Disclosure: Fullstack Academy, the coding bootcamp, has previously sponsored Hacker Noon.
I’m Corey Greenwald, and me and my partner in crime Geoff Bass are instructors at Fullstack Academy in New York city. In our years as instructors and developers, we’ve come to realize that knowing how to program isn’t all there is to understanding the idea of programming. To see the whole picture, you need to learn the history of tech and why things work the way they do. So we started a podcast called Tech’d Out to help you learn the who, what, when, where, and why of programming, in addition to however much you know about the how.
In the first episode of Tech’d Out, we decided to explain — ready for this? — the Internet! We all know the point of the internet is cat memes, so no surprises there — but how did it reach the point where any of us can type “c-a-” into Google’s search bar and wind up with all the grumpy, jerky, sassy, derpy, cheezburger-loving felines we want? Learn exactly how in the breakdown of our first episode below, and then subscribe to the podcast for the inside scoop on other tech concepts like data, styling, frameworks, and more.
The Internet in a Nutshell
Ok, let’s start with the basics. We all know we can go to something called a “web browser,” type an “address” into a bar at the top, and suddenly find ourselves with the web page we’re looking for. The whole thing might seem magical and complex, but we’re here to tell you the process behind it is actually quite straightforward.
When you type something into the bar at the top of a browser, you are making a request for information — a certain type of content or a particular page. The address you type goes through a domain name server (you might have heard it referred to as DNS), which takes the address (or “name”) you typed in and converts it into an IP address. That IP address is a numerical code that represents where the content you’re looking for can be found. Your request for content is then forwarded to the address where that content is located.
At that address is a server, which receives your request for content and then delivers that content to your browser. Tada! Servers just sit there all day, listening and waiting for requests like yours — much like a server at a restaurant waits to take your order. So instead of conceptualizing servers as machines with blinking lights, think of them as waiters, ready to take your content order as soon as you’ve made your decision.
Now, there’s still one more step between you and the content you want: Web browsers still have to take the information that has come back from the server and transform it into something visual, instead of a bunch of code most people don’t know how to read. Web browsers, of course, aren’t the only things that communicate with servers to get data, but they are the only things that can act as a visual medium for interpreting the information the server has sent back. They “draw” the information on the screen for us, so to speak.
So What Makes Up a Web Page?
All right — here’s where things get interesting: in order for a browser to be able to “draw” or visually convey the information we’ve requested, it needs certain things. Just like a painter can’t paint without, say, some sort of canvas and some sort of paint, a web browser can’t visually convey information to us without — drum roll please! — HTML.
HTML is an acronym for HyperText Markup Language, which forms the bulk of the content on any web page. Anything you can see on the page — buttons, logos, text — is HTML.
After that comes styling, which makes the content look nice and keeps your screen from just being black and white text with blue links. Styles are a way of organizing the content and are referred to as CSS (Cascading Style Sheets).
Evolution of Java
The next advances happened in the early 90s with the debut of a browser called Mosaic, which was the first web browser to emphasize a graphical user interface (GUI). As you might guess from the term “graphical,” a GUI adds images to the mix and displays them in line with text. Big change. From there grew the first big commercial web browser from a company called Netscape. That now-famous browser was called Netscape Navigator.
By this time, Microsoft Explorer had destroyed Netscape Navigator, and from its ashes rose Mozilla Firefox — and so another set of browser wars began, the three big players being Explorer, Firefox, and Opera. At this point, too, websites had become web applications. Sites were no longer the static pages of the past but applications in their own right.
jQuery Levels the Playing Field
A secondary effect of jQuery was that it gave Internet Explorer’s competition a better chance. Until jQuery, smaller development teams who could afford to develop for only a single browser usually chose Explorer, making it more and more powerful. But jQuery leveled the playing field — if developers followed jQuery standards, they still only had to write their web application once, but it would work on all browsers, and then users could choose the browser they liked best, instead of being limited to the browser the majority of applications worked with, regardless of how user-friendly it might be.
Google Chrome Enters the Fray
Everything that is done on a computer, whether that computer is a whole desktop or just a smartphone, has to take place at a binary level.
But how do you translate the world into binary so a computer can understand it? Primarily, you do this by compiling. Compiling takes English-like code and converts it into machine signals that the computer can understand. If something can’t be converted into a machine signal, then it can’t be compiled. That’s how compiled languages work.
So What’d You Think?!