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Question: What’s the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web?

Question: What’s the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web? Michael Battig <[email protected]> writes from Glenn’s home town of Eugene, Oregon, with that surprisingly common question.

Answer: The Internet is a set of networks that exchange data with each other using a standard set of protocols – languages that each machine can speak. In previous issues of NetBITS, we’ve addressed how the protocols talk to each other, with high-level protocols (like the languages spoken by mail servers and Web servers) broken down into pieces and delivered by lower-level protocols over physical media, like copper wire and fiber optic cable.

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The Internet is both the physical set of machines that are interconnected (inter-network is the source of the term Internet) and – in the form of the Internet networking model – the protocols that drive traffic around it.

The World Wide Web is not so much a thing as it is a protocol. There is no "set" of machines that are the Web; rather, there are millions of individual machines that all use the same technology to deliver information. The Web is made up of HTML, a markup language for formatting pages, and a number of scripting and programming languages and security methods that any given site might or might not use, like Java, JavaScript, Active Server Pages (ASP), SSL, SHTML, and others.

All Web servers talk to Web browsers using HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol). HTTP defines how a Web server and browser interact; we discuss this in some depth in Jeff Carlson’s cookies article in NetBITS-006. HTTP is just one of several high-level protocols that applications use to talk to each other, like SMTP, the language that mail servers use to exchange email. [GF]

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