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How does Instant Messaging work?

Instant Messaging is one of the fastest growing forms of communication, both at home and at work. IM helps people send quick text messages around the world, talk for free on the internet and transfer files, all pretty much instantly.

What is Instant Messaging?

Instant Messaging allows you to quickly send a message to one or more of your friends over the internet. As you continue chatting you see a full transcript of your conversation form in the chat window. A message takes very little time to reach the other person and it doesn't matter whether that person is next door to you or around the world!

How does IM work?

Most IM programs connect to an IM company on the internet that both verifies a particular user's identity, called authentication, and sends information between users.

When you start up an IM program, called an IM client, it tries to contact to a particular company's IM server, such as Google or Yahoo.

The IM server verifies your username and password and then logs you in. At this point you're connected.

Now you'll see a list of your buddies that are currently online. As your friends sign in and out you'll see them appear and disappear from your contact list. You'll notice that the statuses of friends automatically change from "Online" to "Away", "Busy" or "Offline" based on whether that person is logged in and using his/her computer.

When you send a message to your friend it travels from your IM client to the IM server to which you're connected. The message then travels directly to your buddy and a window pops up on his/her machine. As you continue your conversation the messages go back and forth between the clients and servers with very little delay.

Now let's suppose you want to send a file to your friend. Your IM client essentially asks the IM server where your friend is located on the internet and then helps your computer make a direct connection to your friend's computer. The reason a direct connection is made is it's more efficient than trying to send every file through the IM servers and means the IM companies don't have to use as much internet bandwidth. Instant Messages are tiny while files like movies and audio can be quite large. On average, a whole month of Instant Messaging internet traffic adds up to under 1 megabyte, a tiny amount of space. As a result, it's no wonder Instant Messaging works on both slow and fast internet connections.

Now that you understand how Instant Messaging functions, message away!

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