Understanding Basic Internet Jargon

If you thought there was a lot of Windows jargon to be learned, just step onto the internet, where new technical terms are born every minute, or so it seems. This glossary will help you learn the most common terms and get you started on the road to internet vocabulary mastery.
Published: Nov 15, 2007
Author: Jordan Running

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Short for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, Ajax is a set of techniques used by many modern web sites to allow interaction without reloading the entire page, allowing them to provide a more responsive experience while using less bandwidth and without interrupting the user's experience. For example, a site might allow you to rate a book by clicking on a star graphic. With Ajax, your vote could be registered without having to load the entire page again. For more information, see the Wikipedia article about Ajax.
An attachment is a file such as a document or photo that is attached to an email message so that it can be viewed or utilized by the recipient.

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Bandwidth refers to the amount of data that can be sent over a network connection at once. The term speed is typically interchangeable with bandwidth. Bandwidth is measured in bits or bytes per second. For example, a broadband home internet connection might have a bandwidth of 5 Mbps, or 5 million bits per second.
BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer protocol that allows people to share files among themselves. BitTorrent can provide speed beyond that of some P2P protocols because every user who is downloading a file simultaneously uploads portions of the file he or she has already downloaded to other users, which means the more people in the downloading "swarm," the greater the overall speed. Many people use BitTorrent to share copyright-protected files such as music and movies, which is often illegal, but the BitTorrent protocol and software are legal and are used the world over for legitimate information, media, and software distribution. Wikipedia has more information about BitTorrent.
A bit is a unit of information that can have one of two values: on or off, usually described as 1 or 0. Bandwidth is often described in bits per second or bps (the "b" is always lowercase when it refers to bits). Large numbers of bits can be described in kilobits (kb or kbit), meaning 1,000 (or sometimes 1,024) bits, megabits (Mbit or Mb), for one million bits, gigabits (Gbit or Gb), for one billion bits, and so on.
Short for weblog (always one word, never "web log"), a blog is a type of web site which contains multiple entries (posts), always dated and usually in reverse chronological order, i.e. the newest posts are found at the top. Many blogs feature news stories, but often inject more opinion into news items than, say, a newspaper would. Some diaries are like personal journals; others, called photoblogs feature photography by the author; video blogs, or vlogs, take the form of frequently posted original videos. Some blogs have a single author, others have many. Many blogs allow readers to post their own comments at the end of each post. Most blogs provide RSS feeds.
A bookmark, called a favorite in some web browsers, is a saved URL that allows you to access a favorite web site quickly without memorizing the URL itself. Most web browsers have a Bookmarks or Favorite menu which lists all of your bookmarks, as well as a "Bookmarks Toolbar" or "Links Toolbar" for one-click access.
In common usage, broadband refers to an internet connection that has more bandwidth than a dial-up connection. DSL and cable internet service are generally referred to as broadband. The actual speed of a broadband connection may be as low as 128 kilobits per second (kbps) and as high as 50 megabits per second (Mbps) and beyond. Broadband connections are typically "always on," meaning the internet connection is always active as long as the modem is plugged in.
A byte is a unit of information equal to eight bits. A file's size is usually described in bytes: One byte is enough to store one character, i.e. a letter, numeral, or symbol, without any compression. A kilobyte (kB--the "B" is usually uppercase when short for byte) is 1,000 (or sometimes 1,024) bytes, a megabyte (MB) is one million (or 1,048,567) bytes, and so on.

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Cable internet
Cable internet is a common broadband service that transfers data over cable television lines. Internet and television service can, and usually are, provided simultaneously over the same lines.
Pronounced "cash," the cache is a mechanism in most web browsers that stores recently-accessed pages, images, and other data so they can be displayed rapidly the next time they are accessed. For example, the first time you visited this page it probably took a few seconds to download. But if you navigated to another page, then returned to this one using the Back button, it would load from the cache almost instantly, rather than being downloaded a second time.
Client can mean either a computer or a computer program that connects to another computer (a server) to consume the service or services the server provides. For example, when you download a file from a web site, your computer and the web browser you use can be considered the client whereas the computer sending you the file is a web server.
A cookie is a small piece of data that a web site can store on your computer when you visit it. When you visit the site again, your web browser sends the cookie back to the server. Only the site that created the cookie will be sent the cookie--a web site cannot access cookies created by another site. Cookies are used by web sites to "remember" information about the visitor, such as whether or not they are logged in, or how long it has been since their last visit. The server gives each cookie an expiration time, from minutes to years, whereupon the cookie is automatically deleted by the browser. Most web browsers also include functions to view, manage, and remove cookies manually, as well as disable them entirely.

