The world wide web is just one way to access information through the internet. While it does represent a considerable portion of the internet, and is unquestionably the most popular part, the two concepts must not be treated as synonyms because they are not the same.
We tend to become used to calling things by the simplest possible name but we also tend to muddle concepts and mix up one thing with another when the distinction between them isn’t very clear. One very common case of this is the fact that most people tend to refer to “the web” and “internet” as if they were exactly the same thing, when in fact they’re not.
It can be rather confusing, and even a surprise for many, but the internet and the web are two different things, and one is above the other. Let’s see what this means.
World wide web
The three Ws that are in the addresses of the websites we access. The world wide web or simply the “web”, is a way to access information through the internet. The web is a model for sharing information that is built on the internet. The protocol used by the web is HTTP, just one of the many ways that information can be sent through the internet.
If a service uses HTTP to enable applications to communicate with each other, this is a web service. Web browsers, such as Chrome or Firefox, enable us to access web documents that we mainly know as web pages or websites. These sites are connected to each other through hyperlinks as if they were on a spider’s web (hence the name), and all this thanks to the transfer protocol: HTTP.
Therefore, the web is only one of the ways that information can flow through the internet: it is just a portion, and although it is very large and the most popular part, it does not include the whole of the internet.
So what is the internet?
The internet is a massive network, the network of networks. The internet connects millions of computers across the globe through a network that enables any computer to be able to communicate with another, no matter where on the planet they are, provided they are both connected to the internet. A network is any connection between two or more clients. For example, you can access a local network in your home that only the computers of the members of your family can access and which are connected through a switcher or router, or a work network that only people working at the same firm can access. The internet is a global, large-scale network that enables millions and millions of devices to connect at the same time, and is completely free and open.
All the information that travels through the internet does so through a protocol; there are several of these. As we have already explained, the HTTP protocol is the one used by the web to share information. Therefore, web pages such as Twitter, Google, Facebook and even this blog are part of the web and this information travels to us all through the internet.
When it comes down to it, the world won’t end if we continue using the terms interchangeably – after all, habits are hard to break – but it is a good thing to be clear about the concepts, at least.
Pictures by: Hernani Larrea, mysearchresults, Terra Nova Fondation