Computing Group – Resources – The Birth of the Net

History of the Internet


The Internet has had a relatively brief, but explosive history. It grew out of an experiment begun in the 1960s by the U.S. Department of Defense. The DoD wanted to create a computer network that would continue to function in the event of a disaster, such as a nuclear war. If part of the network was damaged or destroyed, the rest of the system still had to function. That network was called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), which linked U.S. scientific and academic researchers, the forerunner of today's Internet.


In 1985, the National Science Foundation (NSF), an American research organization, developed NSFNET, a series of communication networks. Based on ARPANET protocols, NSFNET created a national backbone service, provided free to any American research and educational institution. At the same time, regional networks were created to link individual institutions with the national backbone service.

NSFNET grew rapidly as people discovered its potential and as new software applications made access easier. Corporations such as Sprint and AT&T began to build their own networks that were then linked to NSFNET. NSF withdrew from the backbone business when commercial firms and other regional network providers took over the operation of the major Internet arteries.

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NSF also coordinated a service called InterNIC that registered all addresses on the Internet so that data could be routed to the right system. This service is now administered by Network Solutions, Inc. and other Internet registration services in cooperation with NSF.

For a look at the Internet's major milestones, see The Roads and Crossroads of Internet History. Visit the the Computer History Museum's online exhibit of Internet history from 1962 - 1992.