Last updated

In computing, input/output or I/O (or, informally, io or IO) is the communication between an information processing system, such as a computer, and the outside world, possibly a human or another information processing system. Inputs are the signals or data received by the system and outputs are the signals or data sent from it. The term can also be used as part of an action; to "perform I/O" is to perform an input or output operation.


I/O devices are the pieces of hardware used by a human (or other system) to communicate with a computer. For instance, a keyboard or computer mouse is an input device for a computer, while monitors and printers are output devices. Devices for communication between computers, such as modems and network cards, typically perform both input and output operations.

The designation of a device as either input or output depends on perspective. Mice and keyboards take physical movements that the human user outputs and convert them into input signals that a computer can understand; the output from these devices is the computer's input. Similarly, printers and monitors take signals that a computer outputs as input, and they convert these signals into a representation that human users can understand. From the human user's perspective, the process of reading or seeing these representations is receiving output; this type of interaction between computers and humans is studied in the field of human–computer interaction. A further complication is that a device traditionally considered an input device, e.g., card reader, keyboard, may accept control commands to, e.g., select stacker, display keyboard lights, while a device traditionally considered as an output device may provide status data, e.g., low toner, out of paper, paper jam.

In computer architecture, the combination of the CPU and main memory, to which the CPU can read or write directly using individual instructions, is considered the brain of a computer. Any transfer of information to or from the CPU/memory combo, for example by reading data from a disk drive, is considered I/O. [1] The CPU and its supporting circuitry may provide memory-mapped I/O that is used in low-level computer programming, such as in the implementation of device drivers, or may provide access to I/O channels. An I/O algorithm is one designed to exploit locality and perform efficiently when exchanging data with a secondary storage device, such as a disk drive.


An I/O interface is required whenever the I/O device is driven by a processor. Typically a CPU communicates with devices via a bus. The interface must have the necessary logic to interpret the device address generated by the processor. Handshaking should be implemented by the interface using appropriate commands (like BUSY, READY, and WAIT), and the processor can communicate with an I/O device through the interface. If different data formats are being exchanged, the interface must be able to convert serial data to parallel form and vice versa. Because it would be a waste for a processor to be idle while it waits for data from an input device there must be provision for generating interrupts [2] and the corresponding type numbers for further processing by the processor if required.[ clarification needed ]

A computer that uses memory-mapped I/O accesses hardware by reading and writing to specific memory locations, using the same assembly language instructions that computer would normally use to access memory. An alternative method is via instruction-based I/O which requires that a CPU have specialized instructions for I/O. [1] Both input and output devices have a data processing rate that can vary greatly. [2] With some devices able to exchange data at very high speeds direct access to memory (DMA) without the continuous aid of a CPU is required. [2]

Higher-level implementation

Higher-level operating system and programming facilities employ separate, more abstract I/O concepts and primitives. For example, most operating systems provide application programs with the concept of files. The C and C++ programming languages, and operating systems in the Unix family, traditionally abstract files and devices as streams, which can be read or written, or sometimes both. The C standard library provides functions for manipulating streams for input and output.

In the context of the ALGOL 68 programming language, the input and output facilities are collectively referred to as transput. The ALGOL 68 transput library recognizes the following standard files/devices: stand in, stand out, stand errors and stand back.

An alternative to special primitive functions is the I/O monad, which permits programs to just describe I/O, and the actions are carried out outside the program. This is notable because the I/O functions would introduce side-effects to any programming language, but this allows purely functional programming to be practical.

Channel I/O

Channel I/O requires the use of instructions that are specifically designed to perform I/O operations. The I/O instructions address the channel or the channel and device; the channel asynchronously accesses all other required addressing and control information. This is similar to DMA, but more flexible.

Port-mapped I/O

Port-mapped I/O also requires the use of special I/O instructions. Typically one or more ports are assigned to the device, each with a special purpose. The port numbers are in a separate address space from that used by normal instructions.

Direct memory access

Direct memory access (DMA) is a means for devices to transfer large chunks of data to and from memory independently of the CPU.

See also

Related Research Articles

The control unit (CU) is a component of a computer's central processing unit (CPU) that directs the operation of the processor. It tells the computer's memory, arithmetic and logic unit and input and output devices how to respond to the instructions that have been sent to the processor.

Bus (computing) System that transfers data between components within a computer

In computer architecture, a bus is a communication system that transfers data between components inside a computer, or between computers. This expression covers all related hardware components and software, including communication protocols.

Interrupt signal to the processor emitted by hardware or software indicating an event that needs immediate attention

In digital computers, an interrupt is a response by the processor to an event that needs attention from the software. An interrupt condition alerts the processor and serves as a request for the processor to interrupt the currently executing code when permitted, so that the event can be processed in a timely manner. If the request is accepted, the processor responds by suspending its current activities, saving its state, and executing a function called an interrupt handler to deal with the event. This interruption is temporary, and, unless the interrupt indicates a fatal error, the processor resumes normal activities after the interrupt handler finishes.

