Remember protocols? Well, the reason the Internet even works at all is because millions of connected computers all speak to each other in the same language, just like the telephone system. Internally, different computers might use different operating systems, such as DOS, Windows, Unix or Linux, and may utilize those operating systems on a variety of platforms-sometimes referred to as environments. But externally, they can all translate what is called TCP / IP (Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol). TCP / IP is a communications standard that permits every computer connected to the Internet to exchange data with every other computer.
All communication requires a communications standard or some commonality between participants. For example, in order to read this book, it must be written in a language that you can read and understand. That requires me to follow certain language-related protocols when writing that I know are universally accepted by all readers. In English, we read from left to right, starting at the top of a page and we use certain forms of punctuation such as periods, commas, semicolons, exclamation marks, and question marks. As long as we all follow the same rules, (adhere to the same communication protocols), we can communicate.
Prior to being transmitted, data is chopped up into tiny pieces, called packets. I refer to this process as the Popeil DataMatic Syndrome because it slices and dices the data into these packets ( like the vegematic does to vegetables! ), assigns an address to each, and then blasts them out into cyberspace, headed for a specific destination. Think of it this way: you have four friends flying from Los Angeles to New York's JFK airport, each on a separate flight. One person is routed through Dallas, one person is routed through Chicago, one is routed through Atlanta, and one is routed through St. Louis. But all four individuals arrive at JFK at approximately the same time and meet each other in New York.
The reason these data packets travel via multiple routes is not because they're sightseeing, but rather because each data packet is seeking the most direct path to its final destination. Even though this all happens in milliseconds, it's not at all unlike what we do as we drive on our city streets. For example, if we turn down a street and see that it's congested with traffic or road construction, we'll turn around and take an alternate route to our destination.
Data packets whizzing throughout cyberspace also encounter traffic jams or obstacles that may impede their progress. When a roadblock is encountered, the data packets automatically reroute themselves and they do this hundreds of thousands of times while traveling to a final destination.