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Dial-up refers to an internet connection that takes place over regular telephone lines and, in fact, an actual telephone call. A dial-up modem must literally dial the ISP's telephone number in order to establish the internet connection, which causes the phone line to be "busy" and unusable for making phone calls as long as it is connected. Dial-up connections have relatively little bandwidth, usually 56 kilobits per second at a maximum.
Domain name
A domain name or hostname is a bit of text that identifies a server, e.g. tucows.com. A domain name corresponds to an IP address, but (usually) has the advantage of being easily-remembered text rather than a string of numbers. Most URLs include a domain name, for which the browser then requests an IP address from a DNS (Domain Name System) server in order to find the corresponding server. The last part of a domain name (e.g. the .com in tucows.com) is called the top-level domain, and second part from the right (e.g. tucows) is called the second-level domain. Second-level domain names (and in some cases third-level domains) may be purchased on a yearly basis from a domain name registrar.
To download something is to receive data from another computer or device. For example, to retrieve a page or file from a web site is to download it. The speed at which you are able to receive data from the internet is often called your download speed, and is usually measured in bits or bytes per second.
An acronym meaning digital subscriber line, DSL is a common type of broadband internet connection that takes place over telephone lines but, unlike dial-up, does not tie up the line for phone calls. Some ISPs require a telephone service subscription before providing DSL service, but not by technical necessity--"naked" DSL, i.e. internet service without phone service, is available from many ISPs.

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One of the oldest forms of communication on the internet, email (correctly spelled with or without a hyphen, i.e. e-mail) allows you to send and receive typed messages from your computer to another person's, provided you know their email address. You can also attach files, such as photos or documents, to an email message in order to share them with the recipient. Webmail refers to services which allow you to send and receive email from a web browser on any computer, rather than using a dedicated email client on your computer. Yahoo! Mail and Gmail are examples of free webmail services.

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Short for File Transfer Protocol, FTP is a protocol by which a client can send files or retrieve them from an FTP server. FTP is one of the internet's oldest protocols, but is still used by many system administrators and webmasters.

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Short for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, HTTP is the protocol that a web browser uses to request a web page from a web server, and which the server uses to send the requested page back. Hypertext refers to documents that can be navigated using links. HTTP is no longer used exclusively for hypertext documents, however, and many kinds of media you view online are transferred using HTTP.

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The second most popular protocol for storing and retrieving email, Internet Message Access Protocol is generally used to read, store, and organize messages on a remote server, rather than downloading them all to a single client computer, as is usually done with POP3. (This is a vastly simplified explanation. For a comprehensive discussion of this complex topic, try Wikipedia's article on the subject.)
IP address
A computer's IP (short for Internet Protocol) address, often shortened to just IP, is a unique number that computers use to identify eachother across a network such as a LAN or the What's My IP Address?
Short for internet service provider, an ISP is a company or organization that provides a connection to the internet to individuals and businesses, usually for a fee. Many telephone and television providers sell DSL or cable internet service over the same lines as their phone and TV services, and many offer other services such as email and web site hosting.

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Short for Local Area Network, LAN refers to a set of computers, usually all located in a small geographical area (such as a single office building or college campus), connected together in a self-contained network. Many LANs are in turn connected to the internet, but may or may not be part of the internet. A LAN may be connected using cables or wi-fi, or both.
Short for hyperlink and called a shortcut in some web browsers, a link is bit of text or an image which, when clicked, directs the browser to another web page. Some links, however, perform action on the current page, as often in the case of Ajax.
Log in/out
To log in or sign in is to provide credentials--typically a username and password)--to identify yourself to a web site Many sites require users to log in in order to change their personal preferences, access private data, send messages to other users, and so on. To log out or sign out is to notify the site that you are no longer using it, which you will deny you (and other people who might use your browser) access to the above functions until you log in again. Many sites use cookies in to identify you once you have logged in.

