Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

IntERnet and IntRAnet are two different things. I'll look at just what I think an intRAnet is, and what most people think it is.

What's the difference between an intranet and the internet? At my work we have a page on our website that everyone at work calls the intranet but it's just a hidden page that only staff who have been given the link and login password know how to find, but I don't consider this an intranet (even though I'm not entirely sure what an intranet is defined as). I thought an intranet would be a server that is not accessible to anything outside the network which is definitely not how we have our 'intranet' set up. Anyway, I thought maybe you could shed some light for me and others.

There's no real hard-and-fast definition ... or rather what definitions exist tend to get used and abused to the point of being very, very fuzzy at best.

I'm with you in my general belief of what intranet should mean.

But "should" and "does" are often at odds, especially as usage changes and definitions struggle to keep pace.

Networks and The Internet

First, we need to make a quick distinction between a local or corporate network and "The Internet".

Many companies and other organizations have internal networks - networks on which all the computers and equipment "inside" the company resides, and which cannot be seen or accessed from the outside (at least not without special arrangements of some sort).

"... common usage is outpacing accuracy in such a way as to redefine the term."

This is actually pretty equivalent to you own home network as you sit behind your router. You may have a couple of computers that can share files and perhaps a printer internal to your home, yet inaccessible from "The Internet". Of course from your internal network you can access The Internet just fine, typically through your router.

So, you have a LAN (think of it as your internal, "corporate" network), and from it access to The Internet.

An IntRAnet

Intranet technically just refers to an internal network, so in a sense you already have one.

What many people use to distinguish an intranet from a run-of-the-mill internal network or LAN is the presence of one or more web servers. It's an artificial distinction, but it's part of that fuzziness I was referring to earlier.

By web server I mean simply that one or more of the machines on your internal network is running the software that allows it to respond to browser based "http:" requests and return pages for the browser to display. Most often that's done by quite literally running the same web server software you'd find on internet servers, but restricting access such that it can be reached only by other computers on your local network.

In fact, there are even some obscure default behaviours built in to much of the software on your machine today. A browser request made of http://machinename where machine name has no dot (".") in it by definition cannot be an internet request - so the software handles it as a request on your local network. Many of the web servers on internal corporate networks are referenced exactly like that: by their machine name.

Those web servers that aren't really on "the web", but rather your internal network, make up what most people think of as an intranet. A set of web sites and servers available only internally, on the internal network.

That's pretty much what you described as your understanding, and deep down, that's exactly what I think of when I think intranet.

But apparently others decided that was too simple. Smile

An Intranet via the Internet

What companies find is that employees want to access the internal intranet while at home or on the road - via the internet.

There are several common solutions:

  • Don't support it. Not popular with the traveling or work-at-home crowd, but common.

  • Use a VPN or Virtual Private Network. Essentially a VPN server is placed on the corporate network that acts as a bridge for incoming connections from the internet. With the appropriate VPN software and login credentials, a remote computer can connect to the corporate network or intranet via a connection over the internet. The computer acts as if it's connected to the internal corporate network, because it is - through the VPN connection. This is actually fairly common since it essentially gives access to all resources on the corporate network, not just the web servers.

  • Use Remote Desktop. In this network configuration, individuals are allowed to connect directly to a computer on the corporate network and use it as if they were sitting in front of it. The computer they have at home isn't really on the internal network, it's just running a program - the Remote Desktop Client - that opens a window onto the computer back at work that is on the internal network.

  • Fake an intranet on The Internet. I'm seeing this more and more. Essentially, it operates exactly as you described: a server is placed on the public Internet, and access to it is somehow controlled - typically by login credentials such as a username and password. That server (or servers) is then called the company "intranet" because it serves the same purpose as the prior examples: a server accessible only to authorized company employees. It can be reached from within the company network, since presumably any server on the internet could be, and it can be reached from any employee's computer as well, because it really is on the internet. The only thing preventing public access is the existence of a username/password requirement.

I'm with you, I don't consider that last one an "intranet" at all - it's simply an access controlled set of servers living on the public internet.

But, as so often happens, common usage is outpacing accuracy in such a way as to redefine the term.

So it goes.

Finally, I'll quote the definition from Wikipedia, which sums up most of what I've just said in a more formal way:

An intranet is a private computer network that uses Internet Protocol technologies to securely share any part of an organization's information or network operating system within that organization. The term is used in contrast to internet, a network between organizations, and instead refers to a network within an organization. Sometimes the term refers only to the organization's internal website, but may be a more extensive part of the organization's information technology infrastructure. It may host multiple private websites and constitute an important component and focal point of internal communication and collaboration.

