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A document created in 1998, when many users were new to the Web, explaining some common internet terms. Retained for historical interest.

Glossary of internet-related terms

by Jonah Winters

Note: I wrote this in 1998 for a non-technical audience, students in a distance-learning course. Much of it is out-of-date.

ASCII, also referred to as "text-only" = "American Standard Code for Information Exchange"; a 7-bit code based on the Roman alphabet which is platform-neutral, i.e. it is a sort of universal code for transferring data across the internet that all computers can read. Email is transferred as ASCII, though its attachment may be binary. Written languages not based on the Roman alphabet, such as Chinese or Arabic, can't be expressed in ASCII.
binary = the 8-bit code used for transmitting any data other than text, such as pictures, sounds, programs, and word-processed (not .txt) documents. Email attachments are often binary, though the body of the email is always ASCII. (Binary attachments are converted to 7-bit when sent and re-converted back to 8-bit when received, but that's transparent to the user and too complex to cover here.)
browser = the program you run on your computer to access the world wide web. The most common browsers are Microsoft Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, and AOL's versions of each. Modern browsers actually access far more than the web, and indeed the very newest can run almost every major protocol (save telnet), i.e. they can read mail, the usenet, run ftp, chat, and more.
chat, or irc (for Internet Relay Chat); formerly called "talk" = a part (protocol) of the internet that allows users to type messages to each other and see each other's messages at the same time; contrast with email, in which there can be a lengthy delay between the sending of and the reading of an email. Many chat rooms can now be found on the web, such as at
client = a program you run on your own computer, as compared with one that the server runs. Your web browser and your email reader are examples of "clients."
directory = a manual way to index sites on the internet. While a search engine indexes the internet with automatic computer programs, a directory is a list of sites laboriously compiled by hand. The main example is Since they are done manually they usually index no more than 1% of the internet. Directories are thus much easier to use than search engines, but they can produce limited results. However, topic-specific directories (like can be quite thorough.
domain = a unique home of a website or server; e.g., in the email address "" the second part, "," is the domain. If you were to register a domain, your domain would look like ""
email reader, or mail reader, or mail client = the program you use for accessing your email, such as Outlook, Eudora, or Pine. If you get your email off of the web, such as through, you're not using an email reader.
ftp = "file transfer protocol"; used for moving files between your computer and a website's server, esp. for downloading binary data like graphics or an update to a program.
gopher = A system for hierarchically organizing and navigating documents on distant computers, implemented extensively at college campuses and research facilities in the early 1990s. It was quickly overshadowed by the much more usable world wide web interface and is rarely used today.
html = "hyper-text markup language"; a coding language which uses ASCII, or text-only, to format documents with elements such as italics or color. A browser reads the text-only formatting instructions and then constructs, or "renders," a colorful page that's far more than text-only; hence, "hyper-text"
http = "hyper-text transfer protocol"; the request your browser sends to a server when you visit a webpage, asking the server to send files back to your computer. In a complete URL, like "," your browser is asking the distant server to "transfer the hypertext document called index.html to me."
IPP, or "host provider" = "Internet Presence Provider"; the company you pay to host a personal domain, e.g. the company I pay in order for me to run the site Many companies are both an ISP and an IPP.
ISP, or "dial-up provider" = "Internet Service Provider"; the company you pay for monthly dial-up access to the internet. For example, and are ISPs. If you use the internet only at work or at school, you probably don't have an ISP. See also IPP.
listserver, or listserv = a server program which keeps a large number of email addresses in a "list"; when any member of the list sends an email to the listserver's address, the program then re-emails it out to all other members. "" is a listserver.
meta-directory, or meta-index = a directory that lists other directories. Examples include and Meta-directories can be among the best starting points for research on the internet, because they usually classify other directories by subject, which will in turn list specific pages.
meta-search engine, or meta-engine = a program that automatically searches multiple search engines at a time. Examples include and These can be very successful, but sometimes the results are less clear than using a single search engine like
pop = "post office protocol"; a part (protocol) of the internet which sends email from the server to your computer. See also smtp.
protocol = a set of rules telling computers how to talk to each other. Examples of different protocols are ftp, http (the web), or pop (email). And analogy to explain protocols would be human communication--before you communicate with someone you have to have agreed on a number of "protocols," such as a language to speak, a volume to use, and a time to talk. Similarly, to send email or read the usenet all of the computers involved have to use one agreed-upon set of instructions, or one protocol, for that function.
search engine = an automatized way to index and find documents on the internet. Search engines will "crawl," or explore, the internet and index every file they find. Examples of search engines are and Since they are automatic they're more efficient than directories, but still even the best actually index no more than 25% of the entire internet. Search engines find many more documents than a directory, but the results they return can be difficult to sort through.
server = the computer which houses the documents you find on the internet and transfers (or, "serves") them to your computer when you visit a website.
smtp = "simple mail transfer protocal"; a part of the internet which sends email from your computer to the server. See pop.
TCP/IP = Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol is the basic method used for transmitting any and all data over the internet: the computer sending data breaks it up into "packets," little chunks of data. Each packet has the destination address included with it, and the packets might take completely different routes in the process of getting to their final distination. The computer receiving the data then reassembles it. Transmitting information over phone lines between distant computers is an inherently error-prone process, which TCP/IP is designed to make smooth and reliable.
telnet = A method of interacting with a distant computer directly. Unlike clients, which run on your own computer and just request information from a server, telnet allows you to actually operate directly with the server to manipulate files and run programs. While common a few years ago, today it's used only by webmasters and technicians.
URL = "Uniform (or Universal) Resource Locator"; the unique address of a document on the internet. A URL might or might not include the "http://," the "www," or a filename (ending in .html); For example, "" and "" are identical URLs; in this example, you'll get the exact same document no matter which of the two URLs you type in your browser.
usenet, or newsgroups, or nntp = a part of the internet which functions much like a community bulletin board (nntp is "network news transfer protocal"). The entire "usenet" consists of probably a million "newsgroups," each newsgroup devoted to a specific topic. Examples include or soc.religion.bahai. The vast majority of the newsgroups are regional-only, such as, and usually can't be accessed outside of the region. About 20,000 newsgroups are widely available, covering every conceivable topic.
website, webpage, homepage (usually shortened to "site" or "page") = a distinct collection of documents on the internet. Tends to be loosely defined, as a "webpage" can consist of one page or 10,000. For example, my mom's site consists of only her resume and it is considered one website, while the Bahá'í Academics Resource Library has over 9,000 documents and is still considered one website. A "homepage" usually refers to a personal website, such as one's resume or pictures of one's kids.
www, the Web = "world wide web"; the part (protocol) of the internet which connects and contains webpages. Since the founding of the world wide web in 1991, browsers have evolved to the point that a single browser (such as Netscape Communicator 4+) can actually run all parts of the internet, including ftp, usenet, chat, and email. Thus, practically speaking, "the web" is virtually synonymous with "the internet."
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