GitHub has proved itself a more-than-capable platform for sharing open-source software and allowing project ecosystems to grow and thrive, but it’s also spawned a unique form of informational crowdsourcing.
“What happens when…” is a prime example of this fascinating use case, and our GitHub Project of the Week. Created by Alex Gaynor, a digital service expert for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and a director of the Python Software Foundation, the project aims to answer a seemingly simple question, and one that affects anyone who’s ever performed a browser search, in as much detail as humanly possible:
“What happens when you type google.com into your browser’s address box and press enter?”
With more than 4,400 stars, 240 forks and 160 commits in the past week, “What happens when…” has shown the power a platform like GitHub can have in answering a complex software question down to the most minute step.
Starting with the “enter” key bottoming out and the Interrupt vector firing, the open-source crowdsourcing information quest maps the paths of “google.com” through Windows, Mac and Linux from URL parsing, DNS lookup and the TLS handshake, to HTTP protocols, HTML, CSS and rendering, all the way to user-induced execution.
GitHub’s active developer community banded together to trace the convoluted split-second journey of an arbitrary search term through a search engine to the homepage of another (or the same, depending on your browser) search engine… just because it can. The combination of a social online code repository and collective developer curiosity is a powerful force.
The full, excruciatingly detailed journey of “google.com” can be found in all its glory on the project’s README.