How Does the Web Work?


Before you can understand how to program the web, you need a more rigorous understanding of the web itself than you likely have now. These concepts provide a more holistic understanding of the ecosystem in which you will be working and will enable you to talk intelligently with other developers about your work.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this lesson, you should be able to do the following:

  • Describe what the internet is.
  • Describe what packets are and how they are used to transfer data.
  • Understand the differences between a web page, web server, web browser and search engine.
  • Briefly explain what a client is.
  • Briefly explain what a server is.
  • Explain what IP addresses are.
  • Explain what DNS servers are.


  1. Watch this BBC short for an overview of how the internet works.
  2. Read this article from Mozilla on “How does the Internet work?”.
  3. Watch How the Internet Works in 5 Minutes.
  4. Read up on the differences between a web page, a web server, and a search engine.
  5. Watch this Google short explaining what a web browser is. Then, find out what web browser you are using right now.
  6. Read about how one part of the web interacts with another and read about or watch a DNS request in action.

Additional Resources

This section contains helpful links to other content. It isn’t required, so consider it supplemental.

  • Listen to Part 1 (starts around 8:30) and Part 2 of Security Now Podcast’s How the web works series.
  • Watch A packet’s journey.
  • Consider buying the book Tubes: Behind the Scenes at the Internet.
  • If you’re in for a bit more reading, you can check out the Introduction to HTTP online book at LaunchSchool. This book also touches on some topics covered later in the curriculum, such as developer tools and security. Additionally, you can learn about HTTP tools, which you may find helpful in the future.
  • Some advice on reading: We recommend that you only review the immediate links posted in our curriculum. You can always go deeper on any subject if you wish, but be careful not to overload yourself on information!

Knowledge Check

This section contains questions for you to check your understanding of this lesson. If you’re having trouble answering the questions below on your own, review the material above to find the answer.

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