Web”. It is specifically a web of links that forms this virtual online maze of information – a web that continues to grow and multiply at a pace that is far more rapid than the physical growth of the Internet itself.

So, the next time someone uses the terms “Internet” and “World Wide Web” as though they’re the same thing, you don’t really have to correct them. However, you can rest assured in your own knowledge that the Internet applies to the physical infrastructure – the interconnected devices of the net – while the “World Wide Web” applies to the web of software links that connect together the information stored on that massive network.

Together – the two things form the massive network that has transformed our world, and has connected every one of us in ways that never would have been possible without it. The two parts of the network are critical. They aren’t the same, but they both serve an important role in making the whole thing work.

Are you one of those people that always thought these terms were the same thing? Share your thoughts about the Internet and the World Wide Web in the comments section below. Do they still seem like the same thing to you, or do you now see the difference?

Image credits: internet diagram via Shutterstock, colorful ribbons via Shutterstock, Internet Concept via Shutterstock

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20 Comments -

Mac Witty

Good and clear description of the difference, thanks!
But I do not think it will have an impact in everyday language. It’s easier to say “you can find it on the internet” than “you can find it on the World Wide Web”

Ryan Dube

Agreed – not sure it’ll change how people refer to anything online, but it’s nice to get the explanation out there for anyone that might be confused. Thanks for your comment!

Tug Ricks

I personally love it when someone says “WWW dot” before a website. It makes me wonder how many countless seconds have been wasted on that phrase…

Lisa Santika Onggrid

My friends won’t listen to me when I said it’s the same with or without ‘www dot’ and thus it’s unnecessary to say that.

Peter Everett

Agreed. I enjoyed this article a lot, and it did add something to my knowledge of how it all operates, but as Mac Witty said, in practicle language terms, its one in the same

Roman Vávra

Good article :)

Tug Ricks

Thanks for cracking this egg of wisdom on my head. :p

druv vb

Very good and informative article. This helps to explain kids about the internet and world wide web. In fact, I keep it really simple for kids. Internet derived from international network of devices. And world wide web is using the whole network of devices to share information. Is that right?
Again nice article guys.
Keep it up.

Ryan Dube

Thank you!

I agree that keeping the explanation simple helps to explain it to kids. Understanding the difference really requires keeping the two definitions distinct. On the one hand you’re talking hardware (basically) and on the other you’re talking about software and communications (basically).

AP

Well I liked the advice that “when someone uses both the terms in same sense you don’t really have to correct them”, why waste your time when majority believes both are same.

Muo TechGuy

I’ve always thought the answer was far simpler: the web is a subset of the internet. So the internet also contains FTP fileservers, Usenet news servers, and the web (amongst others).

Sam Kar

Nice explanation Ryan. But still we often use these 2 words in the same context.

Ryan Dube

Thank you – and yes, I agree. I think using the words interchangeably is something that’s here to stay…it’s just a part of our online language at this point. Still, it’s always good to keep the definitions known so that when people want to understand the origins of the language – there it is.

Stanthur Hippolyte

Now I’ve clearly understood the difference. Very informative.

wilL Toxic

Google that is the Term i used, Thanks for clearing that up..

Ryan Dube

Google is okay to use as well – it’s also a distinct term from the ones under discussion in this article though. More of a verb – as in “searching” the web, right?

Dennis

So did Al Gore work for the DoD in 1969??

Theo Reisinger

Never knew that there was a difference; thanks for clearing that up! (Though I’m probably going to keep using “internet” as a synonym for the “World Wide Web”. haha)

Eserpess Eserpess

Thank you for explaining that :) I have a test in a few days and this will definatly help through one aspect.

Patti Hogey

I liked that, interesting. I met an elderly lady who talked about when she & her husband lived in DC .They were working on the “electronic brain”.