Internet vs. World Wide Web: What’s the difference?

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Many people use the terms “internet” and “World Wide Web” (or even just “web”) interchangeably. And in the minds of most regular consumers, the internet and the web describe the same thing—the resource used to cruise websites, support mobile apps, and enable all sort of other digital communications.

Digital abstract with numbers and blue webbed connection lines.

Information systems students and professionals, though, know that the web and the internet are two very different things. As students work toward careers that rely on the use of the technology, it’s important for them to know the difference between the internet and the World Wide Web. It’s even better when students and professionals have a deep understanding of the nuances of the internet, as well as the history behind these assets.

Many of us utilize the internet and the web on a daily basis. Let’s take a deeper look at each of these systems, where they originated, and the differences between them.

The internet as the foundation for the web

The internet basically forms the foundation for the web to function. The web includes the websites and individual pages that host the content and visuals users interact with. The internet, on the other hand, represents the core of the web, and is the actual network that supports the web.

“[T]he World Wide Web … lives ‘on top of’ the internet,” a Wiley brand article states. “The internet’s network is at the core of the web, and the web is like an attractive parasite that requires the net for survival.”

In this way, the web includes links for individual web pages, and is searchable through Google and other search engines. Overall, the web contains about 10 billion individual web pages, all of which are supported and made accessible through the internet’s underlying network.

What came first, the internet or the web?

Since the internet provides the support and functionality that enables users around the globe to search and use the web, it was created first. According to an article from NBC News, the internet’s creation can be credited to the U.S. Department of Defense, which helped establish the earliest version of the internet in 1958 when it founded the Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA.

Over the next decade, the organization created ARPANET, a network of mainframe computers located at sites across the country. ARPANET was completed in 1969. It included schools such as Harvard and MIT in the East, Carnegie in the Northeast, and the University of Utah, Stanford, UCLA, and other universities and locations on the West Coast. Overall, ARPANET included 13 mainframe computers and top educational facilities by December 1970, enabling information to be sent and received from one mainframe system to another. Prior to this, information and systems were siloed, and couldn’t connect with one another in the way that we’re used to today.

As NBC News quips, “The idea, obviously, caught on.” ARPANET, or the earliest iteration of the internet, continued to grow and advance.

“The internet is commonly called a ‘network of networks,’” NBC News explains. “When you use an app on your phone, send an instant message, transfer a file directly from one computer to another via file transfer protocol (FTP), or simply send an email, you are using the internet—but not necessarily the web.”

The birth of the Web: World Wide Web definition

The World Wide Web, on the other hand, arrived much later than the creation of the internet. The web is what most people envision when one mentions “the internet” and includes a browser to surf, search, and access the individual URL—linked websites and pages that comprise the web.

The web was a concept proposed by British scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee while he was an employee at CERN, an esteemed European research organization, in March of 1989. This makes the World Wide Web 30 years old in March 2019. Surprisingly, the first web page created by CERN is still online and accessible today.

In 1990, Berners-Lee’s proposal was finalized, and before the end of that year, the foundations for the modern web were established, including elements like HTML, HTTP, and URL. The first web server, browser, and editor, known simply as WorldWideWeb, were created by Berners-Lee and CERN colleague Robert Cailliau that same year.

“On 30 April 1993, CERN released the latest version of the WWW software into the public domain and made it freely available for anyone to use and improve,” states an article from CERN.

The information systems of today

Fast forward several years, and we’ve come a long way. Both the web and the internet represent critical infrastructure for consumers and businesses across the globe, and many daily activities cannot be completed without these systems.

Students of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Collat School of Business online Bachelor of Science in Information Systems will learn about the web, the internet, and other key technologies as part of the upper level core curriculum. This includes course IS 303: Information Systems, which teaches students the theory and application of advanced computer systems, encompassing planning, design, development, and deployment.

To find out more, visit our website and connect with one of our expert enrollment advisors today.

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Private, public, and hybrid clouds: What’s the difference?


Wiley Brand

NBC News


First webpage – CERN


UAB BSIS Course descriptions