Happy 20th birthday for the Internet

The Net's predecessor adopted TCP/IP in 1983, setting the standard for data communications.

Like the age of the earth or of Hollywood stars, estimates on the age of the Internet depend on whom you ask. By the calculations of one industry pioneer, this week marks the 20th birthday of the modern Internet.

On January 1, 1983, Internet-forerunner ARPANET (a system developed by the U.S. Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency) fully switched to TCP/IP. The transition came after a decade of development work on the new system, which replaced an earlier, clunkier setup, the Network Control Protocol.

Long Time Switching

Transition plans for the NCP-to-TCP/IP move were published in 1981, and some administrators began migrating soon after. But New Year's Day 1983 was the deadline, one that quite a few techies found themselves cramming for, according to Bob Braden, a member of the original ARPA research group that designed TCP.

"People sometimes question that any geeks would have been in machine rooms on January 1. Believe it!! Some geeks got very little sleep for a few days," Braden wrote in a recent post to an Internet Engineering Task Force mailing list, drawing attention to the 20th anniversary of the switch-over. "There may still be a few remaining T-shirts that read, 'I Survived the TCP/IP Transition'."

Of course, an Internet-like system was up and running long before 1983: Since 1969, researchers had been exchanging data over ARPANET, which connected hundreds of host machines at the time of the TCP/IP switch-over. But the standardization of TCP/IP laid the groundwork for today's massive, decentralized network.

Next Developments

Today, the U.S. government is considering recreating ARPANET, in a way. Cyberspace-security concerns have raised the suggestion of building GOVNET, a version of the Internet that would be secured for use by the federal government.

The General Services Administration is already gathering information from the U.S. telecommunications industry about developing this custom network for secure government transmissions. It would also be a TCP/IP network and--theoretically, at least--be free from hacker attacks.

Over on Slashdot.org, the Net's watercooler for tech-news discussions, a link to Braden's note prompted reminiscences as well as wisecracks. As one poster pointed out, "Just one more year, and the Internet can drink! Think of the fun we'll have then!"

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Stacy Cowley

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