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Network Working Group R. Plzak Request for Comments: 2664 SAIC FYI: 4 A. Wells Obsoletes: 1594 UWisc-Mad Category: Informational E. Krol

                                                                Univ IL
                                                            August 1999
                    FYI on Questions and Answers
      Answers to Commonly Asked "New Internet User" Questions

Status of this Memo

 This memo provides information for the Internet community.  It does
 not specify an Internet standard of any kind.  Distribution of this
 memo is unlimited.

Copyright Notice

 Copyright (C) The Internet Society (1999).  All Rights Reserved.


 This memo provides an overview to the new Internet User.  The
 intended audience is the common Internet user of today, thus it
 attempts to provide a more consumer oriented approach to the Internet
 rather than going into any depth about a topic.  Unlike its
 predecessors, this edition seeks to answer the general questions that
 an unsophisticated consumer would ask as opposed to the more pointed
 questions of a more technically sophisticated Internet user.  Those
 desiring a more in-depth discussion are directed to FYI 7 that deals
 with intermediate and advanced Q/A topics.  A conscious effort has
 been made to keep this memo brief but at the same time provide the
 new user with enough information to generally understand the

1. Acknowledgements

 The following people deserve thanks for their help and contributions
 to this FYI Q/A:  Chris Burke (Motorola), John Curran (BBN Planet),
 Albert Lunde (NWU), and April Marine (Internet Engines, Inc.).  Last,
 but not least, thanks are extended to Patricia Harper and Charlotte
 Nurge.  These ladies from South Riding, Virginia, consumer tested
 this document.

Plzak, et al. Informational [Page 1] RFC 2664 FYI Q/A - for New Internet Users August 1999

2. Questions About the Internet

2.1. What is the Internet?

 People use computers to perform a wide assortment of tasks.  A
 connected group of computers is known as a network. Because people
 are connected via this network, they can use their computers to
 exchange ideas and information.  Some computers are connected
 directly to the network while others (primarily those in homes) are
 connected via a telephone line and a communication device known as a
 modem.  By connecting networks together with specialized computers
 known as routers, people on one network can engage in activities with
 people on other networks.  This INTER-connected group of NETworks is
 known as the INTERNET.

2.2. What Can I do on the Internet?

 There is a large variety of activities that users can do on the
 Internet.  These activities include surfing, searching, sending mail,
 transfering programs and documents, chatting, and playing games.
 Surfing is one of the most popular Internet activities. To surf, a
 user needs a program known as a web browser.  The web browser enables
 the user to connect to a location that contains information.  Many
 locations contain links to other sites that contain related
 information.  These links are usually identified by underlined text
 that is of a different color from the rest of the text in an article.
 By clicking on one of these links the user is then connected to that
 information.  This information may be at the same location or may be
 at a different location.  This new information may, in turn, have
 links to other information.  So just like a footnote or reference in
 a print publication, links can be used to find related or non-related
 Searching involves using a special program known as a seach engine.
 There are several of these engines that are located at various search
 sites.  The popular web browsers have location information about
 these search sites.  Searching is similar to using a card catalog in
 a library.  Just as a person would look up a topic in a card catalog
 and find one or more references to that topic with library location
 information, a search engine provides the user with a list of sites
 that may contain relevant information.  This list is actually a set
 of links to these sites so that all the user has to do is click on
 the link to go to the location.  Just as different library card

Plzak, et al. Informational [Page 2] RFC 2664 FYI Q/A - for New Internet Users August 1999

