Most likely, you have experienced much of what the Internet has to offer: electronic mail, newsgroups, and the Web. So you may be happy to learn that a Red Hat Linux system includes everything you need to access the Internet. In fact, your PC can become a first-class citizen of the Internet, with its own Web server on which you can publish any information you want.
Although Linux includes TCP/IP and supporting network software with which you can set up your PC as an Internet host, there is one catch: First, you have to obtain a physical connection to the Internet. Your Linux PC has to be connected to another node (which can be another computer or a networking device, such as a router) on the Internet. This requirement is the stumbling block for many people—an Internet connection costs money, the price proportional to the data-transfer rate.
Many commercial ISPs provide various forms of physical connections to the Internet. In the United States, if you are willing to spend between $15 and $30 a month, you can get an account on a PPP server. Then you can run PPP software on your Linux system, dial in via a modem, and connect to the Internet at data-transfer rates ranging from 28,800 bits per second (bps) to 56,000 bps, depending on your modem.
Although a dial-up connection is adequate for accessing the Internet, receiving email, and reading news, it may not be adequate if you want your system to provide information to other people through the Web or FTP (File Transfer Protocol). Besides your ISP may not allow you to use the dial-up connection to run a Web server. To set up a useful Web server, you need a connection that is available 24 hours a day, because other systems may try to access your system any time of day. For a few hundred dollars a month, you can get a dedicated connection and make your system a permanent presence on the Internet. Other options that offer higher-capacity Internet connections than dial-up modems are cable modems and Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL). You may also opt to run the server at the ISP’s facility—something many people do because it’s very convenient.
Another requirement for a business—or for anyone who has a few networked PCs—is connecting a local area network (LAN) to the Internet. You can run Linux on one of the PCs and use it as the Internet gateway to accomplish this task. Typically, you have an Ethernet LAN running TCP/IP connected to all of the PCs on the network, including the Linux machine. The Linux PC sets up a PPP connection to the Internet (via a dial-up or dedicated connection). You then set up the Linux PC to act as a gateway between the Ethernet LAN and the Internet so that the PCs on your LAN can access other systems on the Internet.
In Chapter 13, you learn to configure your Linux system to access the Internet.