Digital data

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Digital clock. The time shown by the digits on the face at any instant is digital data. The actual precise time is analog data. Radiocontrolledclock.jpg
Digital clock. The time shown by the digits on the face at any instant is digital data. The actual precise time is analog data.

Digital data, in information theory and information systems, is information represented as a string of discrete symbols each of which can take on one of only a finite number of values from some alphabet, such as letters or digits. An example is a text document, which consists of a string of alphanumeric characters . The most common form of digital data in modern information systems is binary data , which is represented by a string of binary digits (bits) each of which can have one of two values, either 0 or 1.


Digital data can be contrasted with analog data, which is represented by a value from a continuous range of real numbers. Analog data is transmitted by an analog signal, which not only takes on continuous values, but can vary continuously with time, a continuous real-valued function of time. An example is the air pressure variation in a sound wave.

The word digital comes from the same source as the words digit and digitus (the Latin word for finger ), as fingers are often used for counting. Mathematician George Stibitz of Bell Telephone Laboratories used the word digital in reference to the fast electric pulses emitted by a device designed to aim and fire anti-aircraft guns in 1942. [1] The term is most commonly used in computing and electronics, especially where real-world information is converted to binary numeric form as in digital audio and digital photography.

Symbol to digital conversion

Since symbols (for example, alphanumeric characters) are not continuous, representing symbols digitally is rather simpler than conversion of continuous or analog information to digital. Instead of sampling and quantization as in analog-to-digital conversion, such techniques as polling and encoding are used.

A symbol input device usually consists of a group of switches that are polled at regular intervals to see which switches are switched. Data will be lost if, within a single polling interval, two switches are pressed, or a switch is pressed, released, and pressed again. This polling can be done by a specialized processor in the device to prevent burdening the main CPU. When a new symbol has been entered, the device typically sends an interrupt, in a specialized format, so that the CPU can read it.

For devices with only a few switches (such as the buttons on a joystick), the status of each can be encoded as bits (usually 0 for released and 1 for pressed) in a single word. This is useful when combinations of key presses are meaningful, and is sometimes used for passing the status of modifier keys on a keyboard (such as shift and control). But it does not scale to support more keys than the number of bits in a single byte or word.

Devices with many switches (such as a computer keyboard) usually arrange these switches in a scan matrix, with the individual switches on the intersections of x and y lines. When a switch is pressed, it connects the corresponding x and y lines together. Polling (often called scanning in this case) is done by activating each x line in sequence and detecting which y lines then have a signal, thus which keys are pressed. When the keyboard processor detects that a key has changed state, it sends a signal to the CPU indicating the scan code of the key and its new state. The symbol is then encoded or converted into a number based on the status of modifier keys and the desired character encoding.

A custom encoding can be used for a specific application with no loss of data. However, using a standard encoding such as ASCII is problematic if a symbol such as 'ß' needs to be converted but is not in the standard.

It is estimated that in the year 1986 less than 1% of the world's technological capacity to store information was digital and in 2007 it was already 94%. [2] The year 2002 is assumed to be the year when humankind was able to store more information in digital than in analog format (the "beginning of the digital age"). [3] [4]


Digital data come in these three states: data at rest, data in transit and data in use. The confidentiality, integrity and availability have to be managed during the entire lifecycle from 'birth' to the destruction of the data. [5]

Properties of digital information

All digital information possesses common properties that distinguish it from analog data with respect to communications:

Historical digital systems

Even though digital signals are generally associated with the binary electronic digital systems used in modern electronics and computing, digital systems are actually ancient, and need not be binary or electronic.

See also

Related Research Articles

In communications and information processing, code is a system of rules to convert information—such as a letter, word, sound, image, or gesture—into another form, sometimes shortened or secret, for communication through a communication channel or storage in a storage medium. An early example is an invention of language, which enabled a person, through speech, to communicate what they thought, saw, heard, or felt to others. But speech limits the range of communication to the distance a voice can carry and limits the audience to those present when the speech is uttered. The invention of writing, which converted spoken language into visual symbols, extended the range of communication across space and time.

In computing and telecommunication, a control character or non-printing character (NPC) is a code point in a character set, that does not represent a written symbol. They are used as in-band signaling to cause effects other than the addition of a symbol to the text. All other characters are mainly printing, printable, or graphic characters, except perhaps for the "space" character.

In electronics and telecommunications, modulation is the process of varying one or more properties of a periodic waveform, called the carrier signal, with a separate signal called the modulation signal that typically contains information to be transmitted. For example, the modulation signal might be an audio signal representing sound from a microphone, a video signal representing moving images from a video camera, or a digital signal representing a sequence of binary digits, a bitstream from a computer. The carrier is higher in frequency than the modulation signal. The purpose of modulation is to impress the information on the carrier wave, which is used to carry the information to another location. In radio communication the modulated carrier is transmitted through space as a radio wave to a radio receiver. Another purpose is to transmit multiple channels of information through a single communication medium, using frequency division multiplexing (FDM). For example in cable television which uses FDM, many carrier signals carrying different television channels are transported through a single cable to customers. Since each carrier occupies a different frequency, the channels do not interfere with each other. At the destination end, the carrier signal is demodulated to extract the information bearing modulation signal.

In general terms, throughput is the rate of production or the rate at which something is processed.

Analog-to-digital converter System that converts an analog signal into a digital signal

In electronics, an analog-to-digital converter is a system that converts an analog signal, such as a sound picked up by a microphone or light entering a digital camera, into a digital signal. An ADC may also provide an isolated measurement such as an electronic device that converts an input analog voltage or current to a digital number representing the magnitude of the voltage or current. Typically the digital output is a two's complement binary number that is proportional to the input, but there are other possibilities.

