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How to understand networking and the internet for beginners

For beginners, learning how networking and the internet truly work can feel overwhelming. One expert encourages patience, practice and assurance that networking isn't unknowable.

The internet is much more than the websites people frequent.

Understanding that fact is the first step to truly grasping the internet for beginners. For networking novices interested in going deeper, they should understand the basics of computer networking: Computers have addresses, computers require network connectivity, and local networks exist and are separate from the internet. Even for beginners without any prior knowledge, the first step is easier to take than one may think, according to author and software professional Matthew Justice.

In his book, How Computers Really Work, Justice covers the fundamentals of how computers operate from the inside out. Below is an excerpt from Chapter 11, "The Internet," which covers everything from the definition of a network, to network protocols, to the foundational capabilities of the internet for beginners.

In addition to reading, those looking to learn more about networking and the internet must practice with real computers and networks, whether through dedicated labs or one's own home network. For example, beginners can start by forgetting the internet altogether, Justice said, and creating their own mini-internet on their home networks.

To start, beginners can connect at least two computers within their home network with Ethernet. From there, beginners can configure IP networks in their own ways -- without an automatically assigned IP address -- and even set up their own DNS servers. The goal is for a beginner to learn how to enable computers to communicate with one another without the internet, Justice said. This helps develop an understanding of exactly how networks work.

Matthew JusticeMatthew Justice

This exercise and learning about how the internet functions can overwhelm beginners. To combat this, Justice said it's important to remember these systems aren't magic. People designed networks and related systems to work -- not to be completely unknowable beasts. Further, people designed these systems to function reliably and for others to be able to learn and understand them. With patience and dedication, anyone can understand networking and the internet.

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Click here to read Chapter 11, "The Internet."








This was last published in January 2021

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