VOl 1: How The Internet Works and Other Rabbit Holes

Photo by Nathana Rebouças on Unsplash

So Let’s Get Into It. How Does The Internet Work?

How the internet works
  1. The first thing that happens is you, the user, types in a web address into your browser. Let’s say you’re navigating to www.youtube.com to watch some cute videos of dogs.
  2. That request first travels to your router, and then to your modem.
  3. Your modem then sends that request to another machine, something called the name server(more on that in a bit). But essentially, the name servers job is to determine what kind of request you’re making. I.e. are you looking for a website, an email, or did you type a string of characters into your browser as more of a search query.
  4. Since we’re trying to navigate to Youtube’s website, the name server sends our request to a datacenter.
  5. The datacenter then routes those packets of information to the destination server, which hosts the website we are visiting.
  6. The host server then executes the request and returns code in HTML format to you the user, or the “client”.
  7. Your web browser receives the information and then renders that HTML code into the visual page you’re looking for.


A name server helps connect URLs with the IP address of web servers. Name servers are an important part of the Domain Name System (DNS), which many people call the “phone book of the internet”. One of the most important jobs of the DNS is to translate the domain name you type in to your browser, i.e. youtube.com, into the corresponding IP address. As humans, it would be pretty difficult to remember every time you wanted to watch cute puppy videos. (That string of numbers is in fact the IP address of Youtube. Thus domain names were created to make things more human-friendly.

Photo by Fitore Fazliu on Unsplash

Okay, but Where are These Data Centers?

If you’ve got an afternoon to kill, I would highly encourage you to look up some of the biggest data centers in the world. It is a truly fascinating internet rabbit hole to venture down. After all, all that data on the web does have to be stored somewhere. In the US, the Lakeside Technology Center in Chicago is the largest data center by far. The LTC is housed in a historic building that contains over 1.1 million square feet and spans an entire city block. Wow, that’s a lot of bits and bytes and dog videos. So why do we have these data centers? And what goes on there?

Lakeside Data Center, Chicago, IL. Courtesy of Lakeside Technology.
Photo by Mike Burke on Unsplash



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Kristin Ponsonby

Kristin Ponsonby

Software engineer and advocate for women in STEM.