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The internet celebrates the Big Four-O

Or at least one of them

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Today, the internet celebrates its fortieth anniversary. Or at least one of them.

On September 2, 1969, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), a team of engineers led by Professor Leonard Kleinrock attached the first two machines on the first node of the ARPAnet, the Defense-Department-sponsored computer network that would one day give rise to the modern internet.

"That's the day that the infant internet took it's first breath of life," Kleinrock tells The Reg.

A month later, a second node was installed at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), where Douglas Englebart had developed his seminal NLS online system, forerunner to the ubiquitous desktop GUI. And on October 29, the first inter-node message was sent between the two sites. "That's the day," Kleinrock says, "the internet uttered its first words."

Kleinrock's team of UCLA engineers included a graduate student named Vint Cerf, who would soon develop - along with a man named Bob Kahn - the internet-driving Transmission Control Protocol (TCP).

The ARPAnet was funded by, well, ARPA - the US Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency, now known as DARPA. Working for the Boston-based government contractor Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (BBN), Bob Kahn was part of the team that designed the so-called IMPs (Interface Message Processors) that would operate each network node. UCLA was chosen to host the first IMP, and it was forty years ago today that the first bits traveled between the university's IMP and its host computer.

The IMP run on a Honeywell DDP-516 mini computer with 12K of memory, and the host machine was a 32-bit SDS Sigma 7.

BBN shipped the first IMP to UCLA over the 1969 Labor Day weekend - a bit earlier than expected. "BBN had told us they were running behind, and we didn't expect them to suddenly ship air freight the IMP - and they did. Sons of bitches," Kleinrock says with a laugh. But the day after the Labor Day holiday, Kleinrock and his team plugged the Honeywell in and the bits began flowing almost immediately.

AT&T provided the 50kbps connection to SRI's IMP, and the first inter-node message was the word "log." The idea was that UCLA would send the "log," and SRI would add the "in." As it sent the "L" and then the "O," UCLA's engineers were on the phone with their SRI counterparts, and receipt of the first two letters were acknowledged. But the "G" was another matter. The last letter caused a memory overflow on the SRI IMP, and the system crashed.

"So the first message was 'Lo,' as in 'Lo and Behold,'" Kleinrock says. "We couldn't have asked for a better message - and we didn't plan it." The full log-in was completed within a couple of hours.

For Kleinrock, this marks the 40th anniversary of the internet - not the September 2nd setup of the UCLA node. "We chose October 29 as the day," he says. So, in about eight week, we can celebrate again. ®

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