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Short for modulator/demodulator, a modem is a device that prepares ("modulates") digital communications, such as your DSL or cable modem typically takes the form of a small box that connects to the your computer (or home router) and to the wall. Dial-up modems are usually integrated into the computer itself.

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Any system of computers that can communicate with eachother can be called a network. Networks can consist of many different kinds of connections, from wire-based LANs to wireless wi-fi and even cell phone signals. The internet is a network that consists of millions of computers, including yours.

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A password is a secret phrase or series of letters, numbers, and symbols that a person uses, typically in conjunction with a username, in order to prove that he is the person he claims to be. Ideally, a password will only be known to the user to whom it belongs. The most secure passwords are long, contain a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, and cannot be guessed. For example, your birthdate or middle name make very poor passwords because they are short and easily guessed. "%60ef_Qq97$@R," on the other hand, is a strong password. In order to memorize a long password you can create a mnemonic (a mental memory trick), or you can use a secure password management program as described in How to Keep Track of All Your Passwords. You should not use the same password for many different web sites, especially ones that contain sensitive information about you (like banking or credit card data)--if a malicious party were to compromise the security of one site and access your password, they could use it to access your account on another site if you use the same password.
Often abbreviated to P2P, peer-to-peer is a collective term for internet communication that takes place between two peers, such as your computer and a friend's computer, or the computer of someone you don't know in Germany, rather than communication for which one computer is a client and the other is a server. BitTorrent is an example of a peer-to-peer protocol in which you download files (or parts of files) from other users' computers rather than from a central server.
A podcast is a feed used to distribute serial audio or video content, such as a weekly music show or video program. Like blogs, podcasts have many different formats and topics, from talk shows to cooking. Though the term is derived from Apple's iPod, you can listen to or watch podcasts on many different devices, and almost any computer with the right software. For more information on podcasts, check out Tucows' article How to Listen to Podcasts.
Short for Post Office Protocol version 3, POP3 is the most common protocol for receiving email messages. An email server stores messages that have been sent to you until you use your email client to retrieve them using POP3. See also IMAP and SMTP.
When speaking about networking and the internet, a port is number that helps a computer decide what to do with information it receives over the network. Specifically, certain ports are reserved by certain programs. For example, port 80 is typically used for HTTP communication, so a web server will reserve ("bind to") port 80 so all communication received on that port will be sent to the web server program.
A protocol is a set of rules that tells one computer how to talk to another so they can understand eachother. HTTP, for example, is the standard protocol that one computer (a client) uses to request that another computer (a server) send it a web page, and that the server in turn uses to send back the requested page. Every kind of communication on the internet requires at least one protocol to work.

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Pressing the Reload or Refresh button (or its keyboard shortcut, usually Ctrl+R or Cmd+R) in your web browser causes the page you're looking at to be downloaded from the web server again. This is useful if the content of the page has changed since you first loaded it. For example, if you are looking at an online auction site, you might reload the page to see if there have been any new bids.
A router is a piece of equipment that connects two or more networks together. A common use for a router in a home or office is to connect multiple computers to a single broadband modem, which in turn connects them to the internet. A wireless router accomplishes this using wireless Wi-Fi connections.
RSS feed
A web feed is a file that contains frequently updated information, such as news headlines, blog posts, and in the case of podcasts audio and video, that is specially formatted in a way that allows it to be subscribed to using a variety of programs called feed readers or aggregators. RSS (short for Really Simple Syndication) is the most common feed format, followed by Atom. Many sites provide RSS feeds of their most recently-updated content, and a feed reader can subscribe to many feeds (thousands or even millions) at once, allowing you to view the most recent information from a variety of sources with visiting all of the originating web sites. To learn how to get started with feeds, take a look at Tucows' Reading RSS Feeds With Google Reader.

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A server or host is a computer or a computer program that provides a service to other computers. When you check your email, for example, you are connecting to an email server, which serves your new messages to your email client.
Social networking
Social networking refers to a broad class of web sites and services that allow you to connect with friends, family, and colleagues online, as well as meet people with similar interests or hobbies. Many, such as the popular Facebook and MySpace, let you create a profile where you can post photos, information about yourself like location, hobbies, and relationship status, and send and receive correspondence with online contacts.
Short for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, SMTP is the protocol most commonly used to send email messages. Often messages are passed among several SMTP relay servers before reaching their final destination.

