Charles Severance explains how the Internet works in new book

Every day, millions of people send billions of messages to computers around the world, with scarcely a thought as to how this miracle of instant communication is taking place.

“The Internet is an amazingly beautiful design and should be understood by all who use it,” says Charles Severance in his new book, Introduction to Networking: How the Internet Works. He sets out to demystify the technology that drives our daily communication and connectivity.

Introduction to Networking began existence as a single lecture in a course in Networked Computing taught by Severance, a clinical associate professor in the University of Michigan School of Information. He then expanded and adapted the subject into the first three weeks of his open, online course on the history of the Internet. And now he has published the material as a standalone book to explain the technical design and architecture of the Internet for a general audience.

Introduction to Networking: How the Internet Works provides a basic understanding of how the communication system that connects the entire world came into being and how it functions. Although the content started as a graduate-level course, the book is written in language that is clear and accessible to anyone. Illustrations by Mauro Toselli provide light-hearted visual counterparts to the book’s explanations.

In the book, Severance covers early communication technologies, the four layers of network architecture, packets and routers, IP addresses, domain names, and network security. Each chapter includes a glossary defining the primary terms introduced in that section, and a quiz to test understanding of the concepts.

Severance’s Coursera course, Internet History, Technology and Security has been offered since 2012 and has been taken by over 100,000 students around the world. The book offers supplementary detail for this course, but can also be read for enjoyment or to support an introductory course that focuses on the Internet’s architecture.

Introduction to Networking has been published under a Creative Commons license that allows duplication for educational purposes. Supporting material is available at The book is available for sale on as a 122-page paperback or in a digital edition.

Charles Severance is a Clinical Associate Professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. Previously he was the Executive Director of the Sakai Foundation and the Chief Architect of the Sakai Project. He teaches two popular massive online open courses (MOOCs) on the Coursera platform: Internet History, Technology, and Security and Programming for Everybody. 

He is the editor of the Computing Conversations column in IEEE Computer magazine and is the author of several other books including Sakai: Building an Open Source Community, High Performance Computing and Using Google App Engine from O'Reilly and Associates, and Python for Informatics: Exploring Information.

He holds a PhD in computer science from Michigan State University.

Posted June 25, 2015