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Networking - How it REALLY works

Updated: Sep 23, 2023

If you have spent any time on computers and the internet I'm sure you've heard terms like IP Address, DNS, Server, and many others. You may or may not know what these are or what they do, and there is a ton of jargon used in most explanations out there. The goal of this article is to explain basic networking concepts in a way that is easy for non-IT people be able to understand. Part of that means explaining it without technical buzzwords and jargon and relating it to everyday things. So lets begin: Lets start at the top, what is DNS? DNS stands for Domain Name System. Clear as mud right? Think of DNS as a phone book. Whenever you try and access a website your computer will reach out to a DNS server which is similar to looking in the phone book to find where what your looking for is. When the request is received the DNS server looks up the request and tells your computer the address of what you want. If computers spoke to each other like humans it would look something like this: Computer: Hey DNS, where can I find Google? DNS: Let's see, Google is at Computer: Thank you, I'll head over right away! That doesn't look like any address you see in the phone book, but it is an address, an IP Address. IP stands for internet protocol, so in essence, the IP Address is the street address of every computer on a network. These can range from to, that's a lot of address! Whenever you go to a website, while you see something like, your computer sees one of these IP addresses. To break this down further your computer and websites talk via something called packets. Think of packets like letters in the mail, when you do something online your computer sends a letter to the address of the website with a return address asking it to do something, then the website sends a letter back to your address showing you what you wanted to see, granted this happens much faster than sending letters back and forth.

But wait, what about servers? Well server is a broad term for a computer that isn't necessarily used directly by a human. Think of servers like the industrial portion of a city, they can be data warehouses, production facilities, infrastructure hubs and more, but for this discussion they will primarily work in two capacities, either as DNS, your phone book, or a multi tenant building like an apartment complex. We already talked about the phone book so what about the apartment building? When you are work in an office there are usually many different computers, and this is the case all over the world.

Since the IP Address system only has approximately 4.3 billion combinations this can start to cause a problem when you consider billions of people have multiple online devices. So what if you had two different addresses? You do! You have a public and private IP Address. So what does that mean? The Public IP address would be the street address of your building. If you live in a high rise apartment in New York city and I send a letter to you, just the street address isn't enough. Sure that gets the letter to the door, but I need it to go to you. Private IP address would be the unit number in this example. The server would be the mailroom at the office building. The post office would take the letter to the building and drop it off, the mail clerk would then look at the letter and know exactly which person to hand that letter too, and that's exactly how the public and private system works. Lets show an example, 1st will be a street address, 2nd will be a set of IP addresses written in a similar fashion: John Doe

123 First Street, New York NY 11111 Office 325B

John Doe So in this example the first IP Address would be your street address, it tells the sending computer what server to send the mail too. The website or computer doesn't know where your desk is but it knows what building your in. Once the mail arrives your mail clerk, the server, brings it to your desk because it knows exactly where you sit. In a similar fashion when you send mail back out, it goes to the office mail room which then hands it, and all the other mail off to the mail man to be delivered to other offices, or servers.

In essence the entire internet operates very similarly to the postal system. The internet is a digital world, and in order to send mail you have addresses, mail carriers, etc. that help move information from one place to another.

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