The CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland is primarily known for its pioneering work in the field of particle physics. The most famous of which, was the groundbreaking discovery of the Higgs Boson, the elusive particle that gives objects their mass. However, the fact that the World Wide Web was invented at CERN is not as well known as the lab’s other achievements.
Why did a particle physics lab invent the World Wide Web?
CERN, notably, attracts thousands of scientists all over the world for research purposes. In the days preceding the invention of the World Wide Web, the scientists visiting the facility brought their own computers to get information from the mainframe and took them back home to work on that data. This was an inefficient way to obtain information. But it was the only reliable method, as communication between computers was not a well-established norm.
In the year 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a British engineer, was working as a technology consultant at CERN. He decided to make a tool that would allow scientists all over the world to share and access information on various research studies. This tool later came to be known as the World Wide Web.
So did Tim invent the Internet?
No. There is a difference between the Internet and Tim’s World Wide Web. The Internet existed before the World Wide Web. It was actively being used for file transfer using FTP protocol and for communication via emails. In the simplest of terms, think of the Internet as a smartphone and the World Wide Web as an app on it.
Tim’s Web would start a new segment for the internet. With Tim’s tools, the Internet rapidly grew as a platform to publish and disseminate information.
How was the World Wide Web built and what did it look like?
Tim submitted a proposal to the committee at CERN to get their permission and funding to work on his project. The proposal was titled “Information Management: A Proposal”. Tim wanted to create this system using HyperText. An existing technology, that was a form of digital text that could connect (link) to some other text. In 1989, Tim started working on utilizing CERN’s excellent infrastructure to create his first version of the Web on a NeXT workstation. By 1991, he had created the four most important tools for the web to work on.
- HTTP – HyperText Transfer Protocol – Used to request access to web pages
- HTML – HyperText Markup Language – The standard language for creating web pages
- The first web browser – Which also had a built in editor
- URL – Uniform Resource Locator – It’s sort of like an identity of every resource on the Web
In 1991, along with the first server in the world, Tim Berners-Lee launched the World Wide Web and this is what it looked like.
About a couple of years later, the World Wide Web software was released in the public domain. Since then, the growth of the Web and the amount of content on it has soared exponentially.
Tim Berners-Lee’s attempt to optimize a system just so that scientists across the world could share notes easily ended up defining the Internet for us. Even the early applications of the Internet like file sharing via FTP, emails etc are now accessed via a web page.
Sources and further reading
- The first web page – Archived copy by W3
- The birth of the web – CERN
- Remembering the Day the World Wide Web Was Born – Scientific American