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(computer science)
A sequence of adjacent binary digits operated upon as a unit in a computer and usually shorter than a word.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


A popular computing magazine.


/bi:t/ (B) A component in the machine data hierarchy larger than a bit and usually smaller than a word; now nearly always eight bits and the smallest addressable unit of storage. A byte typically holds one character.

A byte may be 9 bits on 36-bit computers. Some older architectures used "byte" for quantities of 6 or 7 bits, and the PDP-10 and IBM 7030 supported "bytes" that were actually bit-fields of 1 to 36 (or 64) bits! These usages are now obsolete, and even 9-bit bytes have become rare in the general trend toward power-of-2 word sizes.

The term was coined by Werner Buchholz in 1956 during the early design phase for the IBM Stretch computer. It was a mutation of the word "bite" intended to avoid confusion with "bit". In 1962 he described it as "a group of bits used to encode a character, or the number of bits transmitted in parallel to and from input-output units". The move to an 8-bit byte happened in late 1956, and this size was later adopted and promulgated as a standard by the System/360 operating system (announced April 1964).

James S. Jones <> adds:

I am sure I read in a mid-1970's brochure by IBM that outlined the history of computers that BYTE was an acronym that stood for "Bit asYnchronous Transmission E..?" which related to width of the bus between the Stretch CPU and its CRT-memory (prior to Core).

Terry Carr <> says:

In the early days IBM taught that a series of bits transferred together (like so many yoked oxen) formed a Binary Yoked Transfer Element (BYTE).

See also nibble, octet.
This article is provided by FOLDOC - Free Online Dictionary of Computing (


(BinarY TablE) The common unit of computer storage from desktop computer to mainframe. It is made up of eight binary digits (bits). A ninth bit may be used in the memory (RAM) circuits as a parity bit for error checking. See parity checking.

A byte holds one alphabetic character such as the letter A, a dollar sign or decimal point. For numeric data, one byte holds one decimal digit (0-9), two "packed decimal" digits (00-99) or a binary number from 0 to 255. See space/time.

Bit, Byte and Nibble
The term "bit" for "binary digit" was coined in the 1940s. In the 1950s, IBM coined the terms "byte" and "nibble" (half a byte) to maintain the mastication theme "bit, bite, nibble."

From Bite to Byte
IBM coined the term in the mid-1950s to mean the smallest addressable group of bits in a computer, which was originally not eight. The first spelling of the word was "bite," but the y was added to avoid misspelling between "bit" and "bite."

Byte Specifications

Drives and memory (RAM) are rated in bytes. For example, a 512-gigabyte (512GB) drive stores 512 billion characters of program instructions and data permanently, while eight gigabytes (8GBs) of RAM holds eight billion temporarily. The first hard drives in early personal computers held 5MB, and RAM was 64K. See memory and file size.

Eight Bits Make Up One Byte
There are eight binary digits (bits) in a byte, but there can also be nine bits per byte in RAM cells that include error correction (see parity checking).

The Bytes Got Really Small!
In 1991, this hard drive held 670 megabytes. By 2018, the microSD flash memory card (arrow) had 750 times as much storage. The disk weighs 17 pounds in its case (not shown), and the flash memory card weighs half a gram. See microSD.
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