ARPANET – Precursor To The Internet

Sputnik 1: the catalyst
We have a lot to thank the creators of Sputnik 1 for: aside from providing humanity with a greater understanding of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere, the rotund little satellite sent shockwaves rippling around the globe which would usher in a new period of scientific discovery.

When Sputnik 1 was sent into orbit back in 1957, the space race had officially begun: how would the USA compete with the Soviet Union in this new battleground?

ARPA (later to become DARPA), the Advanced Research Projects Agency, was formed in response to the increasing advancement of technology behind the iron curtain: their mission? To prevent any further technological surprise from the perceived enemies of the USA;

Sci-fi tech in the real world
ARPA projects would soon receive vast amounts of funding and all had one thing in common: they were to be high-tech solutions which could be developed by agile, specialist teams in relatively short spaces of time;

Throughout the years, ARPA were responsible for the creation of countless technological marvels: from the Sea Shadow stealth ship to remote controlled insects, powered military exoskeletons to methods of reconstructing shredded documents: it is clear that this organisation was producing ground-breaking technology which would not be out of place in a Philip K Dick or Arthur C Clarke novel;

The granddaddy of the internet
One project which would go on to shape the way we communicate forever was ARPANET; this was a packet switching network which would help scientists to develop the technology behind the internet;

The designs of Welsh computer scientist Donald Watts Davies would be adapted by Larry Roberts and the team at ARPA, who would go on to develop what could be considered the precursor to the internet, at the end of the swinging sixties: ARPANET;

This early network would comprise a series of units named Interface Message Processors (IMPs), which would act as the gateway-stations of a resource-sharing array; Modems would connect various sites at a speed of 50kbit/second.

The aim of ARPANET
The main goal of forming such a system was to allow the scientific community to share the resources of the limited number of powerful research computers, which were, at the time, only available to a select few institutions; as such, the original ARPANET comprised four main IMPs, spread across various universities and research institutions;

A student programmer at UCLA sent the first ever message via the ARPANET: he connected the SDS Sigma 7 computer to the SDS 940 computer at the Stanford Research Institute: sadly, his ‘login’ message caused the system to crash, so the first message read: ‘lo’; after some technical fixes, the login message was transmitted successfully, marking the start of bigger things to come.

Donnie Talbot is a network engineer who specialises in setting up business VOIP systems.