interface


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interface

1. Chem a surface that forms the boundary between two bodies, liquids, or chemical phases
2. an electrical circuit linking one device, esp a computer, with another

interface

[′in·tər‚fās]
(computer science)
Some form of electronic device that enables one piece of gear to communicate with or control another.
A device linking two otherwise incompatible devices, such as an editing terminal of one manufacturer to typesetter of another.
(geophysics)
(physical chemistry)
The boundary between any two phases: among the three phases (gas, liquid, and solid), there are five types of interfaces: gas-liquid, gas-solid, liquid-liquid, liquid-solid, and solid-solid.
(science and technology)
A shared boundary; it may be a piece of hardware used between two pieces of equipment, a portion of computer storage accessed by two or more programs, or a surface that forms the boundary between two types of materials.

interface

The common boundary, often a plane surface, between two bodies or materials.

interface

(jargon)
A boundary across which two systems communicate. An interface might be a hardware connector used to link to other devices, or it might be a convention used to allow communication between two software systems. Often there is some intermediate component between the two systems which connects their interfaces together. For example, two EIA-232 interfaces connected via a serial cable.

See also graphical user interface, Application Program Interface.

interface

The connection and interaction between hardware, software and the user. Users "talk to" the software. The software "talks to" the hardware and other software. Hardware "talks to" other hardware. All this is interfacing. It has to be designed, developed, tested and redesigned; and with each incarnation, a new specification is born that may become yet one more de facto or regulated standard.

Hardware Interfaces
Hardware interfaces are the plugs, sockets, cables and electrical signals traveling through them. Examples are USB, FireWire, Ethernet, ATA/IDE, SCSI and PCI.

Software/Programming Interfaces
Software interfaces (programming interfaces) are the languages, codes and messages that programs use to communicate with each other and to the hardware. Examples are the Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems, SMTP email, IP network protocols and the software drivers that activate the peripheral devices.

User Interfaces
User interfaces are the keyboards, mice, commands and menus used for communication between you and the computer. Examples are the command lines in DOS and Unix, and the graphical interfaces in Windows, Mac and Linux.

Format & Function


Every interface implies a structure. Electrical signals are made up of voltage levels, frequencies and duration. The data passed from one device or program to another has a precise format (header, body, trailer, etc.).

Every interface implies a function. At the hardware level, electronic signals activate functions; data are read, written, transmitted, received, checked for error, etc. At the software level, instructions activate the hardware (access methods, data link protocols, etc.). At higher levels, the data transferred or transmitted may itself request functions to be performed (client/server, program to program, etc.).

Language & Programming


An interface is activated by programming language commands. The complexity of the functions and the design of the language determine how difficult it is to program.

User Interface, Protocol, API and ABI


The design of the interaction between the user and the computer is called a "user interface." The rules, formats and functions between components in a communications system or network are called "protocols." The language and message formats between routines within a program or between software components is called an "application programming interface" (API). The specification for an operating system working in a specific machine environment has been known as an "application binary interface" (ABI), but this term is not widely used.

All the above interactions are interfaces. Regardless of what they are called, they all create rules that must be precisely followed in a digital world.


A Whole Lot of Talking To
No matter what they're called, interfaces boil down to a format and language that defines the services one system is capable of delivering to another.
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