A Guide to Commonly Used Computer Terminology

Computers are an important part of daily life for millions of people worldwide. They are used to manage people's money, control the flow of aircraft, and even run hospitals. People also use computers for entertainment, communication, shopping, and to work. Computers are as common and essential to the modern world as automobiles. To better understand computers, it is beneficial for users to learn about basic computer terminology.

Account – A computer account, or user account, is a workspace for an authenticated user to use computing resources and services. Access to accounts relies on authentication methods such as login names and passwords.

Anti-Virus – Computer software that is designed to watch out for, prevent or remove virus infections. It is analogous to a body's immune system.

Backup – A means of copying computer data to a secondary location. People do backups of their data for archival purposes, or to protect against data loss.

Bandwidth – The speed or potential at which data travels or can travel over a network.

Blog – Short for "web log", a blog is a journal or diary that exists online. Blog entries are called "posts."

Cache – A storage area for data that the computer frequently accesses. The function of a cache is to speed up access to the most commonly requested information. This, in turn, increases the speed and performance of the computer.

CPU – Short for Central Processing Unit, the CPU is the actual brains of the computer. All computer programs are run by the CPU.

Crash – A situation where computer software no longer works properly. When a program crashes, it may appear to freeze or shut down unexpectedly. When an operating system crashes, the computer may temporarily stop working entirely, or even shut down and reboot. A crash typically results in the loss of data.

Download – Download is a term for retrieving or importing data from another computer or network.

Drivers – Software that enables computers to interact with internal or peripheral hardware such as hard drives, monitors, computer mice, and other devices.

Filesystem – A system for storing data in an orderly and efficient manner. Like file cabinets, filesystems separate data, give chunks of data labels, and organize it for easy storage and future retrieval. All modern file storage systems use some kind of filesystem.

Firewall – A security system that is designed to filter incoming and outgoing network traffic according to the whims of the computer user or network administrator.

Graphical User Interface – An icon-based interface that enables users to interact with software, hardware and data without having to type complicated commands.

Hard Drive – A storage system that uses rotating platters to store data. The platters are covered with a magnetic substance that holds data even when the device has no power. For this reason it is called non-volatile data storage, or persistent data storage. Hard drives are a form of random access storage, because it can retrieve data at any spot on its platters, on demand.

Hardware – The various physical parts of a computer system or network. Examples include but are not limited to routers, disk drives, keyboards, and computer memory. Hardware can also be defined as anything in a computer that is not software. Hardware and software must work together for a computer system to function.

Hotspot – Hotspots are places where users can connect to wireless networks.

Internet – The worldwide collection of computers and computer networks. Any data that travels from one network to another; typically crosses through the Internet.

Keyboard – A method of computer data entry that is analogous to the classic typewriter. Keyboards have letters, numbers and other characters imprinted on keys to inform the user of what character will appear when they type the given key.

Memory – Memory is another word for data storage. System memory is the fastest version of computer memory that remains only as long as the power is on. For this reason it is called temporary or volatile memory. Hard drives are another form of memory, although they are slower and non-volatile in nature.

Monitor – A visual display, or form of output device that displays data for humans to see. It is analogous to a television. Like televisions, monitors can come in the form of Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) displays, or Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs).

Mouse – The mouse is a digital hand-held pointing device that computer users employ to move a virtual pointer across a display device, which is usually a computer monitor.

Network – Any system in which two or more computing devices are connected and can communicate with each other.

Operating System – The operating system is the core software that makes a computer actually run. It is the essential foundation for all applications, hardware drivers and other computer code, that runs on a given computer system.

Optical Drive – Optical drives use laser beams to write data to optical disks, or to read data. Modern examples of optical drives include DVD-ROM drives, CD-ROM drives, and Blu-Ray drives, as well as CD/DVD/Blu-Ray burners.

Password – A password is used in conjunction with a login name to authenticate a user and establish their authorization to use a computer, its resources and its services. It is analogous to a passphrase.

RAM – Short for Random Access Memory. Data can be read from or written to RAM at random. RAM can be volatile or it can be persistent.

ROM – Short for Read Only Memory. It is a form of permanent memory and it cannot be changed, only read.

Router – A router is a device that directs packets of data between computer networks. Routers are one of the critical hardware components of a computer network and by extension the Internet, the other component being the computers themselves. They are connected to computers using network cables.

Software – Any set of instructions that can be read by computers. Software comes in many forms, including hardware drivers, user-accessible programs called applications, and even the operating system itself.

Upload – When a user sends or exports data from their computer to another computer or network, it is called uploading.

Virus – A computer program that is designed to run on a computer and copy itself to other computers. Viruses almost always do some kind of damage, and are designed to be difficult to remove.

Web Browser – A computer program that people use to explore the World Wide Web.

Wireless – Short for Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN), or wireless network access. Wireless networks enable users to access networks or the Internet itself without the need for a network cable.

World Wide Web – The collective system of hypertext documents and other data that is accessible over the Internet, is called the World Wide Web, or the Web. The Web is typically accessed by web browsers.

  • Glossary of Computer and Internet Terms: A glossary of computer and Internet terms found on the website for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. The page is divided into the sections "Computer Terms" and "Internet terms."
  • Computer Support Buddy Glossary (2010 version): This glossary of computer terminology is found on the RFSA website for The University of Texas at Austin. The terms are listed in alphabetical order.
  • Computer Glossary: A computer glossary that lists commonly used terms. The terms are not listed in alphabetical order.
  • Computer Ownership: Glossary: An alphabetical list of definitions for common computer terms and acronyms.
  • Glossary of Computer Security Terms: On this Maryland Institute College of Art page readers will find a glossary of computer security jargon.
  • Glossary of Common Computer & Internet Terms: Search for common computer related terms, which are listed in alphabetical order. Readers can click on any of the letters of the alphabet listed across the top of the page to review terms starting with the selected letter.

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