In telecommunication and electronics, baud is a common unit of measurement of symbol rate, which is one of the components that determine the speed of communication over a data channel.

Phase-shift keying (PSK) is a digital modulation process which conveys data by changing (modulating) the phase of a constant frequency reference signal. The modulation is accomplished by varying the sine and cosine inputs at a precise time. It is widely used for wireless LANs, RFID and Bluetooth communication.

Data transmission and data reception is the transfer and reception of data over a point-to-point or point-to-multipoint communication channel. Examples of such channels are copper wires, optical fibers, wireless communication channels, storage media and computer buses. The data are represented as an electromagnetic signal, such as an electrical voltage, radiowave, microwave, or infrared signal.

Communication channel

A communication channel refers either to a physical transmission medium such as a wire, or to a logical connection over a multiplexed medium such as a radio channel in telecommunications and computer networking. A channel is used to convey an information signal, for example a digital bit stream, from one or several senders to one or several receivers. A channel has a certain capacity for transmitting information, often measured by its bandwidth in Hz or its data rate in bits per second.

A satellite modem or satmodem is a modem used to establish data transfers using a communications satellite as a relay. A satellite modem's main function is to transform an input bitstream to a radio signal and vice versa.

In telecommunications and computing, bit rate is the number of bits that are conveyed or processed per unit of time.

Signal Varying physical quantity that conveys information

In signal processing, a signal is a function that conveys information about a phenomenon. In electronics and telecommunications, it refers to any time varying voltage, current, or electromagnetic wave that carries information. A signal may also be defined as an observable change in a quality such as quantity.


PSK31 or "Phase Shift Keying, 31 Baud", also BPSK31 and QPSK31, is a popular computer-sound card-generated radioteletype mode, used primarily by amateur radio operators to conduct real-time keyboard-to-keyboard chat, most often using frequencies in the high frequency amateur radio bands (near-shortwave). PSK31 is distinguished from other digital modes in that it is specifically tuned to have a data rate close to typing speed, and has an extremely narrow bandwidth, allowing many conversations in the same bandwidth as a single voice channel. This narrow bandwidth makes better use of the RF energy in a very narrow space thus allowing relatively low-power equipment to communicate globally using the same skywave propagation used by shortwave radio stations.

Coding theory Study of the properties of codes and their fitness

Coding theory is the study of the properties of codes and their respective fitness for specific applications. Codes are used for data compression, cryptography, error detection and correction, data transmission and data storage. Codes are studied by various scientific disciplines—such as information theory, electrical engineering, mathematics, linguistics, and computer science—for the purpose of designing efficient and reliable data transmission methods. This typically involves the removal of redundancy and the correction or detection of errors in the transmitted data.

Continuous phase modulation (CPM) is a method for modulation of data commonly used in wireless modems. In contrast to other coherent digital phase modulation techniques where the carrier phase abruptly resets to zero at the start of every symbol, with CPM the carrier phase is modulated in a continuous manner. For instance, with QPSK the carrier instantaneously jumps from a sine to a cosine whenever one of the two message bits of the current symbol differs from the two message bits of the previous symbol. This discontinuity requires a relatively large percentage of the power to occur outside of the intended band, leading to poor spectral efficiency. Furthermore, CPM is typically implemented as a constant-envelope waveform, i.e., the transmitted carrier power is constant. Therefore, CPM is attractive because the phase continuity yields high spectral efficiency, and the constant envelope yields excellent power efficiency. The primary drawback is the high implementation complexity required for an optimal receiver.

In a digitally modulated signal or a line code, symbol rate or modulation rate is the number of symbol changes, waveform changes, or signaling events across the transmission medium per unit of time. The symbol rate is measured in baud (Bd), baud rate or symbols per second. In the case of a line code, the symbol rate is the pulse rate in pulses per second. Each symbol can represent or convey one or several bits of data. The symbol rate is related to the gross bitrate expressed in bits per second.

Audio bit depth The number of bits of information recorded for each digital audio sample

In digital audio using pulse-code modulation (PCM), bit depth is the number of bits of information in each sample, and it directly corresponds to the resolution of each sample. Examples of bit depth include Compact Disc Digital Audio, which uses 16 bits per sample, and DVD-Audio and Blu-ray Disc which can support up to 24 bits per sample.

Electronic circuit

An electronic circuit is composed of individual electronic components, such as resistors, transistors, capacitors, inductors and diodes, connected by conductive wires or traces through which electric current can flow. To be referred to as electronic, rather than electrical, generally at least one active component must be present. The combination of components and wires allows various simple and complex operations to be performed: signals can be amplified, computations can be performed, and data can be moved from one place to another.

Pulse-code modulation (PCM) is a method used to digitally represent sampled analog signals. It is the standard form of digital audio in computers, compact discs, digital telephony and other digital audio applications. In a PCM stream, the amplitude of the analog signal is sampled regularly at uniform intervals, and each sample is quantized to the nearest value within a range of digital steps.

Digital signal Signal used to represent data as a sequence of discrete values

A digital signal is a signal that is being used to represent data as a sequence of discrete values; at any given time it can only take on, at most, one of a finite number of values. This contrasts with an analog signal, which represents continuous values; at any given time it represents a real number within a continuous range of values.


  1. Ceruzzi, Paul E (June 29, 2012). Computing: A Concise History. MIT Press. ISBN   978-0-262-51767-6.
  2. "The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information", especially Supporting online material, Martin Hilbert and Priscila López (2011), Science, 332(6025), 60–65; free access to the article through here:
  3. "video animation on The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information from 1986 to 2010
  4. 1 2 Miller, Vincent (2011). Understanding digital culture. London: Sage Publications. sec. "Convergence and the contemporary media experience". ISBN   978-1-84787-497-9.
  5. "The three states of information". The University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 2021-02-21.

Further reading