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Short for Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol,, two of the core protocols that make the internet work. TCP ensures that data is received in the order it is sent, and IP allows computers to identify eachother across the internet using IP addresses. (This definition is vastly simplified. For a much more thorough discussion of this complex topic, take a look at Wikipedia's article on the topic.)

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Often called an address or web address, URL is short for Uniform Resource Locator. Uniform Resource Identifier or URI is sometime used synonymously. A URL is a unique bit of text that can direct a web browser to a specific web page. A URL has several parts: The first part, the scheme, e.g. http://, tells the browser what protocol to use (in this case, HTTP); the second part, the domain name, e.g. tucows.com, tells the browser which server to request the web page from, and the rest indicates the page to be requested and additional information to be sent to the server. You can enter URLs and see the URL of the page you're looking at in your browser's Address Bar at the top of its window. Though not always the case in practice, a particular URL should always direct the browser to the same page.
To upload something is to send it to another computer or device. For example, to put a photo on a web site, you must upload it. The speed at which you are able to send data over the internet is often called your upload speed, and is usually measured in bits or bytes per second.
A user is simply a person who uses something, such as a program or a web site. If you use Microsoft Office, you are an "Office user"; if you use Gmail, you are a "Gmail user." See also username.
Also called a login name, screen name, or login (and sometimes written as two words: user name), a username is a unique name used to identify a user. A username is typically used along with a password for logging in to web sites. Usernames are often used as pseudonyms for online communication.

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Web 2.0
Web 2.0 refers to a large set of ideas and techniques behind many new web sites and services which encourage user interaction, communication, and collaboration. For more information on Web 2.0, take a look at Wikipedia's article on the topic.
Web browser
A web browser is a computer program that someone uses to access web sites. You're probably using a web browser to read this article. Popular web browsers include Internet Explorer, which comes free with Microsoft Windows, Safari, which comes free on Apple computers, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera which are both freely available for almost all computers.
Web page
A single document on a web site is called a web page (sometimes shortened to webpage or just page). This article, for example, is a web page on the Tucows web site. Most web pages are rendered using HTML.
Web site
Sometimes shortened to website or simply site, web site usually refers to a collection of web pages on the World Wide Web under a single domain name. Tucows (the site where this article lives) is a web site, for instance, consisting of many web pages.
Wi-Fi, sometimes written without the hyphen (WiFi), is a common technology for networking computers without wires, i.e. wirelessly. The term Wi-Fi is actually a brand name for a set of standards known as IEEE 802.11. The latter is usually followed by a letter such as a, b, g, or n, to indicate which version of the standard a device supports; "higher" letters have increased speed, additional features, or both. Most new laptop computers and many other portable devices have built-in Wi-Fi support, allowing their owners to connect to the internet or a LAN as long as they are within range of a wireless signal or "hotspot."
A wiki is a type of web site that allows users to easily create, edit, and organize web pages. Many wikis allow anyone to create and edit any page, often anonymously. A wiki keeps a record of every revision made to every page, so if a page is vandalized by an anonymous user it can quickly be reverted back to its previous state. Wikipedia, "The Free Encyclopedia," is the world's largest and most popular wiki, having millions of pages on almost every topic, in several languages. Most of the web's hundreds of wikis are smaller, however, and have a narrower subject matter, e.g. travel, Star Wars, or Java programming. The word wiki is derived from the Hawaiian word wikiwiki, which means quick, and is pronounced "wicky" or "weeky," depending on who you ask.
World Wide Web
Frequently shortened to just the web or WWW, the World Wide Web refers to the billions of web sites that are hosted on servers all over the world and are accessible via web browsers all over the world and which a "web" by the billions of web pages that link to one another. The World Wide Web is often erroneously referred to as the internet, but it is in fact only one of the internet's many parts.

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About Jordan Running

Blogger since 1999, Jordan Running went pro in 2005 and never looked back. Sometimes programmer, occasional photographer, and serial tinkerer, he decided to to switch to Linux in 2001 but just hasn't quite gotten around to it yet.

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