When the Internet was in its infancy, it consisted of a small number of computers hooked together with modems and telephone lines. You could only make connections by providing the IP address of the computer you wanted to establish a link with. For example, a typical IP address might be 126.96.36.199. This was fine when there were only a few hosts out there, but it became unwieldy as more and more systems came online.
The first solution to the problem was a simple text file maintained by the Network Information Center that mapped names to IP addresses. Soon this text file became so large it was too cumbersome to manage. In 1983, the University of Wisconsin created the Domain Name System (DNS), which maps text names to IP addresses automatically. This way you only need to remember www.howstuffworks.com, for example, instead of HowStuffWorks.com's IP address.