Computer Jargon Explained

Computer Jargon Explained

The IT sector is full of technical jargon which can sometimes be intimidating to those who do not work in the industry. However, it is no different to the weird and wonderful terminology that would be thrown around the room in a meeting with doctors, stock traders or motor mechanics: it is just a matter of familiarising yourself with certain keywords or phrases.

We have included a list of terms which are often used when dealing with IT services below.

ADSL: Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line, or ADSL, is a means of connecting to the Internet. This is done using an ADSL router which, using login details supplied by an ISP, connects to a server, thus allowing you access to the Internet. ADSL connections use a digital signal to transmit data over copper telephone lines. Unlike a dial-up account, no phone call is made which means that an ADSL connection can be maintained indefinitely without adding to your telephone account.

Anti-Virus Software: This is a type of program which is designed to detect and remove viruses and other forms of malicious software. There are many anti-virus programs, both free and commercial, which are available for multiple operating systems. More information on anti-virus software is available here.

ASP: Active Server Page, or simply ASP, is a language used for constructing web pages which are hosted on Windows-based web servers.

Bit: A bit or Binary Digit is the most basic unit used to describe data in computing. When referring to the size of data stored on a computer, they are measure in groups of 8, referred to as a byte. Just as 100 years would be referred to as a century or 1000 years as a millenium, larger amounts of bytes also have their own terms:  kilobit (kbit); megabit (Mbit); gigabit (Gbit); terabit (Tbit) and so forth. Bytes are measured in increments of 1000 (e.g.: 1 kilobit  = 1000 bits).Bits are often used as the measurement of the speed at which data is transmitted (e.g.: 100 kilobits per second or kbps).

Blacklist: In the context of IT, this refers to a list of addresses that have been blocked from being able to access or send information to a specific resource. Blacklisting may be done if an IP address is found to making unauthorised attempts to access information on a server or if a specific e-mail server is found to be a high source of spam. In the case of an unauthorised access attempt, the IP will be blocked by the server firewall which will prevent anyone from that address from being able to communicate with the server. A spam blacklisting occurs when the server which the e-mail originated is placed on a list maintained by an anti-spam organisation. Lists such as these are referenced by mail servers worldwide. If the sending mail server is on a blacklist, then mail that it is trying to deliver may be rejected by the receiving server.

A browser is a computer program that is used to view websites. Browsers work by looking up the website address that you wish to visit and, once the address has been located, interpreting the data provided by the web server and displaying it on your screen. There are many different browsers, each with its own look and feel. Examples of commonly-used browsers can be viewed here.

Bytes are used to measure the size of data (e.g.: an image or document file) stored on a computer. The larger the file, the more bytes it contains. Over the years, the size of files and programs has increased monumentally. Just as 100 years would be referred to as a century or 1000 years as a millenium, larger amounts of bytes also have their own terms:  kilobyte (KB); megabyte (MB); gigabyte (GB); terabyte (TB) and so forth. Bytes are measured in increments of 1000 (e.g.: 1 kilobyte  = 1000 bytes).

A client is a program or software designed to interact with a specific type of server. For example, a program such as Microsoft Outlook is referred to as an e-mail client because its function is to connect to an e-mail server to send and receive e-mail. Another example is a FTP client: a program designed to transfer files to and from a web server.

Computer code is a structured sequence of information, referred to as a programming language, which is compiled to produce things like software and websites. There are many different types of code, each designed with a specific purpose in mind (e.g.: HTML is used to create websites).

Command Line:
The Command Line Interface (CLI) is a platform in which all functions or programs are run by typing sets of commands as opposed to the point-and-click interface of a GUI. This interface was used by many operating systems, including MS-DOS, until it was finally eclipsed by the more user-friendly GUI. Many operating systems still have the option to open a CLI.

A cookie is a small file which is generated by a website and then stored by your browser. Cookies contain certain information about your browser and computer which can by used by a website for various purposes (e.g.: maintaining a session with an online shop or tracking which browser visitors to a site are using).

A database is a file which contains indexed or catalogued data that is retrieved by a program or website whenever information is requested. Online shopping websites are a good example of how a database is used; if you search an online shop for shoes, the website will request all information on shoes from the database and present you with all of the shoe products which can be ordered through the site.

An older type of Internet connection. Dial-up accounts use a device called a modem which, essentially, makes a telephone call in order to establish a connection. Depending on where you are in the world, each connection that is made may be charged as a telephone call.

