The Internet (technically) turns 30

The very reason you’re reading this blog post is 30 years old—the Internet, or at least what you use to connect to the Internet. It’s also the same reason you check your email, talk to your friends and family on Skype, share that latest meme on Facebook, post your lunch on Instagram, argue with complete strangers on anything with a comments section, frag a few noobs on Call of Duty, the list goes on and on.

Most people connect to the Internet using Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). Vint Cerf, one of the “fathers” of the Internet, developed TCP/IP as far back as 1969. “A long time ago, my colleagues and I became part of a great adventure, teamed with a small band of scientists and technologists in the U.S. and elsewhere. For me, it began in 1969, when the potential of packet switching communication was operationally tested in the grand ARPANET experiment by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA),” Cerf said. ARPANET was one of the precursors to the modern-day Internet, but was generally used by the United States military to communicate with one another.

Before TCP/IP was adopted, each network had its own communications protocol, making it impossible to transmit anything between networks. “In an attempt to solve this, Robert Kahn and I developed a new computer communication protocol designed specifically to support connection among different packet-switched networks. We called it TCP, short for ‘Transmission Control Protocol,’ and in 1974 we published a paper about it in IEEE Transactions on Communications: ‘A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication.’ Later, to better handle the transmission of real-time data, including voice, we split TCP into two parts, one of which we called ‘Internet Protocol,’ or IP for short. The two protocols combined were nicknamed TCP/IP,” Cerf said.

TCP/IP was eventually accepted as the new standard protocol for communications in 1981, and all 400 ARPANET hosts had to switch over from the Network Control Protocol (NCP) to TCP/IP by January 1, 1983. NCP was simultaneously rendered as obsolete on that day. “When the day came, it’s fair to say the main emotion was relief, especially amongst those system administrators racing against the clock. There were no grand celebrations—I can’t even find a photograph. The only visible mementos were the ‘I survived the TCP/IP switchover’ pins proudly worn by those who went through the ordeal! Yet, with hindsight, it’s obvious it was a momentous occasion. On that day, the operational Internet was born. TCP/IP went on to be embraced as an international standard, and now underpins the entire Internet,” Cerf said about the occasion.

Although consumers didn’t see the modern-day Internet as it is until the mid-1990s, Cerf and his colleagues kicked its development into high gear 30 years ago, unaware of the consequences it would have. “It’s been almost 40 years since Bob and I wrote our paper, and I can assure you while we had high hopes, we did not dare to assume that the Internet would turn into the worldwide platform it has become,” Cerf said.