As the ball dropped in Times Square in New York City and New Year's greetings went out on Twitter, Facebook and other networks, the Internet itself was celebrating an important milestone of its own: its 30th birthday.
Well, kind of.
January 1 marked the 30th anniversary of the switchover of all computers on ARPANET — the Internet’s predecessor — to a technology called TCP/IP. TCP is short for “Transmission Control Protocol," and IP “Internet Protocol.” Together these two technologies work together to route Internet data traffic — or “packets” — from one Internet-connected computer to another.
Vint Cerf, Google vice president and "chief Internet evangelist," who co-created TCP/IP, explained in a blog post published today (Jan. 2) why this was important to the Internet’s future. “There was no common language,” he said. Each network used its own communications technology to transmit packets, and there was no way to transmit these bits of information between networks, Cerf explained.
Without an interconnected network (why it’s called the Internet), it’s hard to imagine many of the technological comforts we now take for granted.
TCP/IP played a part in the birth of Gopher in 1991, an application that allowed for the retrieving of documents over the Internet. Gopher is seen as the predecessor to the modern Web, although Web founder Tim Berners-Lee was developing HTML around the same time.
The protocol that Cerf and others pioneered also makes streaming media possible. After Berners-Lee started the World Wide Web, a company called Real launched its RealAudio player in April of 1995, effectively becoming the first application able to stream recorded and live audio content. This spurred additional streaming media technology, including Windows Media, Flash and others.
How about messaging clients like Skype ? Those wouldn’t exist either: Skype uses the TCP/IP network protocol in order to know where to route that audio or video call to the person you’re trying to reach.
These features using TCP/IP have become so popular that the Internet has been running out of addresses for devices. To fix this, IPv6 launched in June, which expanded the number of address from 4.3 billion to trillions upon trillions of addresses — 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456, to be exact.
“I feel immensely privileged to have played a part and, like any proud parent, have delighted in watching [the Internet] grow,” Cerf muses. “I hope you’ll join me today in raising a toast to the Internet — may it continue to connect us for years to come.”