What are Bits and Bytes?

December 29,2020 - 4 min read
What are bits and bytes?

There have been umpteen innovations and breakthroughs in the history of the computer industry. A majority of them becomes a part of our daily lives and maybe that’s why we fail to appreciate them. In order to value the technology around, we need to first understand and have a basic knowledge of how a computer works.

In today’s blog we are going to talk about Bits and Bytes. A bit is the smallest measurable increment of data. Everything on a computer is built upon bits. Computers operate using binary language that represents every by either the value ‘0’ or ‘1’. In order to understand bits, we need to understand the binary. So, let’s begin by understanding the binary system.

The Binary System

One of the most basic concepts of computing is how a computer stores and represents information. A computer operates with the help of millions of tiny switches called transistors. In computers these transistors are called two-state devices because they can only be in two states; that is, either it will be on or it will be off. These states of ‘on’ and ‘off’ are represented by the numbers 1 and 0 respectively. We use the binary number system to store the two numbers, 1 and 0.

The decimal number system that we use in everyday life has ten digits, 0 to 9. We can represent any number or digit in the decimal system in binary. It’s easy to guess the binary counterparts of 0 and in decimal, however, when it comes to other digits and numbers, the scene gets a little complex. Nevertheless, we have methods and formulas that will help you convert decimal or any other number system in binary.

Binary is vital to computing a computer works by manipulating 1s and 0s. We have talked about representing denary number in binary, the computer also represents letters and other characters in binary by assigning a code to them. These assigned codes to alphabets are called ASCII codes. For instance, the set code (ASCII value) for A is 65 and it is stored in the computer memory using the binary equivalent of 65. Hence, when you type the letter A, the binary number 1000001 will be stored in your computer.

Apart from numbers and text that can be represented using the binary system, there is a whole lot of other data that can be represented in binary too. Images, for instance, are represented in binary using a technique known as bit-mapping. Sound can also be stored in binary by dividing it up into different segments and each segment is given and identified by a binary value.

Now that we have understood the binary in sufficient detail, let’s begin our main topic of the day, that is, Bits and Bytes.

Bits and Bytes

A bit is a basic unit of data storage in computers. We know that a computer works by manipulating binary digits, 1s and 0s. These logical values are stored in units that we know by the name of Bits. A bit is a basic unit which carries around information in computer. These single bits only carry a binary digit, 0 or 1. However, bits are too small to be used and are often incapable of carrying any meaningful information all by themselves, hence they are grouped together into units of 8 bits called bytes. A bit is the smallest measure of data in computer and byte is a sequence of bits. All the data that we generate and require is organized in bytes. This arrangement of data in bytes improve speed and efficiency of data processing.

The size of a byte is eight times larger than that of bit and because of this the number 8 and its multiples are important numbers whenever we perform calculations in computing. You will particularly encounter the first four multiples of eight in various contexts in computing calculations. The base of all this is the byte which is 8 bit long. It can be thought of as the basic building unit of information in computers. However, the point to appreciate is that all the complex functionalities of the entire system is based on only two digits, 1 and 0.

In computers, a bit is generated through fluctuations of electric current that run through its components. These fluctuations convert into I’s or 0’s that are used to transmit bits, process calculations, and carry information across the network. When any data or information is transmitted between networks, the bits are encrypted to ensure maximum information security and integrity of data.

Bits and Bytes in Numbers

We discussed that bits are so small that modern computers cannot work with information one bit at a time. Hence, Bits are usually assembled into a group of eight, called bytes. Every byte consists of eight bits. However, when it comes to computer memory, bits and bytes are not the only thing. You will also come across terms like kilobytes, also known as K, megabytes, abbreviated as meg, and gigabytes, in short gig. You must have heard people ‘This computer has 64 megabytes of RAM’, or ‘This folder is 45 kilobytes’. Let’s understand each of these measuring units of data used in computers in detail.

Bits, bytes, kilobytes ore megabytes are ways of measuring the size of data that a computer deals with. It’s important to know the exact size of each term used. We know that a byte is equal to 8 bits. A kilobyte, on the other hand, is 2^10 bytes. So, 1 kilobyte is nothing but 1024 bytes. It is given the prefix kilo because the number,1024, is close to thousand. A megabyte is basically equal to the square of 1 kilobyte. A megabyte is 2 raised to power of 20 bytes. Hence, 1 megabyte is 1,048,576 bytes. It is called a megabyte, because 2^20 is close to million bytes. As mentioned, a kilobyte is 1,024 bytes and not one thousand bytes as it is in the world outside computers. The reason is that computers use binary system rather than the decimal system.

When talking about, Computer storage, the terms used often are megabytes (MB) and gigabytes (GB). 1 MB is 1,024 kilobytes, or (1024x1024) bytes and not one million bytes. 1 GB, on the other hand, is 1,024 MB, or (1024x1024x1024) bytes. Moving further, a terabyte (TB) is 1,024 GB and a petabyte (PB) is 1,024 TB. If we talk about bigger units of memory, zettabyte (ZB) and yottabyte (YB) are the terms you would hear. A zettabyte (ZB) is equal to 1,024 exabyte (EB) and finally a yottabyte (YB) is 1,024 ZB. These units of memory are most used when we talk about computer memory.

I hope you are now clear with bits and bytes in the world of computers. It is with the help of these units of memory that your computer is able to store all your files and folders containing so much data in the form of images, audio, text and so much more.

We learnt that computers use the binary system and its storage is also defined using the binary system. However, more than a few hard drive manufacturers use the decimal number system to define the storage space of the computer. Hence, 1 MB is written as one million bytes, 1 GB as one billion bytes, and so on, using the decimal system rather than the binary number system.

We have learnt that the computer uses a binary system rather than the decimal system as mentioned above and hence there might be some discrepancy between your hard drive's published capacity and the actual storage capacity in your computer. For example, a hard drive may mention 10 GB of storage space, now using a decimal system, it is capable of storing 10,000,000,000 bytes, however, according to binary system, a hard disc of 10 GB can store 10,737,418,240 bytes. Hence, instead of 10 GB, your computer acknowledges only 9.31 GB. This confusion is only because of different definitions and is not really a malfunction. The hard disc manufactures count in base 10 by powers of 10 and Computers count by base 2.

With this, we have come to the end of understanding bits and bytes of the computer system. Here is a table that summarises all units of memory used to define computer storage.

What are bits and bytes?

Quantifying the Speed of Data

We know that bits are the smallest unit of storage in computers, so, the rate at which data travels through a network connection is measured in bits per second (bps). It is interesting to note that bits per second is a unit of time. Computer networks can handle millions or billions of bits per second. As the capability of transmitting data increases, the units are known as millions of bits per second (mbps) or billions of bits per second (gbps). The speed of transferring data continues to grow as both files sizes and computing components get more efficient and robust and capable of handling more data.

We have now come to the end of our blog where we discussed the bits and bytes of computers. We hope that every concept of storage of computers is clear and now you are more confident to talk about computers in terms of its storage capacity. The topic that we discussed today was fascinating and forces you to think about the marvels of the world of computing. It’s amazing how the entire technological industry is founded on the bedrock of 0’s and 1’s. If you are interested in computers and intriguing world technology, we suggest you to move one step ahead and learn about developing applications and software once you are thorough with the basics.

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