Two books to help develop an understanding of the objects and places that make up the web.

As a person who knows next to nothing about hardware, I don’t think about the physical architecture of the internet very much—and that’s a problem. When developers forget that the internet is made up of actual machinery, we end up writing code for a web that seems limitless in size.

Now that PaaS providers and serverless hosting have added layers of abstraction between developers and infrastructure, it seems that developers have little need to think about the technology that sits between their app and its users. When we are reminded that data must eventually travel many miles through a physical cable to reach a user’s browser, it makes adding 30kb of additional JavaScript seem like a much bigger deal.

So with that, here are two books to help you develop an understanding of the objects and places that make up the web.

Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum answers the basic questions of how the internet works and where its infrastructure is located. He describes the networks, cables, and data centers that allow for immersive web-apps to exist in the first place.

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis places networks, cables, and data centers within an arms race taking place between various investment firms. He asserts that the high-frequency traders have been able to exploit the stock market by having access to market information milliseconds before their competitors. Additionally, he discusses the lengths to which companies will go to have access to the most efficient connection. Whether or not you agree with Lewis’s less-than-glowing review of Wall Street, the book highlights the real-life implications of discrepancies in data access. It’s not hard to imagine how similar issues could affect other industries as well.

Conclusion

Although developers on the front end are rarely required to know anything about hardware, reading materials like those above can help us better understand the platform we write code for.