History of the Internet | BCS


You may have thought that the development of the Internet was exclusively the work of the United States. You would be wrong. Before we go too far, let’s clarify our terms. Great Britain’s Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web, a very popular application of the Internet. But not the internet itself – the network on which the World Wide Web runs.

No less an authority than Vint Cerf, co-author of TCP/IP and co-founder of the Internet governing bodies, says you’d be wrong. Cerf spoke at an online workshop hosted by the Archives of IT and BCS for over 300 attendees on 6 January 2022, focusing on the UK’s early work contribution. Cerf says the contribution of people in the UK is “absolutely essential” to the development of the internet. UK contributions from the UK were “extremely important” to its development.

Many of the archives’ 200 interviews and 30,000 pages of publications support Cerf’s assertion, detailing work done by British engineers and articles showing the growth of its use. Archives show that the UK contributed to the first implementation of packet-switched networking, the basis of TCP/IP; The world’s first implementation of TCP/IP; and the first international hub of the Internet outside the United States.

A UK contribution to internet history

The idea of ​​switching packages rather than circuits was first described and implemented by Donald Davies at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in Teddington, South West London. He joined the NPL in 1947 and in the early 1960s worked on data communications, which he realized took place in bursts, in stark contrast to constant-rate voice communications.

Therefore, digital communication between computers was usually over a line dedicated to a single connection and used for only a fraction of the time available at the time. It is better to divide the information into “packages” chosen after the linguist’s advice and send it over the line with other packages from other “conversations”. He announced this in 1965, and the idea was suggested by a colleague at a conference in the United States in 1967.

Sadly, Davies died in 2000 before the Archives could capture his oral history, but another interviewee, Ann Moffatt, recalled meeting Davies: “It was a special Computer Society talk, but it was held at the NPL, and Donald Davies later what we were working on came to call packet switching, but we didn’t call it that at the time.

But the idea was to send packets of data all over the world! Sending data files using computers in the UK or around the world. On phone lines. I mean, it was amazing that someone thought of it, and I thought, oh my gosh, if we could connect computers and phone lines, it would open up such an interesting life.

Internet history and early applications

And they combined. TCP/IP was developed in the US by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, who heard Davies’ work at a US conference in 1967. Its first application in the world was carried out by Peter Kirstein CBE and colleagues at University College London (UCL) in the UK.

“Bob was my project manager, and Vint was a fairly junior professor at Stanford,” Kirstein told the Archives. They thought of this new internet protocol, and part of something like that, you had to have applications. So the first of the three implementations that was done was this little academic at Stanford named Vint Cerf, one of Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, the people who actually provided the computers for the ARPANET, and I, at least one of my people. or two, my few men. And between the three of us, we had our first actual applications. So we were researching ’75 or so’ on the internet.

As Kirstein says: “Around that time, ’76, ’77, there was a lot of standards work going on in Europe, and the British were part of that standardization work. They didn’t like the ARPANET. [the precursor of the internet] because they thought of it as an experiment, and although academics liked it and tolerated it, they certainly didn’t think it was essential, and they were very happy for me to join the ARPANET, but they didn’t want people to work. on the internet side of things. So I was ordered to stop working on internet protocols.



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