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Internet Celebrates TCP/IP Birthday

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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Many happy re-transmits, to TCP/IP!

The new year has begun with celebrations of the fact that the Internet is now three decades old, because the US ARPANet (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network switched to the Internet’s TCP/IP protocol on 1 January 1983.

ARPAnet was the precursor of the  modern Internet, and TCP/IP is the basis underlying all the Internet’s applications, including the Web, email  and Internet telephony.

Many happy re-transmits, TCP/IP!

The ARPANet network was commissioned by the US Department of Defence (DoD) back in the 1960s as way to connect military systems together. But it used the vulnerable Network Control Protocol (NCP), which meant that the network could be prone to a single point of failure. However Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn worked on developing the TCP Internet standard to make ARPAnet more robust.

On 1 January 1983, after a lot of hard work, ARPAnet was finally switched on using the TCP/IP protocol, and in the process it became the world’s first operational packet-switched network – although packet switching had been previouisly proposed by Louis Pouzin of France.

Previous networks had used circuit switching, whereby data and voice communications for example would be carried across a dedicated connection, like a conventional telephone network.

Packet-switching allowed for a much more efficient, robust and flexible solution, as data could be gathered into “packets” and transmitted across a single communication link as and when capacity was available, and then reconstructed at the other end. This allowed the communication link to be shared by many other users, and also allowed for data packets to be sent over multiple routes, independently of other packets.

This introduction of this packet-switching concept was vital, as it paved the way for the Internet and the way it linked computers all around the world. Sir Tim Berners-Lee for example would then go on to use the Internet to host the system of interlinked hypertext documents he invented in 1989, which then of course became known as the World Wide Web.

Communication Protocol

The arrival of the TCP/IP-based ARPANet was marked by Vint Cerf, who is now Google’s VP and Chief Internet Evangelist.

“A long time ago, my colleagues and I became part of a great adventure, teamed with a small band of scientists and technologists in the US and elsewhere,” wrote Cerf on a blog. “For me, it began in 1969, when the potential of packet switching communication was operationally tested in the grand ARPANET experiment by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).”

Cerf explained how previous networks were plagued by the fact that they each had own specific communication protocol.

“In an attempt to solve this, Robert Kahn and I developed a new computer communication protocol designed specifically to support connection among different packet-switched networks,” wrote Cerf. “We called it TCP, short for ‘Transmission Control Protocol’. Later, to better handle the transmission of real-time data, including voice, we split TCP into two parts, one of which we called ‘Internet Protocol,’ or IP for short. The two protocols combined were nicknamed TCP/IP.”

“When the day came, it’s fair to say the main emotion was relief,” state Cerf. “Yet, with hindsight, it’s obvious it was a momentous occasion. On that day, the operational Internet was born. TCP/IP went on to be embraced as an international standard, and now underpins the entire Internet.”

“I hope you’ll join me today in raising a toast to the Internet – may it continue to connect us for years to come,” concluded Cerf.

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