Networking and the Internet


The communications facilities linking computers are continually improving, allowing faster and more economical connections. The earliest computers were unconnected stand alone systems. To transfer information from one system to another, you had to store it in some form (usually magnetic tape, paper tape, or punch cards—called IBM or Hollerith cards), carry it to a compatible system, and read it back in. A notable advance occurred when computers began to exchange data over serial lines, although the transfer rate was slow (hundreds of bits per second). People quickly invented new ways to take advantage of this computing power, such as email, news retrieval, and bulletin board services. With the speed of today’s networks, a piece of email can cross the country or even travel halfway around the world in a few seconds.

Today it would be difficult to find a computer facility that does not include a LAN to link its systems. Linux systems are typically attached to an Ethernet network. Wireless networks are also prevalent. Large computer facilities usually maintain several networks, often of different types, and almost certainly have connections to larger networks (companywide or campuswide and beyond).

The Internet is a loosely administered network of networks (an internetwork) that links computers on diverse LANs around the globe. An internet (small i) is a generic network of networks that may share some parts in common with the public Internet. It is the Internet that makes it possible to send an email message to a colleague thousands of miles away and receive a reply within minutes. A related term, intranet, refers to the networking infrastructure within a company or other institution. Intranets are usually private; access to them from external networks may be limited and carefully controlled, typically using firewalls.

Network services
Over the past decade many network services have emerged and become standardized. On Linux and UNIX systems, special processes called daemons support such services by exchanging specialized messages with other systems over the network. Several software systems have been created to allow computers to share filesystems with one another, making it appear as though remote files are stored on local disks. Sharing remote filesystems allows users to share information without knowing where the files physically reside, without making unnecessary copies, and without learning a new set of utilities to manipulate them. Because the files appear to be stored locally, you can use standard utilities (such as cat, vim, lpr, mv, or their graphical counterparts) to work with them.

Developers have created new tools and extended existing ones to take advantage of higher network speeds and to work within more crowded networks. The rlogin, rsh, and telnet utilities, which were designed long ago, have largely been supplanted by ssh (secure shell, page 621) in recent years. The ssh utility allows a user to log in on or execute commands securely on a remote computer. Users rely on such utilities as scp and ftp to transfer files from one system to another across the network. Communication utilities, including email utilities and chat programs (e.g., talk, Internet Relay Chat [IRC], ICQ, and instant messenger [IM] programs, such as AOL’s AIM and gaim) have become so prevalent that many people with very little computer expertise use them on a daily basis to keep in touch with friends, family, and colleagues.

An intranet is a network that connects computing resources at a school, company, or other organization but, unlike the Internet, typically restricts access to internal users. An intranet is very similar to a LAN (local area network) but is based on Internet technology. An intranet can provide database, email, and Web page access to a limited group of people, regardless of their geographic location.

The ability of an intranet to connect dissimilar machines is one of its strengths. Think of all the machines you can find on the Internet: Macintosh systems, PCs running different versions of Windows, machines running UNIX and Linux, and so on. Each of these machines can communicate via IP, a common protocol. So it is with an intranet: Dissimilar machines can all talk to one another.

Another key difference between the Internet and an intranet is that the Internet transmits only one protocol suite: IP. In contrast, an intranet can be set up to use a number of protocols, such as IP, IPX, AppleTalk, DECnet, XNS, or other protocols developed by vendors over the years. Although these protocols cannot be transmitted directly over the Internet, you can set up special gateway boxes at remote sites that tunnel or encapsulate these protocols into IP packets and then use the Internet to pass them.

You can use an extranet (also called a partner net) or a virtual private network (VPN) to improve security. These terms describe ways to connect remote sites securely to a local site, typically by using the public Internet as a carrier and employing encryption as a means of protecting data in transit.

Source of Information : Prentice Hall A Practical Guide to Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5th Edition


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