Happy Birthday TCP/IP!


Twenty-nine years ago this year, the Internet as we know it now was born:

From its early days as a pet project in the Department of Defense to its infamous time nestled under Al Gore’s wing, the history of the Internet is littered with dozens of so-called birthdays.

But, as Gore can surely attest, not everyone agrees when they are.

Wednesday is one of those days.

Some historians claim the Internet was born in 1961, when Dr. Leonard Kleinrock first published a paper on packet-switching technology at MIT.

Others cite 1969, when the Department of Defense commissioned the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, known as ARPANET, to research a communication and command network that could withstand a nuclear attack.

The 1970s boast a slew of what could be pegged essential Internet milestones, including the advent of e-mail and the splintering off of ARPANET from military experiment to public resource.

But perhaps the most famous of the lot is the acclaimed Jan. 1, 1983, switch from Network Control Protocol to Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol.

The transition from NCP to TCP/IP may not have been the sexiest moment in Internet history, but it was a key transition that paved the way for today’s Internet.

Call it one small switch for man, but one giant switch for mankind.com.

Protocols are communication standards that allow computers to speak to one another over a network. Just as English speakers of different dialects and accents can often understand one another, protocols provide a lingua franca for all the different kinds of computers that hook into the Internet.

Until that fateful moment 20 years ago, the fewer than 1,000 computers that connected to ARPANET used the primitive Network Control Protocol, which was useful for the small community despite some limitations.


Vint Cerf, who is credited with co-designing the TCP/IP protocol with Robert Kahn, said, “It was designed to be future-proof and to run on any communication system.”

The switch was “tremendously important,” according to Ronda Hauben, co-author of Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet.

“It was critical because there was an understanding that the Internet would be made up of lots of different networks,” Hauben said. “Somehow the Internet infrastructure had to be managed in a way to accommodate a variety of entities.”

So, what kind of birthday gift does one get TCP/IP?

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. john personna says:

    Put those guys on the budget committee.

  2. rudderpedals says:

    To TCP, happy birthday and many happy returned acks. As a gift you shall flow over cheap, fast, lossless datalinks. The crown for defeating x.25 in the protocol wars, also.

  3. sam says:

    I recall seeing one of Robert Kahn or Vin Cerf (Holy Shit, I just twigged to that…) — can’t recall which one — pissing and moaning about Linux. I think he called the coders a bunch of high-school hackers. Heh.

  4. JKB says:

    So, what kind of birthday gift does one get TCP/IP?

    Jig saw puzzle?

  5. Liberty60 says:

    LOL Cats