The World Wide Web (or WWW or Web for short) and the Internet are terms that are often used as though they mean the same thing. Actually, the Web is only a portion of the Internet. So let's start with finding out what the Internet is.
The Internet is simply a network of computer networks. But there is nothing simple about this network. Unlike most networks, the Internet is not under a central control. From the beginning, this network, which was started by the US Department of Defense, has been designed to be very hard to shut down. The idea was to have a network that could have big chunks blown up without losing the whole network. It has many, many connections between the member networks and no one place controls the whole network. In fact, there is no one "in charge" of anything about the Internet except the assigning of addresses! It is amazing that thousands of people working all over the world can manage to create such a huge system that actually works.
The original purpose of the Internet was to enable people in different locations to share text-only documents. Now there is much more you can do using the Internet:
Send and receive email messages.
Search the world for particular files or for files that contain particular words.
Have a live conversation using typed text or voice or even video.
Read electronic magazines and newspapers.
Check on the weather forecast or the score of a ball game.
Play computer games with several people at once.
Post messages and photos to social networking sites.
Buy or sell books, CDs, software, pizza, collectibles of all kinds, cars, just about anything.
Send money to someone, pay a bill, make a bank deposit.
The Web is that part of the Internet that uses hypertext documents, also called Web documents or Web pages. Words in hypertext are generally underlined and in a special color, like this. They have an address attached to them so that clicking on the hypertext accesses the file at that address. The file can be one that is on the viewer's own computer (like C:\My Documents\letters\5-10-98 to mother.doc) or halfway around the world (like http://www.microsoft.com/default.asp). Such text is called a hypertext link, hyperlink, or just a link. Web pages have come a long way from the original plain text documents. Now they can show movies, play songs, and react to what the user clicks on in many imaginative ways.
It was only in 1989 that development began by CERN (the European Laboratory for Particle Physics) on the beginnings of what became the World Wide Web. The physicists wanted the ability to handle all Internet work though a single interface, to simplify the sharing of documents between their widely scattered sites. By 1992 the system was functioning well enough to publicize and invite others to move to the new approach. Very quickly numerous browsers were developed for a variety of operating systems. The Web soon became the most popular way to access the resources on the Internet.
Hypertext documents are written in HTML (HyperText Markup Language), a coding language that does much more than just create hyperlinks. HTML code puts special marks in a text document to tell browser software how to display the text. For example, text between the tags <p> and </p> is a paragraph and text between <h1> and </h1> is a top-level heading. The browser has built-in defaults for how to format these and other basic tags.
Another example of the old way of formatting text,
COLOR="#FF0000">my text</FONT> tells the browser to use the font Arial and the color red
instead of the defaults, like my text.
An example of the new way to format text, <span class="term">my text</span> tells the browser to apply the formatting for the style named term to the text between <span> and </span> tags, like my text. In this section of the lessons, the term style colors the text purple and makes it bold. A style can be defined within the tag (inline) or in an internal or external style sheet.
HTML instructions are based on English. Each new version of the HTML standards adds more formatting choices and the ability to do other things like playing sounds and running animations or videos. New standards also drop old methods and old tags that are no longer used or are no longer recommended.
Text wrapping: One of the unique features of HTML documents is that the text wraps to the size of the window. In a word processor the text will wrap to the size of the paper page. So a web page can fit in a wide variety of window sizes, monitor sizes, and resolutions without making you scroll sideways across the page.
Most people would rather point and click on a hyperlink instead of typing a long address. They like pictures better than plain text. This explains why the Web has rapidly become so popular.
Each web page has a unique address called a URL, or Universal Resource Locator, which tells where a file is located among all the computers that are part of the Internet. A URL usually has three parts: protocol://domain/path
Protocol: The kind of coding to expect.
For web pages the address starts with http:// which stands for hypertext transfer protocol. A site that just downloads files might use ftp:// which stands for file transfer protocol. https:// is used for pages that need secure transactions, like managing your bank account or an order form that has your shipping address and credit card number on it. That's important for the security of your private information. There are other protocols that you are less likely to use.
Domain: The unique name
for the computer to which you are connecting.
All domain names have a 4-part number address like 184.108.40.206 but most have a name using letters, too, like www.microsoft.com (which is much easier to remember!). A dot character always separates the parts of a name. The www stands for World Wide Web and is used for most web pages as the first part of the domain name. The com part stands for "commercial" and is one of several extensions allowed for the top level domain. Others include gov for government, edu for educational institution, org for organization, mil for military, and net for network. It is common in many countries to include the country identifier in the domain, such as .us for the United States, .fr for France, or .ar for Argentina. List of country codes
Several other top-level domain names have been approved by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), including .pro, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .aero, and .name. List of top-level domain names
Path: The list of folders on the computer, down to the actual file, like /windows/downloads/default.aspx
If no file name is listed at the end of the path, the browser will look for the default file, usually named index.html. If no such file is found, the browser will try to show a list of the files in the last folder in the path. It may need special permission or a password to show the list of files.
You can expect to see htm or html as the extension for most web pages. The extension asp or aspx (Active Server Page) is used for a page that uses special codes from Microsoft in addition to HTML to create the page. The extension shtml ( Secure HTML) is for pages that are encrypted because they involve sensitive information like credit card numbers. There are other extensions for pages that are created by scripts on the server when your browser requests the page.
Type carefully! The spelling and punctuation of an Internet address must be exactly right, often including the use of upper case letters. Many servers that handle web pages use the operating system UNIX, for which myfile.htm, MyFile.htm, myfile.HTM are all different names.
Be particularly careful with symbols. A forward slash (/) is not the same as a back slash (\). A colon (:) and a semicolon (;) are not the same. A comma (,) is not the same as (.) the dot character.
You can find more materials on the Web in English than in any other language. Major sites are rapidly building versions in the major languages of the world. But the primary language of the Internet is English and many sites are available only in English. The more English at your command, the more resources there will be that are available to you.