The Internet Protocol is the technical foundation of The Internet; thus, its nature has shaped the nature of The Internet. It has some clever features, and some stupid features; it is a beautiful example of evolution as seen by Stephen Jay Gould: a random hack which worked better than the alternatives.
One of IP's key features is that it sits 'on top' of other protocols. For example, if a computer is on an ethernet network, it is using the ethernet protocol to communicate with other computers, if it is dialled up with a modem, it is using the 'point-to-point protocol' to talk to the modem server at the other end, and if it is a high-speed router working on the university backbone network, it probably uses some more obscure protocol like FDDI or ATM. You can even send IP using carrier pigeons (<rfc:1149>, <http://www.blug.linux.no/rfc1149/>). However, all of these protocols can be used to transport IP communications, and so the millions of little networks around the world can, by the magic of IP, be connected into one big 'internetwork', known as The Internet. By analogy, as long as a letter identifies the name and address of its recipient at the top, it can be delivered by a variety of means - post, fax, telegram, courier or hand.
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