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Building a better internet

Research taking place at Washington University in St. Louis, recently funded by the National Science Foundation, will further examine a new infrastructure framework for the internet, boosting both online security and functionality.

Patrick Crowley

The team of engineers led by Patrick Crowley, professor of Computer Science & Engineering at the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University, has received a $499,960 3-year grant to focus on further developing the concept of Named Data Networking (NDN).

“The two big issues for most people when they think about the internet is how can it become more trustworthy and if can it really accommodate all the devices that we want to connect to it,” said Crowley. “It’s in that context that NDN emerged as a network architecture idea.”

Crowley says complications with the internet’s current framework arose because it's based on a relative antiquity: the telephone and its model of communication. Two devices are used, a channel is opened between them and communication is shared, without accommodating specific requests. NDN has emerged as the best possible solution to widen the communication model. While the telephone framework addresses the “where” of online addresses and hosts, NDN is further inclusive, handling the “what” that’s specific to the exact content a user expects to be delivered.

“We had the insight—the aha moment—that led us to conclude that most of the problems that we have with the internet today around trustworthiness, and scalability and efficiency, can be diagnosed directly back to that phone model of communication,” said Crowley.

Crowley’s team, along with partners at the University of California-Los Angeles, the University of Arizona and the University of Memphis, will use the NSF grant to build upon existing NDN research, making the platform available and accessible to interested researchers and students.

“For the past five to six years, what we’ve done in our scientific, scholarly work has shown that building this NDN architecture is general purpose, has very improved security and trust properties, and has dramatically improved efficiency,” said Crowley.


The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 88 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,200 undergraduate students, 1,200 graduate students and 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.

Can the internet accommodate all the devices we want to connect to it?