From the 1990s on, one of the most important challenges facing computer science researchers has been the design and construction of software tools to exploit Internet computing. At the same time, the development of agent technology has gone hand in hand with the explosion of the Internet. As worldwide network computing environments become more and more complex, software agents are believed to have the potential to help present and manage the Internet in an autonomous or semi-autonomous way. Yet, to date, a number of fundamental questions about the theory and practice of this new software engineering paradigm have remained unanswered. Here we explore the features that make the agent-based approach such an appealing and evolutionary computational model. In particular, we envision a global agent-based distributed computing architecture that provides a convenient programming abstraction and sufficient transparency. This paper gives a general introduction to the underlying concepts of our research and development both at the level of design philosophy and in practical implementation techniques. It is argued that the shift from computer networks to agent networks is a significant extension of network programming technology because agents are well suited to modeling, designing and implementing scalable, flexible and secure distributed systems over a worldwide computing environment.