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Dictionary of Computer Terms

Updated: February 12, 2024

See also: Filetypes | Emoticons

Algorithm: A set of rules or steps followed by a computer to solve problems or perform tasks.

Artificial Intelligence (AI): Technology that allows computers to think or act in a way that seems human.

Augmented Reality (AR): Mixing real-world images or video with computer-generated information or graphics.

Big Data: Very large sets of data that can be analyzed to find patterns, trends, and insights.

Blockchain: A secure, shared digital ledger that records transactions across many computers.

Browser: A program that lets you visit websites and use web applications.

Cloud Computing: Storing and accessing data and programs over the internet instead of on your computer’s hard drive.

CPU (Central Processing Unit): The main part of a computer that performs most of the processing inside.

Cryptocurrency: Digital or virtual currency secured by cryptography, used for secure online transactions.

Cybersecurity: Protecting computers, networks, programs, and data from unauthorized access or attacks.

Data Mining: The process of analyzing large sets of data to discover patterns and relationships.

Database: A collection of information that is organized so that it can be easily accessed, managed, and updated.

Deep Learning: A type of artificial intelligence that mimics the way humans gain certain types of knowledge.

Digital: Representing data as numbers (0s and 1s) for processing by computers.

Domain Name: The name that identifies a website on the internet.

E-commerce: Buying or selling goods and services over the internet.

Encryption: Converting information or data into a code to prevent unauthorized access.

Firewall: A security system that controls the incoming and outgoing network traffic based on predetermined security rules.

Firmware: Permanent software programmed into a read-only memory.

Gigabyte (GB): A unit of storage capacity equal to 1 billion bytes.

HTML (HyperText Markup Language): The standard language for creating web pages and web applications.

HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol): The foundation of data communication for the World Wide Web.

HTTPS (HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure): An encrypted version of HTTP for secure communication over a computer network.

IP Address (Internet Protocol Address): A unique string of numbers separated by periods that identifies each computer using the Internet Protocol to communicate over a network.

ISP (Internet Service Provider): A company that provides access to the internet.

JavaScript: A programming language used to create interactive effects within web browsers.

LAN (Local Area Network): A network that connects computers within a limited area such as a home, school, or office building.

Machine Learning: A type of artificial intelligence that allows software applications to become more accurate at predicting outcomes without being explicitly programmed to do so.

Malware: Software designed to disrupt, damage, or gain unauthorized access to a computer system.

Megabyte (MB): A unit of storage capacity equal to 1 million bytes.

Modem: A device that converts digital data into a format suitable for a communication medium and vice versa.

Network: A group of computers and other devices connected together to share resources and information.

Operating System (OS): The software that supports a computer’s basic functions, such as scheduling tasks, executing applications, and controlling peripherals.

Phishing: A method of trying to gather personal information using deceptive e-mails and websites.

Pixel: The smallest element of an image that can be individually processed in a video display system.

Plugin: A software component that adds a specific feature to an existing computer program.

Protocol: A set of rules governing the exchange or transmission of data between devices.

RAM (Random Access Memory): A type of computer memory that can be accessed randomly, used for storing working data and machine code.

Ransomware: Malware that threatens to publish the victim’s data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid.

Router: A device that forwards data packets between computer networks.

SaaS (Software as a Service): A software distribution model in which applications are hosted by a service provider and made available to customers over the internet.

Search Engine: A software system designed to search for information on the World Wide Web.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization): The process of improving the quality and quantity of website traffic by increasing the visibility of a website or a web page to users of a web search engine.

Server: A computer or system that provides resources, data, services, or programs to other computers, known as clients, over a network.

Smartphone: A mobile phone that includes advanced functionality beyond making phone calls and sending text messages, such as running applications and accessing the internet.

Social Media: Websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.

Software: The programs and other operating information used by a computer.

Spam: Irrelevant or unsolicited messages sent over the internet, typically to a large number of users, for the purposes of advertising, phishing, spreading malware, etc.

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer): A standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a server and a client—typically a web server (website) and a browser, or a mail server and a mail client (e.g., Outlook).

TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol): The basic communication language or protocol of the internet.

Terabyte (TB): A unit of storage capacity equal to 1 trillion bytes.

UI (User Interface): The means by which the user and a computer system interact, particularly the use of input devices and software.

URL (Uniform Resource Locator): The address of a World Wide Web page.