In other words, it's internally networked computers and websites.

Except when it's not.

Article C4497 - November 5, 2010 « »

Share this article with your friends:

Share this article on Facebook Tweet this article Email a link to this article
Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

9 Comments
Naseem
November 9, 2010 9:10 AM

i have the problem if some one can retrun back my account for the hotmail, and yahoo or tell me what is the system can i used for retrun back it. hope to help me .
thanks

Please read this article which discusses your recovery options for the various ways that Hotmail accounts can be lost or compromised: What are my Lost Hotmail Account and Password Recovery Options?
Leo
10-Nov-2010

Gustavo
November 9, 2010 12:52 PM

I wish I knew how to write so much about this little question. The difference is very simple. Intranet is the part inside the IP ranges of intranet: 10.0.0.0, 192.168.0.0 and that other in between that people rarely use. Internet is the part handled by ISPs, which are not behind NAT. A computer in the intranet connecting to the Internet needs a way to connect to it, which is what we have ISPs for. If ISP is involved, Internet. If ISP isn't involved, intranet. It's so simple. You may connect from your intranet (your house's LAN) to your work's intranet using the Internet if both intranets are connected to it. That's it.

That is one definition, but it's definitely not the only definition. Many companies are using "intranet" to refer to private web and file server access that remains hosted on the public internet. It's very confusing to many people.
Leo
10-Nov-2010

http://www.fayfacts.com/
November 10, 2010 8:39 AM

Internet and intranet are working under same technologies like hypertext markup language and Transmission control protocol/internet protocol.
Internet is a interconnection of computer networks in the system of global system along with it is massive network. And intranet is a defined as it is a private network and is directed under organisation to implement interaction among its members.

Randall
November 10, 2010 11:40 PM

Yeah I'm on the belief that an "intranet" is like the "internet" only on a small scale that can act as a stand alone connected through a central router or computers connected with VPN software through the "internet".

Bob Greene
November 12, 2010 8:23 AM

This discussion and related links are especially useful to typical office IT types, whose reading takes them quickly into narrowly focused discussions, yet omits the larger picture-- what makes an intranet different?

Thanks very much for the reference links, and the effort made to elaborate the VPN discussion. Unless Remote Desktop will suffice, most office people probably will be interested in the VPN, whether Hamachi or other VPN software is used.

Finally, the discussion of VPN security, it goes without saying, is vital.

Bob Greene
November 12, 2010 8:42 AM

A postscript-- Hamachi may have owned the free VPN segment a few years ago, but now there is a long, long list of free VPNs here-- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamachi_%28software%29

As always, a smooth VPN setup requires careful study of the leading candidates, then selection of the best available VPN for your needs and budget.

Finally, search the web with the VPN name you have chosen, and add to the search argument words equivalent to "problems", "complaints", "trouble" (without quotation marks). Some rare and surprising information may appear from good sources, but always make sure what you find is the latest information available-- the publisher may have fixed the problem since the comment was posted.

Since cost also figures in almost every case (since the free version feature set may be insufficient but the paid version feature set will do fine), do a separate search for "VPNName final cost" (again, without quotation marks).

outofthebox
November 14, 2010 5:38 AM

I came onto the scene a long time ago, before there was really an internet. Most computers connected together, even across town was referred to as the intranet, and used a telephone line to connect.

Many people set up multiple phone connection lines and then posted a board for people to enter by phone number. Usually took all night. I remember the first browser, it was called the gopher, after the university of Minnesota, that is the Minnesota flag. It usually took 45 minutes to an hour.

Then I remember when they came up with American on Line. I recognized it as a winner and wanted to obtain stock in it, but had a new young family.

That was the first I really knew what an internet was.

Glenn P.
November 16, 2010 3:35 AM

Ah, gopherspace...!

Anyone out there remember using archies?    :)

Now that's really  dating oneself!    :)

sanjeev kumar
January 24, 2011 9:40 PM

simply intranet is used for the some internal network as like school ,college or any organisation but internet is used for a wide ara network just like all over world.intranet only access by authorized persons but internet access all type of user . he has no any restriction but intranet has some special restriction .

Comments on this entry are closed.

If you have a question, start by using the search box up at the top of the page - there's a very good chance that your question has already been answered on Ask Leo!.

If you don't find your answer, head out to http://askleo.com/ask to ask your question.