The birth of the World Wide Web


From the revolutionary proposal issued in March 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, to the elementary technology that built the network that changed how we communicate, shop, work and date - discover how, where and why the World Wide Web was born.

Tim Berners-Lee (1994-07-11) by CERNCERN

'Universal information space'

At CERN in March 1989, 33-year-old English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, proposed an idea for a free, universal 'information space' for knowledge sharing.

His vision for a 'World Wide Web' would go on to transform our lives.

ARPA network map 1973 (1973) by ARPANETCERN

The slow creep of the Internet

In the 1970s, US Department of Defense experts had already designed ways to connect computers, and break data into packets - sending them over different pathways and joining them at the receiving end - using rules called transfer protocols (TCP/IP).

Computing diversity animationCERN

Too much information

In the 1980s, CERN had become a major European hub for research networking, and joined the Internet in 1989.

Scientists in their thousands would generate information using different types of computers, languages, and formats.

Their computers could connect across the Internet, but communication was tough, and data transfer complex and frustrating.

Hypertext idea animation (2018-02-06) by CERN (Paulina Mlynarska, Rolf Landua)CERN

The idea of hypertext

In 1965, Ted Nelson described the concept of hypertext in his book, Literary Machines.

This new, nonlinear format for publishing text would allow readers to follow hyperlinks and explore linked documents.

Tim Berners-Lee during the WSIS (2003-12-10) by Maximilien BriceCERN

Better together

Berners-Lee joined a team at CERN in 1984, working on data acquisition and control.

He was fascinated by the idea of a universal documentation system, using linked text and a system of decentralised nodes, or connections, linked to the Internet.

An image of the first page of Tim Berners-Lee's proposal for the World Wide Web in March 1989. (1989-03-01) by CERN / Tim Berners-LeeCERN

Talking about a revolution

Berners-Lee's boss, Mike Sendall, encouraged Tim to write up his ideas for approval by CERN's management.

In March 1989, Tim wrote a first proposal to develop a distributed information system, following up with an edited version in May 1990.

Together with Belgian systems engineer Robert Cailliau, this was formalised as a management proposal in November 1990.

It outlined the principal concepts and defined important terms behind the web.

The first web server: the NeXT machine (1990)CERN

The NeXT computer

In May 1990, Tim got approval to buy a NeXT computer, with advanced features and powerful programming tools. On it, he wrote the basic software for the World Wide Web.

The computer later became the first web server with the alias

With the WWWCERN

By October 1990, Tim had made the 3 key components of the World Wide Web:

- URL (uniform resource locator): a system for locating documents
- HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol): a way of transferring data between computers
- HTML (hypertext markup language): formatting for pages with links

A screenshot showing the NeXT world wide web browser (1990-01-01) by Tim Berners-LeeCERN

The first web browser

By mid-November 1990, the first Web client program - a point-and-click browser-editor- was functional on the NeXT computer.

It was simply called 'WorldWideWeb', and could decode URLs and read, write, and edit Web pages in HTML.

Tim Berners-Lee's computer at CERN (2008-02-09) by Robert ScobleOriginal Source: Commons

Do not power it down!

By December 1990, the 'web server' software was ready. It held web pages on a portion of the NeXT computer, and let others access them.

But knowing that CERN would shut down all computers over Christmas, Tim used a sticker to warn people: "DO NOT POWER IT DOWN!!"


Mosaic browser

The first browsers for computers other than the NeXT were either simple 'line-mode' browsers, displaying text line-by-line, or difficult to install, so they could not show the full potential of the WWW.

In 1993, Marc Andreessen made a multi-platform, point-and-click web browser, Mosaic, at the University of Illinois. Its success helped popularize the web.

The document that officially put the World Wide Web into the public domain on 30 April 1993. (1993-04-30) by CERNCERN

The web goes public

The World Wide Web had been designed to be global, and available to everyone.

Publishing results and making them generally available is common in academia and at CERN.

And in this spirit, on 30 April 1993, CERN's management signed a document allowing anybody to use the Web software, without royalties or other constraints.

Credits: Story

Paulina Mlynarska
Rolf Landua

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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