 catalogs will contain different reference cards, different search
 engines will provide different reference lists.
 E-mail is another very popular activity.  It is very similar to
 sending letters through the post office or notes and memos around the
 office.  It is used to exchange messages between two or more people.
 Because email can be misunderstood or abused, users should be
 familiar with email netiquette.  For more information see Netiquette
 Guidelines [FYI 28, RFC 1855].
 Many people also participate in mailing lists.  Usually a mailing
 list is dedicated to a particular topic or interest.  Some mailing
 lists are used to provide information to subscribers, such as product
 update information for something an individual may have purchased
 while others are used for discussion.  In the latter instance people
 participate in the discussion by sending email to a "list" address
 which in turn distributes it to all members of a list.  Abuse of mail
 lists is probably the biggest source of junk email (also known as
 "spam").  Everyone should take care that they aren't the source of
 junk mail.
 Programs and documents are transferred in several ways.  The most
 common way this is done between individual users is to attach the
 program or document to an e-mail message.  Programs and documents are
 usually transferred from sites to users using the save feature of a
 web browser or the file transfer protocol (FTP).   Such transfers
 enable users to obtain a variety of programs, documents, audio files,
 and video files.
 Chat takes place between one or more persons who are on the Internet.
 Chatting is very similar to going to a party.  Just as people
 congregate in small groups and discuss things, chatters meet in chat
 rooms to discuss a topic.  Chat rooms are generally sponsored or
 operated by an organization that has an interest in the topic area.
 For example, an online news organization would have a chat room for
 chatters to discuss current events.  To chat one person writes a
 message which can be read, as it is being written, by the others who
 can respond to it in turn.  First time chatters should be aware that
 just as at a party where some people never say anything, so there may
 be people in the room who are just listening.  Also, just like at a
 party, some people may portray themselves to be someone different
 than who they really are.  Lastly, remember that chatters come and go

Plzak, et al. Informational [Page 3] RFC 2664 FYI Q/A - for New Internet Users August 1999

 to chat rooms the same way people move about groups at a party.
 Some people use the Internet to play games. These games can be role
 playing games, action/adventure games, or online versions of old
 standbys like chess.  Some games require the user to purchase a copy
 of the game and install it on their computer, while others are played
 by going to a game site.  Just like other forms of game playing,
 Internet game playing can be challenging, entertaining, and an
 enjoyable social experience.  Don't be afraid to have fun.
 Other popular activities include electronic shopping, banking, and
 investing.  Many retailers describe and display pictures of their
 products on the Internet enabling people to buy on line.  Shopping
 also includes purchasing services such as an airline ticket or
 ordering groceries.  Many banks allow people to transfer funds, check
 available funds, pay bills and other such activities while on the
 Internet with an account number and ID. Lastly, many people invest
 while on the Internet in everything from stocks and bonds to real
 estate.  One word of caution, if you are using a credit card, check
 to see if there are security features in place to protect your credit
 card information.  Reputable sites should tell you how they are
 protecting your information. If you are in doubt about how your
 information will be protected, don't use your credit card at that

2.3. What is an Address?

 Two commonly asked questions these days are "What's your e-mail
 address?" and "What's the URL?"  Generally, the first question is
 asking where to send information, while the second is asking where to
 get information.  The answer to the first question is usually
 something like  The answer to the second question
 is usually something like "".  What do these
 answers mean?
 As stated previously an e-mail address is something like
 "", pronounced "MYNAME at COMPANY dot COM".  An
 email address consists of two parts that are divided by an "@" sign.
 The portion to the left is like the name line on a letter, it
 identifies a particular person and usually is composed of the
 person's name.  Typical names look like this:

Plzak, et al. Informational [Page 4] RFC 2664 FYI Q/A - for New Internet Users August 1999

 The name is assigned by the system or network adminstrator who is
 managing the email system and follows rules that have been
 established by the company providing the e-mail service.  Sometimes
 the name portion of the e-mail address is referred to as a mailbox.
 The portion to the right of the "@" sign is the name of the computer
 system that is providing the e-mail service.  This name is usually
 the name of the company that owns the computer system followed by a
 "dot" and an abbreviation that represents the "domain" or group of
 names which the organization falls under.  Examples of these "top
 level" domains are "edu", "com", and country codes such as "fr" for
 France and "jp" for Japan.  When an e-mail is sent the portion of the
 address to the right of the "@" sign is used to find the destination
 computer of the email.
 A Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is commonly used to identify a
 computer that provides world wide web service.  It usually looks
 something like "".  This address also
 consists of two parts.  In this case the two parts are separated by
 the "//".  The portion to the left means find the world wide web
 service that is located at the computer identified to the right of
 the "//".  The portion to the right is the name of the computer that
 is providing the world wide web service.  Its name is composed of
 parts that are similar to those described for the name of an email
 computer.  Sometimes the portion on the right contains additional
 information that identifies a particular document at the web site.
 For example, would
 identify a specific article in the sports section of the newspaper.