A domain is a presence on the Internet which is typically used for services such as website or e-mail hosting. Domains must be renewed periodically in order for them to remain active.

Domain Registrant:
This is the person who has registered and, by extension, is the owner of a domain.

Domain Registrar:
Registrars are companies through which domains are registered.

Domain Registry:
All domain registrations are ultimately processed through one of the various domain registries. The registries are responsible for the rules governing domain administration and also serve as a database for domain look-ups. An example of a domain registry is the ZA Central Registry, which administers domains.

Downloading refers to the transfer of files to your computer from another, typically a server.

DNS: The Domain Name System is one of the core features of the Internet. Domains use use a series of DNS entries which provide information, such as the location of a website or e-mail server. DNS is used to translate easy-to-read addresses into the IP addresses where specific resources are located (e.g.: Instead of having to remember the address, you would simply type the more memorable address into your browser).

DNS Propagation: This is a process whereby changes made to the DNS settings of a domain are slowly updated around the Internet. DNS propagation usually takes between 1 and 48 hours, although it has been known to take up to 72 hours in some cases.

DNS Server: This is a server which contains DNS information for one or more domains.

E-Mail: Electronic Mail is a digital form of mail which is delivered from one computer to the next. Typically, a message is composed using an e-mail client and then handed over to a mail server. This server will proceed to deliver the message to the mail server which stores the recipient's messages. The message will then reside in the recipient's mailbox on the server until such time as the mailbox is accessed by the recipient and the message is downloaded.

Export: This refers to extracting data from a program and saving it to a file (e.g.: saving the contact list / address from your e-mail software).

Firewall: A firewall is a program which is designed to protect computers from intrusion. Firewalls can be configured to block specific ports; IP addresses or programs from being able to send or receive data from a computer or server.

Font: A font is a style of text with a recurring pattern / theme. Examples of fonts include Arial; Courier New and Times New Roman.

FTP: File Transfer Protocol, or FTP, is the method used to upload website files to a web server. More detailed information on how FTP works is available here.

Icon: Icons are small images which represent files which are stored on a computer. Different types of files are typically assigned icons which indicate what the file is used for (e.g.: a plain text document will be displayed as a piece of paper with writing on it). Most computer programs make use of specific icons containing the official logo of the program, which makes them easier to spot.

Greylisting: Greylisting is an anti-spamming tool. It works by placing a temporary block on a mail server which is unrecognised. The sending server is prompted to queue the message for a certain period of time before attempting to re-send. If the server is configured correctly and retries after the specified time frame, then the message will be accepted for processing.

GUI: A Graphical User Interface, or GUI (often pronounced "gooey"), is a detailed visual representation of what is happening on your computer. GUI's make use of icons and windows to display information in a way that, for many people, is simpler to understand. Information and commands in GUI can be accessed using a mouse as well as a keyboard.

Hardware: Hardware refers to the physical components of a computer (e.g.: hard disk or power supply unit).

Hard Disk Drive: This is the device which stores all of your data (e.g.: operating system; programs and files). The capacity of a hard disk is measured in terms of gigabytes (GB) and, more commonly now, terabytes (TB).

HTML: Hypertext Markup Language, or HTML, is a programming language used to create websites.

HTTP: Hypertext Transfer Protocol is the method by which website information is received by browser software.

Hyperlink: A Hyperlink (or simply, a link) is a piece of code which is inserted into either text or an image which contains a website address. Clicking on a link will launch your browser and open the address contained therein.

IMAP: Internet Message Access Protocol is a method of managing e-mail when it is downloaded. IMAP accounts synchronise mail on across multiple devices. For more information, see What's the Difference between POP and IMAP?.

Import: This refers to the process of obtaining data, typically from a specific file, and adding it to a particular program (e.g.: copying a list of contacts into the address book of your e-mail software).

Originally conceived by the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as a means to maintain military communications during the Cold War, the Internet eventually entered the public domain due to the work of several American universities. The Internet is a series of cables, satellites, routers and servers on which all online communication (from e-mail to streaming video) relies.

Internet Protocol (IP): This is the "language" that computers use to communicate on networks and the Internet. Computers using this means of communication are identified by their IP addresses.

IP Address: As with every house in a neighbourhood, every device on a network needs to have an address in order to send or receive any sort of data. An IP address is nothing more than a string of numbers which tells the rest of the network where a specific device is located. There are two types of IP addresses: the first is an internal IP, which can only be viewed by computers or devices on an internal network (e.g.: your office network); the second is a public IP, which is assigned to the device through which you connect to the Internet (e.g.: an ADSL router). As the name suggests, the public IP is the address which other computers on the Internet will see when you connect to them or vice versa.

