What actually happens when you click ‘publish’?

I’ve wondered this myself. Where exactly does my content go when I click the publish button? And how does the internet work? Here’s my attempt to answer these fundamental questions.

It starts here.

A Brief History of the Internet

The internet is essentially a network of computers that can communicate with each other by transmitting packets of information. It’s old technology. Computers in the 1950s were capable of sending basic information to each other, but only when connected to a hardwired network. The technology was limited, but it suggested possibilities that led to today’s version of the World Wide Web.

By the 1960s, computer scientists had created several networks, including Telenet, ARPANET, and Merit Network that could transfer small amounts of data. Each of these networks relied on linear architecture that made it difficult to find files without extensive searching. In order to locate a file, users had to follow a series of tiers. If users did not find the information they needed, then they had to go back to a higher level and start over.

Linear architecture seems antiquated today thanks to the development of hypertext by Tim Berners-Lee, a scientist working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and Peter J. Brown, a University of Kent researcher who introduced the concept to personal computers a few years later.

If you’re interested in seeing how linear architecture works, you can see a simulation of the first website by visiting http://info.cern.ch/.

Hypertext connects documents through a series of links. When you click on a website’s link, you’re using an advanced form of this technology. The links have become so complex that today’s hypertext documents form the World Wide Web. Without the interlinked documents, you would not have the ability to surf from one web page to another. Instead, you would have to follow a linear architecture similar to the one used in the 1960s.

Interesting Fact:The first electronic message was sent in 1969 by UCLA scientists trying to communicate with a computer at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, California. The programmers wanted to send the word “login” to the computer at Stanford Research Institute, but the transmission crashed after “o.” The full message was completed about an hour later. Finally, researchers had found a reliable way to send small packets of information without using wired networks.

Early Days of Page Linking

The hypertext concept has been around since at least the early 1940s when Jorge Lois Borges published his perplexing short story, “The Garden of Forking Paths.” The term “hyperlink” was first used by Project Xanadu founder Ted Nelson in 1965. Project Xanadu fell short of its objectives, but it provided guidance that helped other programmers create early hyperlinks.

One of the first successful page linking projects, led by Douglas Engelbart, discovered a way to create hyperlinks within a single document in 1966. A couple of years later, Engelbart’s team used hyperlinks to connect several independent documents. These early pages didn’t look like what you see on the internet today, but the concept began to solidify shortly after a group of University of Maryland graduate students developed highlighted links for a proprietary system used to publish the world’s first electronic book. With highlighted links, readers could easily find hyperlinks without disrupting a document’s narrative flow.

Home computer users gained access to linking technology in 1987 through a database program called HyperCard that had been developed for the Apple Macintosh. Microsoft began using hyperlinks in the Help section of Windows 3.0, which was released in 1990. Personal computer users couldn’t create their own linked pages, but they could use pages provided by their operating systems.

In 1991, Gopher became the first protocol that let individuals add links to different internet pages within documents. It was quickly replaced by HTML, which became the standard for linking documents. HTML became the more popular linking options because it let users create documents with text and graphics as well as hyperlinks.

IPs, URLs and DNS

The internet has to use a series of addresses to organize servers and web pages. All devices that communicate with the internet receive an Internet Protocol (IP) address. Your laptop computer has an IP address. So does the server that you connect to when you want to access a website. All IP addresses consist of 32-bit numbers. The addresses usually appear as four groups of numbers separated by periods. A random example would look like “572.6.3.98.” Every device connected to a network receives a unique IP address to distinguish it from other devices.

The internet organizes websites by assigning each one a Uniform Resource Locator (URL). URLs consist of numbers and periods, so they often look similar to IP addresses. Each web page receives a unique URL.

URLs don’t make much sense to humans. Most people simply are not good at recalling long lines of seemingly random numbers. A Domain Name System (DNS) makes it possible for website developers to give their pages names that humans can remember. When you enter a domain name — https://www.scripted.com, for example — in your web browser’s address field, the DNS looks up the IP address associated with the domain name. DNS, in other words, acts like a giant phone directory that pairs domain names with IP addresses.

Most of the time, these systems work extraordinarily well. As long as the internet’s architecture remains intact, you can find the website you want without trying to recall long strings of numbers. It’s a savvy solution that makes it possible for humans and computers to communicate easily.

Here’s What Happens When You Publish Something on Your Blog

Now that you know more about how the internet works, you can understand what happens when you publish something on your blog. After you type your article and click submit, the content gets sent to a server that stores your work and assigns it a unique URL, which is usually based on the title you provide. You then instruct the blogging platform to publish your content, making it available to anyone with internet access.

Assuming that someone wants to view your work (you’ll soon learn about strategies that can make your blog posts more popular), he or she types your website’s name into a web browser’s address field. The browser submits this request and gets sent to your site’s URL. It’s actually more likely that readers will visit a search engine and request directions to your website or a specific blog post, but this just adds a couple of invisible steps to the process. Visitors often use search engines because they don’t want to remember exact website addresses. Searching has also become the default option for most people.

Now your visitors can read your article, play audio-visual content and follow hypertext links to other pages.

A lot of hard work goes into making the web seem effortless. Once you look at the underlying structures and processes, it becomes clear that even something that feels as simple as publishing a blog post only happens because computer scientists have dedicated themselves to building an impressive system that knows how to locate massive amounts of information.

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