Thursday, June 14, 2012

How Networks Are Born

--Charley Kline
10:30 pm, 29 October 1969
Boelter Hall 3420, UCLA

If there were an "In the beginning," for the Internet, this would be it-- or to be more precise the first pair of characters transmitted on ARPAnet, one of the main predecessors to the Internet.  Mr Kline was actually attempting to send the phrase "login" to a waiting computer at Stanford, but the system crashed two characters in and they had to try again an hour later.  By November 21, a persistent connection was up and running between the two schools, and by December 5, a four-node network was running between UCLA, Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah.

Before the Internet was this monstrously large network, it was four computers strung together.  If you're anything like me, you are totally excited by this concept and want to read all about it on your own, which you can in the collection of all Request for Comment (RFC) memos ever published.  Some of my favorites include the very first one, the first cut at Telnet protocol, and a curious one discussing some undisclosed criticism that the contractor, BBN, didn't want to publish for fear of embarrassing the researchers involved.  Much later, of course, we get RFC 1149, which details the transmission of IP datagrams on avian carriers-- i.e. sending data via carrier pigeons.

ARPAnet grew and grew, reaching 213 nodes by 1981, but it was eventually pared back down, and was finally decommissioned on February 28, 1990.  Pioneer Vint Cerf wrote the following poem in memorium, entitled "Requiem of the ARPAnet":


It was the first, and being first, was best,
but now we lay it down to ever rest.
Now pause with me a moment, shed some tears.
For auld lang syne, for love, for years and years
of faithful service, duty done, I weep.
Lay down thy packet, now, O friend, and sleep.


A touching moment, after which Al Gore invented the Internet.

But back to lo and that infant network.  In the beginning, ARPAnet really just consisted of those four network nodes passing information back and forth.  That's about all it would take to establish one in your hometown, too-- just find three or four other people who are interested in file sharing and maybe browse through a couple of network topologies to plan out how you're going to pass the drives around, and what you're all interested in sharing.  My suggestion is music you've recorded yourself!

Lo and behold, you'll have your own Sneakernet!

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