When you type a Web address into that little window — our personal favorite, npr.org, for example — you should give thanks to the man who made it so easy: Dr. Paul Mockapetris.
In 1983, Mockapetris developed a protocol that associates strings of numbers with an easy-to-remember name. For instance, the IP address 126.96.36.199 is npr.org. You can type either one into your Internet browser and get NPR's Web site, but it's much easier to remember npr.org.
Mockapetris' system is referred to as the DNS — the domain name system — and it's one of the fundamental building blocks of the Internet.
Mockapetris tells NPR's Guy Raz that he never set out to create a revolutionary way of connecting computers.
"I was actually given the job of taking five different proposals and harmonizing them together," he says. "Nobody noticed I did something completely different."
Until that point, if people wanted to talk to another computer, they had to be on the same network.
"I tend to think of that as sort of the dinosaur age," Mockapetris says. "1983 was the year we had a big change-over to IP, TCP, DNS and all of these new protocols. It was sort of the start of mammals on the Internet."
Computers were suddenly able to talk with computers on different networks, creating an interconnected network — or the Internet, as we know it today. Mockapetris realized early on that to accommodate all the millions or more addresses that were about to bloom, they were going to need a better naming system.
Mockapetris is pretty sure the first domain name he ever created was "isi.edu" for his employer, the Information Sciences Institute. That domain name is still in use today.
Despite developing a breakthrough protocol now used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, Mockapetris didn't make a dime from it.
"A friend of mine said I was smart enough to invent the DNS, but not smart enough to own it," he says.