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Fact Sheet
Basic Internet FAQ for the Medical Librarian
Part I, General Internet Information

Greg Bodin
former Technology Coordinator, NN/LM South Central Region, Houston, TX
updated by Shikun ("KK") Jiang, Technology Coordinator, NN/LM SCR, 03/03/2009

This FAQ sheet (Frequently Asked Questions) is designed for the Medical Librarian with little or no experience with the Internet.

1. What is the Internet?

The Internet is a network of computer networks. A network consists of two or more computers that are interconnected physically and capable of communicating and sharing data with each other. The Internet is a collection of these individual networks.

2. How did the Internet start?

The Internet started in 1969 when the U.S. Department of Defense created ARPANET, a network connecting four universities and their computer networks. More universities were added over the years. In 1985 the National Science Foundation established a network of supercomputing centers and several regional networks connected to the "super centers." These events formed the backbone of today’s Internet.

3. What does the Internet provide?

The Internet provides access to data, text, sound, graphics, software and communication.

4. How does the Internet provide these things?

There are several different methods for moving information across the Internet. These include hypertext (WWW), remote login (telnet), file transfer (ftp), and electronic mail (email). All of these technologies are simply ways to get information from one computer to another via the Internet.

5. What is a protocol?

In order for different types of computers on the Internet network to understand each other, all computers must follow a set of rules called a protocol in order to communicate with each other.

6. What protocol does the Internet use?

Computers on the Internet use the TCP/IP protocol to communicate with each other.

7. What does TCP/IP stand for?

TCP/IP stands for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol.

8. How does TCP/IP work?

TCP/IP works like mailing a letter. There are two components. IP places the data in an "envelope" and addresses it, similar to putting a letter in an envelope. It also enables the network to read the envelope’s address and forward the data to its destination. TCP breaks up the envelope into data "packets" that the network can handle. TCP verifies that all packets arrive at their destination and reassembles the packets for the recipient to use.

9. What is Internet addressing?

All information communicated over the Internet requires an address, just like a letter mailed at a post office. Internet addressing is a systematic way to identify people, computers and Internet resources. An example would be an email address ( or a web address ( There are two main parts to Internet addressing, the IP address and the domain name.

10. What is an IP address?

For a computer to use TCP/IP to communicate information to another computer, you need to know the other computer’s address. An IP address is a specific address for a specific computer on a specific network. This number tells TCP/IP exactly where the information "packet" should be sent. IP addresses are unique—no two computers can have the same address.

11. What does an IP address look like?

An IP address consists of four sections separated by periods. Each section contains a number between 0 and 255. An example would be:

12. What is a domain name?

A domain name is another way to identify computers on the Internet. A domain name corresponds to a specific IP address. Internet users only have to remember the domain name, rather than the numerical IP address. Each domain name corresponds to a specific IP address.

13. What does a domain name look like?

A domain name consists of two or more sections separated by periods called "dots." Some examples of domain names include:,, and

14. How are domain names organized?

All domain names contain a top-level designation which describes the type of organization. The following describe the initial set of top-level domain names in 1984. More were added in recent years. See for more information.

  • COM: commercial entity
  • EDU: colleges and universities
  • NET: Internet organizations such as Internet Service Providers
  • ORG: miscellaneous groups such as non-profit organizations
  • GOV: United States Government
  • MIL: United States Military

The rest of the address may contain the name of the organization or company, location, or other information. Example:

15. How do you connect to the Internet?

There are two main ways to connect to the Internet: 1) Direct Network Connection 2) Internet Service Provider.

16. What is a direct network connection?

A direct network connection is generally the fastest but usually the most expensive way to connect to the Internet. With a direct connection the user’s computer is part of a network which is physically connected to the Internet. No modem is necessary with direct connections, but generally special hardware such as a network interface card (NIC) must be installed in the computer in order to connect in this manner. Direct network connections are generally found in large organizations which can afford the considerable amount of hardware and software required to maintain a direct Internet connection.

17. What is an Internet Service Provider?

An Internet Service Provider or ISP is a company that provides access to the Internet for a fee. ISPs may also provide email accounts to their customers. Their customers can be businesses, individuals, or organizations. ISPs provide access to the Internet via several methods, including dial-up, high-speed DSL, cable, satellite, or wireless broadband access.

18. What is Dial-Up Internet Access?

Dial-up Internet access is made available via standard telephone lines. User needs a modem connected to a telephone line to dial into an ISP’s node, in order to establish connection. Although dial-up has been replaced by broadband Internet access (see below) in many parts of the world, it still is a good option for rural or remote areas where broadband access is not feasible, or for users who have limited budget.

19. What is high-speed DSL?

High-speed DSL also relies on a local standard telephone network, but provides much faster connection speed than standard dial-up because DSL lines use phone lines that are specially configured to allow much larger amounts of data to be transmitted. A DSL modem is required to get access from the ISP. DSL also allows users to access the Internet while making phone calls simultaneously without interfering each other.

20. What is Cable Internet?

Cable companies offer high-speed Internet access using existing residential cable television network. Cable, like DSL, allows much larger amounts of data to be transmitted than regular phone lines, allowing for a much high Internet connection speed. User needs a cable modem in order to connect to the ISP's service.

21. What is Satellite Internet access?

Satellite Internet provides broadband access by using a satellite dish for two-way data transmissions. It is usually used in places where terrestrial Internet services such as dial-up, DSL or cable Internet services are not available, such as rural or remote areas.

22. What is wireless broadband access?

Wireless broadband provides Internet access in areas not covered by regular "wired" Internet service, or for people who are traveling. The more mobile version, mobile wireless broadband, is available through a wireless broadband card that is either inserted into a computer's USB port, or PC or Express card slot, or built-in to the computer. Service providers for such mobile wireless broadband include popular cell phone companies such as Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, or T-mobile.