What exactly is a byte

Bit and byte are units of measurement for the amount of data. The word "bit" is a word created from the English expression "binary digit", which can be translated as "binary digit". The word "byte" comes from the English "bite" (in German: "bite"), it is a made-up word whose spelling has been changed to "byte" in order to avoid confusion with bit.

the essentials in brief

  • The word “byte” is used as a unit of measurement for the size of a memory, for example the storage capacity of a USB stick is 8, 16, or 32 gigabytes.
  • The term “bit”, on the other hand, describes the data transfer rate, for example DSL providers offer Internet access with a data transfer rate of 16 or 32 megabits per second.

0 or 1?

The basic information technology idea behind it is first of all that every piece of information is linked to an information carrier. An information carrier that is in exactly one of two states (either “0” or “1” in the binary code) can represent the amount of data 1 bit. A bit is therefore the smallest information unit on a computer and corresponds to the status "1" or "0". Usually eight bits are combined into one byte. A byte can thus represent 2 to the power of 8, i.e. 256 states.

Byte or bit?

For laypeople, the difference between these two terms becomes clearest when one looks at the use of the word: The word “byte” is used as a unit of measurement for the size of a memory, for example the storage capacity of a USB stick is 8, 16, or 32 gigabytes. The term “bit”, on the other hand, describes the data transfer rate, for example DSL providers offer Internet access with a data transfer rate of 16 or 32 megabits per second. So you can derive the following donkey bridge: "Byte" is about the memory size, "Bit" is about speed.

Kilo-, mega-, giga-, terabytes

Regardless of whether it relates to speed or storage capacity - bits or bytes are usually specified in larger units: for example in kilobits or megabits or kilobytes or megabytes. A kilobit, often also found in abbreviated form as “Kbit” or “Kb”, corresponds to 1,024 bits. One megabit (often found as "Mbit" or "Mb") equals 1,024 kilobits. One gigabit ("Gbit or Gb") corresponds to 1,024 megabits. It works the same way with bytes. When using the abbreviation, make sure that the b is written in small (e.g. Mb) or large (e.g. MB), as the latter stands for bytes as the unit of measurement.

Octet and kibibyte

If you take it very precisely, a byte that consists of 8 bits should be referred to with the ISO-compliant term “octet”, because in the history of data processing the term “byte” was used for a different number of bits. In everyday parlance, however, it can be assumed that a byte consists of 8 bits. The situation is similar with the use of binary prefixes such as “Kibi-” and “Mebi-”. With their help, powers of two can be represented more clearly. In this context, however, the difference between powers of ten and powers of two is only important for experts who have to deal with large amounts of data.

The only time that normal users come into contact with this problem is when purchasing storage media. If, for example, an external hard drive with a terabyte of storage space is purchased, after connecting it, the computer may only display a storage space of around 0.9 terabytes. The reason: The hard drive manufacturer calculates with powers of ten, so a terabyte is 1012 bytes. However, the computer calculates in powers of two - here a terabyte has 240 bytes, which is around 10 percent more in the result.

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