2.4. Are There Any Rules of Behavior on the Internet?

 In general, common sense, courtesy, and decency govern good Internet
 behavior. There is no single formal rulebook that governs behavior on
 the Internet. FYI 28 that was mentioned previously is a good guide.
 Many activities such as game sites, chat rooms, or e-mail lists may
 have rules of their own.  What may be acceptable behavior in one chat
 room may be totally out of bounds in another.  It never hurts to
 check the water temperature before jumping in the pool.  Users should
 use the same precautions before joining in any online activity.

Plzak, et al. Informational [Page 5] RFC 2664 FYI Q/A - for New Internet Users August 1999

 E-mail in particular can lead to misunderstandings between people.
 Users should remember that the reader only has the text to determine
 what is being said.  Other conversation cues such as "tone of voice"
 and body signals like winking are not present in the text.  Because
 of this, users of the Internet have developed cues to put in the
 text.  Text techniques such as capitalization and symbols known as
 emoticons (also called "smilies") are used.
                 A typical smiley looks like this  :-)
 Additionally, acronyms have evolved over time (for example IMHO - In
 My Humble Opinion).  More information about this can be found by
 searching.  Use keywords like "netiquette" and "emoticon" with your
 search engine to find more information.
 Users should also be aware that their particular programs such as
 word processors or e-mail might produce documents and messages that
 are not readable by everyone.  Very often, a reader must have the
 same program in which a document was written in order to read it.
 So, before sending an attached document, it is a good idea to make
 sure that the intended receiver of your document has the capability
 to read it.  If in doubt, send a text (ascii) version of the

2.5. How Does the Internet Work?

 Each of the activities mentioned in the section describing what one
 can do on the Internet requires that computers exchange information.
 Computers take turns sending and receiving information.  When a
 computer is sending information, it is known as the "source"; when it
 is receiving information, it is known as the "destination."  (The
 same computer can be both a source and destination at different
 times.  This is especially clear when one thinks of sending and
 receiving e-mail.)
 Every computer on the Internet has a unique Internet "address" that
 identifies it from among the millions of computers.  The Internet has
 specialized computers between the source and destination located at
 network inter-connection points.  These computers are known as
 "routers."  The routers understand how to use a computer's address to
 appropriately point information from one computer to another over the
 In an exchange of information the following occurs:
  • The source finds the address of the destination.
  • The source contacts the destination and says "hello".

Plzak, et al. Informational [Page 6] RFC 2664 FYI Q/A - for New Internet Users August 1999

  • The destination responds back with a "hello" of its own.
  • The source tells the destination that it has information to


  • The destination tells the source that it is ready to receive the


  • The source breaks the information into small pieces called

packets and sends each packet on its way to the destination.

  • The routers guide each packet to the destination.
  • The destination takes the packets and puts them back together to

form the information.

  • The destination tells the source that it has received the

information and asks the source if it has anything more to send.

  • If the source says no, the destination will say "good bye"

unless it has something to send back. If it does, it will break

      the information into packets and send them.
  • Once both end users are done "talking", they say both say "good


 Clearly our simplified introduction to this section did not explain
 many steps in this process, such as how a computer discovers the
 address of another computer or how packets are divided and
 reassembled.  Fortunately, these are specifics that people using the
 Internet never really need to deal with!

2.6 Who Runs the Internet?

 No one.  The Internet is a cooperative effort among Internet Service
 Providers (ISPs), software companies, volunteer organizations, and a
 few facilities that tie the whole thing together.  The ISPs and
 software companies are completely independent and most of them
 compete with each other.  The ISPs provide internet service to people
 much the same way that they obtain telephone service from a telephone
 company.  ISPs agree to connect their networks to each other and
 transmit information following an established set of rules
 (protocols).  The software companies agree to manufacture programs
 (such as email or web browsers) that also follow protocols.  There
 are other organizations that keep things straight.  Some assign
 Internet addresses in much the same manner as telephone numbers are
 assigned, others keep track of names used by Internet users and
 groups, and a large volunteer organization called the Internet

Plzak, et al. Informational [Page 7] RFC 2664 FYI Q/A - for New Internet Users August 1999

 Engineering Task Force (IETF) develops the protocols computers follow
 to make network communications succeed.