ISP: This stands for Internet Service Provider. ISP's are companies which provide Internet-related services, such as ADSL subscriptions or e-mail hosting.

IT: Information Technology, or IT, includes any device which is capable of storing or transmitting information. This includes computers, mobile phones as well as the equipment which is used to link them together.

Local Area Network (LAN): A network located at a single premises (e.g.: in an office or at home), typically comprised of computers linked to each other via cable. Also referred to as ethernet.

Malicious Software: Also referred to as malware, this refers to computer programs which written with destructive or fraudulant purposes in mind. Malware is often used to obtain sensitive information; destroy computer data or simply create a minor nuisance. Detailed information on malware is available here.

Modem: A device which is used to establish a dial-up connection to the Internet. A modem takes the digital information supplied by a computer; converts it to an analogue signal and then transmits the data over a copper telephone line to a receiving modem. The receiving modem converts the signal back to digital data which is then passed on to the receiving computer.

Network: A series of computers which are linked so that they can communicate with each other.

Open Source: Open source refers to software (including operating systems) which may be distributed freely. The code used for open source software is available to anyone so that improvements can be suggested to the developers. Examples of open source software include the Firefox and Chrome browsers, as well as the many versions of the Linux operating system.

Operating System: This is the environment in which your programs run. Examples of operating systems include Microsoft Windows; Mac OS and Linux.

PHP: Referred to as Personal Hypertext Protocol as well as Personal Home Page, this language is used for constructing websites.

Plain Text: This is a style of text which is simple and unformatted.

POP / POP3: Post Office Protocol is a method of managing e-mail when it is downloaded. POP accounts are configured to download messages to your computer and remove the downloaded copies from the mail server thereafter. For more information, see What's the Difference between POP and IMAP?.

Port: Much like an airport or seaport, a port is basically a channel through which data is transmitted. Ports are assigned unique numbers and are used for certain types of information (e.g.: website traffic uses port 80 whereas downloading e-mail using a POP account uses port 110.

Rich Text:
Unlike plain text, rich text allows you to format what you have entered. You can, for example, change your font type; set your text to bold or italics; insert images or create links.

This is a device which is used to direct network traffic. An example of where a router might be used is in ADSL connections. An ADSL router is designed to manage and direct traffic between computers on your local network and the Internet.

Search Engine: This is a website which serves as a directory for looking up information on the Internet, much as one would use the Yellow Pages.

Server: A server is a computer which is designed to provide or "serve" information to anyone who requests it. For example: a web server is used to store websites and will serve a website to anyone who visits the website address whereas an e-mail server is used to receive and deliver e-mail.

Session: A session is a connection established between a computer and another device (e.g.: a router or another computer). During a session, login information is supplied from one device to another and a connection is then established. The session ends when the connection is severed.

SMTP: Simple Mail Transport Protocol is the method used to send e-mail. The server which accepts your e-mail and then delivers it to the recipient's mail server is referred to as a SMTP server.

Software: This refers to the coded programs or applications found on a computer. Software includes anything from e-mail or browser clients, to word processing and spreadsheet programs.

Spam: This term is used to describe unwanted or "junk" e-mail. More information on spam is available here.

SQL: This stands for Structured Query Language. SQL, often pronounced "sequel", is a language often used by databases. There are various forms of SQL, including Microsoft SQL (MSSQL) and the open source MySQL.

Upload: Uploading refers to the transfer of files from your computer to another, typically a server.

Virus: A virus is a form of malware designed to make your computer unusable in one form or another (e.g.: damaging your programs or consuming all of the available disk space on your computer). As with biological viruses, computer viruses are designed to replicate themselves; this means that they are capable of rapidly spreading throughout your hard disk or from one computer to the next (e.g.: via flash disks).

Website: A website is, essentially, an electronic billboard designed to promote a company or an idea. Today's websites are considerably more sophisticated than this, containing product catalogues; bulletin boards; streaming video and a range of other features.

Wireless LAN: Also referred to as a WLAN or WiFi. This the same as a LAN with the exception that all computers connect using wireless network adapters, as opposed to cables.

WYSIWYG: An acronym for What You See Is What You Get, WYSIWYG is a term associated with an interface that allows you to see what you are creating while you work. The Kopage website builder is an example of a WYSIWYG program in that you are using a visual interface to arrange your content instead of typing in code.

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