the future of the internet

1 feb 2010


before thinking about ‘the future of the internet’ let’s have a look what the ‘internet’ actually is. the internet consists of two low level protocols, that is: tcp and udp and the most prominent protocol ip. and many other protocols are building on this, as http for instance. you are currently reading this blog page using http, that means you are also connected to the internet.

if you want to be a part of the internet you need a internet address - in short an ‘ip address’.** since most of use are using ipv4 that means often ppl share one ip which is bad since you can’t address some person sharing an ip with someone else directly. Sharing usually means NAT** - network address translation - and it also means that the internet does not work correctly. NAT is a failure and was never meant to be in the original design of the internet.

say you call your friend and he has no phone in his room - but one at his mother’s room. usually you can’t call between [22,8] o’clock. the same thing is true for nat - you usually can’t reach the other person directly.

the only possible solution to this problem is ipv6. however we fail to integrate it. we currently fail at a lot of things (germany 2010):

  • apply ipv6 a standard before others do it (and we have to accept their policies & concepts)
  • removing 24h disconnects for dsl
  • creating balanced upload/download links
  • instead of forcing providers to make dsl uptime 99.9%, we still heavily rely on the telephone system which has in comparison far better service guarantees (for instance dialing 112)
  • have more applications using osi-layer 5 (session layer) instead of binding a session to ip:tcp states

So ‘what was the internet again’?

Actually the internet is much more than just what you can do with your browser using http. Before looking at http in detail let’s have a look at popular protocols which do NOT use http.

  • the first thing which comes into my mind are all the network implementations for games which most often use UDP and in some rare cases use TCP. this is a very big class of applications
  • then we have SIP and similar implementations as ‘speech over ip’ in short VOIP. most internet providers tend to like SIP. gamers often use TeamSpeak or Mumble but there is skype folks as well. the most notable difference between all sip like implementations and skype is that skype’s implementation bases on a p2p structure but since it is closed source one can only speculate how chat and speech is using this framework.
  • then there are the chat clients in various flavors ranging from irc & psyc and to IM protocols as xmpp(jabber), irc, msn, aim & others. these chat clients - more often than not - have also webinterfaces which let’s YOU access the service via http as well. using http is a very interesting approach since it uses http for that and http usually DOES NOT WORK WELL with such an service but we’ll have a look at that later
  • p2p filesharing which is (at least bandwidth wise) the most popular internet service. i think about bittorrent (kademlia) or other similar concepts (this does not include services like rapidshare!).
  • last but not least there is a concept known as ‘middle ware’. for a very long time i did not understand the importance of having a ‘middle ware’ when designing internet protocols. corba and it various implementations for what one would call a ‘middle ware’ and from the protocol designer’s point of view it gives you a very high degree of object interoperability.
  • when a game developer has to write network code usually the choice tends to UDP since the laggy nature of TCP flow control can’t be ignored when one uses a internet connection with lots of packet loss. however UDP basically does not care for lost packages at all which kind of ‘overcompensates’ the problem one wants to solve. so most developers extend UDP until all needed features are there. when the network code is done and objects as players interact with other players via the network (read ip here) the game developer basically has created his own ‘middle ware’.
  • the concept using a ‘middle ware’ is very easy to understand: you don’t want to care what the network looks like you just know it’s there but instead of writing parsers for tcp or udp streams with ‘object serialization’ and ‘object marshaling’ one can just use an adapter in the programming language of choice which handles all this. of course using custom types here is most often not as easy as using core types as ‘int’, ‘double’, ‘float’ and ‘string’ but handled in most cases.

http problems

so after looking at the use case of ip let’s have a look at http and what** problems http has and how they are solved. the biggest issue using http is not the performance hit introduced by html/xml and bandwidth loss on the other hand. instead the biggest issue when using http is the fact that http is a ‘polling’ only protocol** so a client might download a webpage as: but then closes the connection. this works well when you only want to look at webpages and if you are only interested in client side events as mouseclicks & similar. but if you want to implement an interactive chat using http it gets more complicated since you would have to query the server every second for new messages from other users (even if there was no new message at all). the server CANNOT connect to your browser and tell you about ‘the new message’ right away as it is done in all the IM protocols.

so there are some new concepts as spdy:// from google [1] but there are other similar ideas as well. all lead to a next generation http protocol with callback capabilities. opera for instance features ‘a socket in the browser’ which is a interesting concept. both concepts transform the ‘user’ from a pure consumer into a ‘consumer/producer’.

in the first days most internet providers had ‘terms’ in their ‘terms and agreements’ which forced you to offer no webservices with your private internet connection. the situation since the internet was introduced has changed and providers now sell devices as the fritz-box with DDNS clients for services as preinstalled. this change needs to be extended further as the classic pattern of ‘private’ and ‘commercial’ usage merge more every day. it gets hard to distinguish between the service levels needed for either of the two scenarios. we need to extend:

  • service guarantees (uptime/bandwidth)
  • extend upload (currently internet connections are pure consumer connections)
  • extended QoS guarantees where i think of ‘big bandwidth but high latency’ vs. ‘small bandwidth with low latency’ since the normal ‘telephone line’ will vanish soon we need some way of backup line for emergencies of various kinds

So after some history, what makes opera with websockets revolutionary? It’s the ‘ease of use’ to put content online. You don’t need a provider to host your stuff, just host it yourself! But there are pitfals as upload bandwidth is small even with VDSL, i don’t know why… my scale of guesses range from:

  • ‘reducing costs since most users are consumers’ to
  • forcing users to ‘shut up’ and to sell enterprise servers for much money

there are many points for both sides and i don’t have much background to make a good guess.

Some final thoughts:

  • Currently I’m waiting for a revolution: the upcomming ‘ipv6’ could make skype ‘vanish’ since traversing NAT is the biggest problem in creating a ‘free clone’ of skype (this is also valid for SIP). also filesharing as p2p will work much better.
  • http will be extended with something like spdy:// very soon, which will make ajax programming pattern much more powerful
  • the normal browser will not host only some ajax scripts but will also host parts of the database and programs nowadays running on the webservers only and therefore turn into a local webserver. the first step was ajax, the second step needed is spdy:// and the third step to make this work will be adapted software for webservers to run in such a scenario. looking at the success of http is that it is a easy to use protocol with working standards and it can pass nearly every firewall. it basically hosts all kind of services. the next big step will be to make the browser to look like a application. again - the first step is something like google docs, the second step was making it a tv with plugins as flash. the next revolution for example is compiling c/c++ code in a way that it runs on top of the flash plugin [2]. in the end the browser and any normal host application merge…
  • flash will vanish - since the biggest use case is streaming videos and commercials, so guess what users will disable once most videos are played using the in-browser player (which has also huge performance improvements)?
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