3. Security Considerations

 The question "is the Internet secure?" can be a confusing one for
 people, who will hear many assurances that it is secure and many
 scary stories saying it is not secure.  There are a few basic rules
 of thumb to remember that will address most concerns.
 First, make it a rule never to share account passwords with anyone.
 Learning a password is the easiest way for someone to break into a
 system.  Most people feel that their files are not that interesting
 to anyone, but someone may be able to get a foothold from one
 innocuous account to other places in the same computer system.  Many
 good security practices can be found in the User's Security Handbook
 [FYI 34, RFC 2504].
 Second, understand that there are means for people to track the
 information a user sends via email, the files one downloads, and the
 sites visited on the web.  The system administrators and network
 engineers who oversee a sites' computers require access to
 information that an individual may think is secret.  In practice, no
 responsible system administrator or network engineer will violate a
 person's privacy out of personal curiosity.  However, if someone less
 legitimate attains illegal access to a system, they also will have
 access to this information.  This situation is not a problem for most
 people, but it should be understood that things like email sent a
 year ago or a log of users web pages browsed may still exist in some
 system's backup archive tape and can be easily resurrected and
 published widely.
 Third, before giving personal information over the Internet, such as
 filling in a form on a Web page, users should realize that there is
 no assurance of confidentiality or privacy.   It could be compared to
 faxing such information to a party that you've never dealt with
 before.  While many organizations on the Internet are responsible
 with information received via the web and email, this cannot always
 be determined in advance.

4. References

 [1] Guttman, E., Leong, G. and G. Malkin, "Users' Security Handbook",
     FYI 34, RFC 2504, February 1999.
 [2] Hambridge, S., "Netiquette Guidelines", FYI 28, RFC 1855, October

Plzak, et al. Informational [Page 8] RFC 2664 FYI Q/A - for New Internet Users August 1999

5. Authors' Addresses

 Raymond Plzak
 1710 Goodridge Drive
 McLean, Virginia 22102
 Phone: (703) 821-6535
 Amy Tracy Wells
 Internet Scout Project
 University of Wisconsin-Madison
 Computer Sciences Department
 1210 W. Dayton St.
 Madison, WI 53706
 Phone: (608)263-2611
 Ed Krol
 University of Illinois
 1120 DCL
 1304 Springfield
 Urbana IL   61801
 Phone (217)333-7886

Plzak, et al. Informational [Page 9] RFC 2664 FYI Q/A - for New Internet Users August 1999

Appendix A

 Glossary of Terms
 Emoticon      Combination of punctuation marks used to provide sense
               of the senders tone of voice in an e-mail message
 IETF          Internet Engineering Task Force [see text for a
 Internet      An interconnected group of networks
 ISP           Internet Service Provider [see text for a description]
 Network       A connected group of computers
 Router        A specialized computer that connects networks together
               and guides information packets to their destination
 Spam          A slang term for junk e-mail
 URL           Uniform Resource Locator [see text for a description]
 Web Browser   A program that provides the capablility to read
               information that is located at a world wide web site

Plzak, et al. Informational [Page 10] RFC 2664 FYI Q/A - for New Internet Users August 1999

6. Full Copyright Statement

 Copyright (C) The Internet Society (1999).  All Rights Reserved.
 This document and translations of it may be copied and furnished to
 others, and derivative works that comment on or otherwise explain it
 or assist in its implementation may be prepared, copied, published
 and distributed, in whole or in part, without restriction of any
 kind, provided that the above copyright notice and this paragraph are
 included on all such copies and derivative works.  However, this
 document itself may not be modified in any way, such as by removing
 the copyright notice or references to the Internet Society or other
 Internet organizations, except as needed for the purpose of
 developing Internet standards in which case the procedures for
 copyrights defined in the Internet Standards process must be
 followed, or as required to translate it into languages other than
 The limited permissions granted above are perpetual and will not be
 revoked by the Internet Society or its successors or assigns.
 This document and the information contained herein is provided on an


 Funding for the RFC Editor function is currently provided by the
 Internet Society.

Plzak, et al. Informational [Page 11]

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