War for the Web
28 03.12

Packet Switching: First Look


In order for you to use the Internet, information that exists on servers and hard drives all over the world must travel to your computer over copper and optical fiber cables. That data gets to you using a digital method called Packet Switching. Where previous methods of data transportation required an “always on” connection between two points, Packet Switching is distinctly different and does not necessarily require a constant connection.

Packet Switching works by breaking up the data you access over the Internet into small, self-contained “packets”. Each “packet” is given a label indicating what uses it (like a web browser) and its destination (your computer). These packets are then routed from their origin on a server or hard drive to their destination. Usually a router will locate one “best” connection between two points and route all the packets that way, but sometimes that connection gets busy or fails before all of the packets make it to their destination. When this happens, the remaining packets are re-routed through another set of optical fiber cables and copper wires to the same destination.

This prevents the need to re-send ALL of the information whenever a connection fails; only the pieces of information that failed to get through the first time are resent along an alternative route. When the packets arrive at their destination, the instructions they contain allow the application using them to reassemble and display the information you requested.

Feel free to leave comments on the video here. We definitely want to hear what you think of our first attempt to explain the workings behind the Internet.

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