USB (Universal Serial Bus): An industry standard for cables, connectors, and protocols for connection, communication, and power supply between computers and devices.

Virtual Reality (VR): The use of computer technology to create a simulated environment that can be explored in 360 degrees.

Virus: A type of malicious software program (“malware”) that, when executed, replicates itself by modifying other computer programs and inserting its own code.

VPN (Virtual Private Network): A network that is constructed using public wires — usually the internet — to connect to a private network, such as a company’s internal network.

WAN (Wide Area Network): A telecommunications network that extends over a large geographic area for the primary purpose of computer networking.

Web Hosting: A service that allows organizations and individuals to post a website or web page onto the Internet.

Wi-Fi: A technology that allows computers, smartphones, or other devices to connect to the Internet or communicate with one another wirelessly within a particular area.

Widget: A small application with limited functionality that can be installed and executed within a web page by an end user.

WWW (World Wide Web): An information system where documents and other web resources are identified by URLs, interlinked by hypertext links, and accessible via the internet.

XML (eXtensible Markup Language): A markup language that defines a set of rules for encoding documents in a format that is both human-readable and machine-readable.

API (Application Programming Interface): A set of rules and tools for building software and applications.

Bandwidth: The maximum rate of data transfer across a given path.

Bit: The smallest unit of data in computing, represented by a 1 or a 0.

Byte: A unit of digital information that most commonly consists of eight bits.

Cache: A hardware or software component that stores data so future requests for that data can be served faster.

Compiler: A program that translates code written in a high-level programming language into machine language.

Debugging: The process of finding and fixing errors in software code.

Digital Signature: A mathematical scheme for verifying the authenticity of digital messages or documents.

Domain: The name that identifies a network domain: a distinct subset of the Internet with a common address component.

Ethernet: A system for connecting computers within a local area network (LAN).

Gateway: A device that connects two different networks, especially a connection to the internet.

GUI (Graphical User Interface): A user interface that includes graphical elements, such as windows, icons, and buttons.

Hash: A function that converts an input (or ‘message’) into a fixed-size string of bytes, typically for security or data retrieval purposes.

IC (Integrated Circuit): A set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece (or “chip”) of semiconductor material, normally silicon.

IoT (Internet of Things): The network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, appliances—that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the internet.

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group): A commonly used method of lossy compression for digital images, particularly for those images produced by digital photography.

Kernel: The core component of most computer operating systems; it manages system resources and communication between hardware and software components.

Latency: The delay before a transfer of data begins following an instruction for its transfer.

Malicious Software (Malware): Software designed to harm or exploit any programmable device, service, or network.

Network Interface Card (NIC): A hardware component that connects a computer to a network.

Open Source: Software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified.

Packet: A small segment of data sent over a network.

Query: A request for information from a database.

RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks): A data storage virtualization technology that combines multiple physical disk drive components into one or more logical units for the purposes of data redundancy, performance improvement, or both.

Resolution: The number of pixels contained on a display monitor, expressed in terms of the number of pixels on the horizontal axis and the number on the vertical axis.

Script: A list of commands that can be executed without user interaction.

SSD (Solid State Drive): A type of mass storage device similar to a hard disk drive (HDD) but using flash memory to store data, which provides faster data access.

TCP (Transmission Control Protocol): A core protocol of the Internet Protocol Suite. It originates and manages end-to-end communication between hosts on the Internet.

Thread: The smallest sequence of programmed instructions that can be managed independently by a scheduler.

Unicode: A computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation, and handling of text expressed in most of the world’s writing systems.

Virtual Machine (VM): An emulation of a computer system that provides the functionality of a physical computer.

WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy): A security protocol, now considered obsolete, for wireless local area networks.

XSS (Cross-Site Scripting): A security vulnerability typically found in web applications, allowing attackers to inject client-side scripts into web pages viewed by other users.

Yottabyte (YB): A unit of information or computer storage equal to one septillion bytes (long scale) or one quadrillion gigabytes (short scale).

Zero-Day Attack: An attack that exploits a previously unknown vulnerability in a computer application or operating system, before the software developer has released a patch for it.

4G (Fourth Generation): The fourth generation of broadband cellular network technology, succeeding 3G.

5G (Fifth Generation): The fifth generation of cellular network technology, offering higher speeds and more reliable connections on smartphones and other devices than ever before.

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