Before the Internet

Before the Internet

Saturday, November 22, 2008
Before the Internet

In the 1950s and early 1960s, prior to the widespread inter-networking that led to the Internet, most communication networks were limited by their nature to only allow communications between the stations on the network. Some networks had gateways or bridges between them, but these bridges were often limited or built specifically for a single use. One prevalent computer networking method was based on the central mainframe method, simply allowing its terminals to be connected via long leased lines. This method was used in the 1950s by Project RAND to support researchers such as Herbert Simon, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when collaborating across the continent with researchers in Sullivan, Illinois, on automated theorem proving and artificial intelligence.

Three terminals and an ARPA

Main articles: RAND and ARPANET

A fundamental pioneer in the call for a global network, J.C.R. Licklider, articulated the ideas in his January 1960 paper, Man-Computer Symbiosis.

"A network of such [computers], connected to one another by wide-band communication lines [which provided] the functions of present-day libraries together with anticipated advances in information storage and retrieval and [other] symbiotic functions."
—J.C.R. Licklider, [1]

In October 1962, Licklider was appointed head of the United States Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency, now known as DARPA, within the information processing office. There he formed an informal group within DARPA to further computer research. As part of the information processing office's role, three network terminals had been installed: one for System Development Corporation in Santa Monica, one for Project Genie at the University of California, Berkeley and one for the Compatible Time-Sharing System project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Licklider's identified need for inter-networking would be made obviously evident by the problems this caused.

"For each of these three terminals, I had three different sets of user commands. So if I was talking online with someone at S.D.C. and I wanted to talk to someone I knew at Berkeley or M.I.T. about this, I had to get up from the S.D.C. terminal, go over and log into the other terminal and get in touch with them. [...] I said, it's obvious what to do (But I don't want to do it): If you have these three terminals, there ought to be one terminal that goes anywhere you want to go where you have interactive computing. That idea is the ARPAnet."

Packet switching

Main article: Packet switching

At the tip of the inter-networking problem lay the issue of connecting separate physical networks to form one logical network, with much wasted capacity inside the assorted separate networks. During the 1960s, Donald Davies (NPL), Paul Baran (RAND Corporation), and Leonard Kleinrock (MIT) developed and implemented packet switching. The notion that the Internet was developed to survive a nuclear attack has its roots in the early theories developed by RAND, but is an urban legend, not supported by any Internet Engineering Task Force or other document. Early networks used for the command and control of nuclear forces were message switched, not packet-switched, although current strategic military networks are, indeed, packet-switching and connectionless. Baran's research had approached packet switching from studies of decentralisation to avoid combat damage compromising the entire network.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia