How does the internet work? (simplified)

We enter a web address (aka domain name) directly in to our browsers, or click on a result in a search engine results page, and a website magically appears for us to browse.

But how does that happen?

First off, the internet doesn’t understand it only understands IP addresses. An IP Address is a unique (for the sake of this explanation) numerical address for a website, a bit like the phone number for your house and every computer and server and router that’s connected to the internet has an IP address. There are now two types IP v4 and IP v6 but, for simplicity’s sake, I’ll stick to the one that’s most familiar, IP4.

An IP address looks a lot like this, (this is the IP address for my website) although they can go as high as but how do we get from to and how do we get to all the sites we want to access?

This is all down to an Internet service called the Domain Name System, also known as DNS and it’s a bit like a master phone book for the internet, mapping websites to IP numbers. If you set up your own network, you might be familiar with the request to enter the IP address of a DNS server. For example, Google runs DNS servers and their IP addresses are and Don’t worry if you didn’t do this, your Internet Service Provider will have set one up automatically for you.

The DNS address you entered is the first place your browser goes once you have asked it to visit a website.

The DNS is like a giant phone book. So when you enter in to your browser, your browser goes straight to your selected DNS and it translates in to the IP address – which in the case of my website is This is known as a query.

This query is then sent to a DNS Resolver that will know where your website is hosted and so forwards your request on to the identified web host which then sends the requested information (typically a web page) back to your browser which can then display the requested web page.

How the DNS System works

However, it can go wrong. If the DNS Resolver isn’t aware of your website it will forward your query on to another DNS Resolver. And if this Resolver is out of the UK then your Query might go around the world before it finds the location for the website requested.

The worst case of this I have seen was a number of years ago when I wanted to visit I typed in to my browser and waited a short time for the site to appear. However, it felt slow, very slow. I opened a piece of software that enabled me to do a “Trace Route“. Trace Route does exactly that, it follows every step that a Query takes to locate a website and this particular Trace Route showed my Query leaving the UK left the UK, scooting across the Atlantic to the East Coast of the USA and totally missed that the Microsoft website was (at the time) hosted in Seattle. The Query then shot across the USA and exited the West Coast and headed to Japan. My Query made it’s way through Indonesia and Europe before ending back in the USA where it finally reached the Microsoft website.

Here’s a visual Trace Route for a different website hosted in the USA

A visual Trace Route for a website hosted in the USA

Although the map view looks as though the Query took a pretty straightforward route to the destination on the West Coast of America, there were actually 10 steps (or hops) that the Query had to go though before it reached the destination.

And now, the Query has to send the website data back across the Atlantic to your browser, to allow it to build the webpage you want to see.

Each hop takes time. With the goal of opening a website in under 3 seconds this eats in to your available time.

Which is why it’s essential to host your website using a web host that’s as close to your target market as possible

I can’t make the Internet faster but I can probably make your website faster so if you need help, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Call me on 01793 238020. Or try my mobile 07966 547146. You can reach me by email or just search Chief SEO Officer for a free chat about your business, your website and your SEO.