What’s the Difference Between the Internet and the World Wide Web?

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Even though we use it every day, internet terminology can be difficult to keep straight. There are many terms you may not fully understand, as well as words we use interchangeably that are not actually the same.

This is the case with the internet and the World Wide Web. What do these two terms actually mean, and how are they different? Let’s learn about these essential systems and how they work together to provide the modern online experience.

What Is the Internet?

The internet is a global network of computer networks. It is the underlying technology that enables computers, phones, game consoles, smart home equipment, servers, and other network-capable devices to talk to each other, no matter where they are in the world.

As such, the internet includes all the physical infrastructure that’s required for these networks to work together. Whether that’s the local cables run by your ISP or the huge underwater cables that connect continents, it’s all essential for the internet to work as it does. Due to its nature, nobody really “owns” the internet.

But the internet isn’t just a physical concept. Many protocols and standards are built into the internet to make what we know today.

Read more: Where Does Internet Come From? Why Can’t You Make Your Own?

For example, Internet Protocol addresses (IP addresses) are a vital part of the how the system works. Every device has an IP address, just like every physical building has an address. Without the Internet Protocol, devices using the internet wouldn’t be able to send information to the right destinations.

The Rise of the Internet

Before the internet existed, entities like governments and universities had local networks that allowed their computers to talk to each other. But there was no global network like we have today. The 1960s and ’70s held a lot of preliminary research and development into what would power the internet.

In the 1980s, the US government put a lot of money, time, and research into developing what became the modern internet, which soon kickstarted its building around the world.

Thanks to commercialization, the internet became more mainstream in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It went from a tool only used in professional settings like schools to a widespread opportunity for everyone. Communication, commerce, research, and more were now possible on a scale never seen before.

Take a look at the types of internet access for more information about how people actually connect to the internet today.

What Is the World Wide Web?

As mentioned, the World Wide Web and the internet are not the same. The World Wide Web (usually just shortened to the web) is an organizational system for information that’s accessible by using the internet.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the web in 1989, and it became publicly available in 1991. He never patented his idea, making it open and accessible to everyone.

It’s called a “web” due to its interconnected nature; its design makes it easy to get to various resources from wherever you are. Consider how you can click around various MUO articles to navigate without having to type any specific addresses into your browser.

Nearly everything we do in a web browser is part of the World Wide Web. HTTP, which stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, is the primary method of communication on the web. When you open your browser and go to www.makeuseof.com, your browser uses HTTP to request information from the site’s web server, then displays it in your browser in a readable form.

Other Web Protocols

HTML, or Hypertext Markup Language, is the basic formatting style used on the web. In addition to basic text and formatting like bold and italics, HTML is also capable of including links to images, video, and other media. A vital part of the web is the hyperlink, which allows you to make clickable text that leads to other pages.

Read more: Steps to Understanding Basic HTML Code

Resources on the web are identified by a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI); the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is the most common type of URI on the web today. Another common name for a URL a web address.

As the name states, these are references to a webpage—if you have the URL of a page, you can open it in your browser to access it. See our explanation of URLs to learn a lot more about them.

How Are the Web and Internet Different?

It’s perhaps easiest to illustrate the differences between these two systems by demonstrating what each is capable of without the other.

You can use the internet without using the web, as there are several forms of communication that don’t rely on the World Wide Web. Email is one common example. Sending an email doesn’t require use of the web, as it uses SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) and works without a web browser.

Today, most people access a webmail client in their browser to use email, which does use the web. Including links to web resources is also a common part of email, but it’s not necessary for the service to work with simple messages.

VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, also uses the internet but not the web. When you place a call using an internet telephone service, you aren’t accessing any webpages or loading information from the web. You’re simply making a call where the information goes over the internet’s infrastructure instead of phone lines.

A final example are interactions using another internet protocol, such as FTP (File Transfer Protocol). FTP allows you to move files from one machine to another, but it doesn’t require a web browser or any web organization protocols. As long as you have an FTP client and something to connect to, you can use FTP without browsing the web.

Can You Use the Web Without the Internet?

The reverse doesn’t hold true; it’s not really possible to browse the web without using the internet. To access a web resource (like a website) that’s on another server, you have to use the internet to connect to it. Otherwise, your device has no connection to the network that the other device is on.

You can still use a web browser to access web resources on your local network, however. For example, your company might have an internal website that you can only access while connected to its network (called the “intranet”).

Using your web browser lets you open and browse this information, but you’re not actually on the internet, since the server exists on your local network. If you went to another city and tried to access those pages, it wouldn’t work. Thus, you’re benefitting from the familiar organizational setup of the World Wide Web when accessing local resources, but you aren’t on the internet in this case.

The Web and the Internet: Keys to Today’s World

As we’ve seen, the internet and the web are important to each other, but they are not the same. The internet is the infrastructure that connects computer networks together, while the World Wide Web is a system of organizing information that’s accessible through the internet. Not everything available on the internet requires the web.

There’s a lot more to learn about the underlying technologies that power the online actions we take hundreds of times a day, if you’re interested.

Image Credit: adike/Shutterstock


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