Original Chip Set A version of chipset used in Amiga personal computer

The Original Chip Set (OCS) is a chipset used in the earliest Commodore Amiga computers and defined the Amiga's graphics and sound capabilities. It was succeeded by the slightly improved Enhanced Chip Set (ECS) and greatly improved Advanced Graphics Architecture (AGA).

Programmable logic controller Programmable digital computer used to control machinery

A programmable logic controller (PLC) or programmable controller is an industrial digital computer which has been ruggedized and adapted for the control of manufacturing processes, such as assembly lines, or robotic devices, or any activity that requires high reliability, ease of programming and process fault diagnosis.

Direct memory access (DMA) is a feature of computer systems that allows certain hardware subsystems to access main system memory independent of the central processing unit (CPU).

Intel 8085 8-bit microprocessor invented in 1976

The Intel 8085 ("eighty-eighty-five") is an 8-bit microprocessor produced by Intel and introduced in March 1976. It is a software-binary compatible with the more-famous Intel 8080 with only two minor instructions added to support its added interrupt and serial input/output features. However, it requires less support circuitry, allowing simpler and less expensive microcomputer systems to be built.

TI MSP430 mixed-signal microcontroller family

The MSP430 is a mixed-signal microcontroller family from Texas Instruments, first introduced on 14 February 1992. Built around a 16-bit CPU, the MSP430 is designed for low cost and, specifically, low power consumption embedded applications.

Programmed input–output is a method of transferring data between the CPU and a peripheral, such as a network adapter or an ATA storage device. Each data item transfer is initiated by an instruction in the program, involving the CPU for every transaction. In contrast, in direct memory access (DMA) operations, the CPU is not involved in the data transfer.

Memory-mapped I/O (MMIO) and port-mapped I/O (PMIO) are two complementary methods of performing input/output (I/O) between the central processing unit (CPU) and peripheral devices in a computer. An alternative approach is using dedicated I/O processors, commonly known as channels on mainframe computers, which execute their own instructions.

Coprocessor supplementary computer processor that executes under the logical control of a main processor

A coprocessor is a computer processor used to supplement the functions of the primary processor. Operations performed by the coprocessor may be floating point arithmetic, graphics, signal processing, string processing, cryptography or I/O interfacing with peripheral devices. By offloading processor-intensive tasks from the main processor, coprocessors can accelerate system performance. Coprocessors allow a line of computers to be customized, so that customers who do not need the extra performance do not need to pay for it.

Southbridge (computing) chip on a computer motherboard

The southbridge is one of the two chips in the core logic chipset on a personal computer (PC) motherboard, the other being the northbridge. The southbridge typically implements the slower capabilities of the motherboard in a northbridge/southbridge chipset computer architecture. In systems with Intel chipsets, the southbridge is named I/O Controller Hub (ICH), while AMD has named its southbridge Fusion Controller Hub (FCH) since the introduction of its Fusion AMD Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) while moving the functions of the Northbridge onto the CPU die, hence making it similar in function to the Platform hub controller.

HP 2100 mini computer series by HP

The HP 2100 is a series of 16-bit minicomputers that were produced by Hewlett-Packard (HP) from the mid-1960s to early 1990s. Tens of thousands of machines in the series were sold over its twenty-five year lifetime, making HP the fourth largest minicomputer vendor during the 1970s.

JTAG is an industry standard for verifying designs and testing printed circuit boards after manufacture.

In computer science, asynchronous I/O is a form of input/output processing that permits other processing to continue before the transmission has finished.

Low Pin Count computer bus to connect low-bandwidth devices to the CPU

The Low Pin Count bus, or LPC bus, is a computer bus used on IBM-compatible personal computers to connect low-bandwidth devices to the CPU, such as the boot ROM, "legacy" I/O devices, and Trusted Platform Module (TPM). "Legacy" I/O devices usually include serial and parallel ports, PS/2 keyboard, PS/2 mouse, and floppy disk controller.

In computing, hardware acceleration is the use of computer hardware specially made to perform some functions more efficiently than is possible in software running on a general-purpose central processing unit (CPU). Any transformation of data or routine that can be computed, can be calculated purely in software running on a generic CPU, purely in custom-made hardware, or in some mix of both. An operation can be computed faster in application-specific hardware designed or programmed to compute the operation than specified in software and performed on a general-purpose computer processor. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. The implementation of computing tasks in hardware to decrease latency and increase throughput is known as hardware acceleration.

In computing, channel I/O is a high-performance input/output (I/O) architecture that is implemented in various forms on a number of computer architectures, especially on mainframe computers. In the past, channels were generally implemented with custom devices, variously named channel,I/O processor, I/O controller, or DMA controller.

Intel 8237 direct memory access controller

Intel 8237 is a direct memory access (DMA) controller, a part of the MCS 85 microprocessor family. It enables data transfer between memory and the I/O with reduced load on the system's main processor by providing the memory with control signals and memory address information during the DMA transfer.

This glossary of computer hardware terms is a list of definitions of terms and concepts related to computer hardware, i.e. the physical and structural components of computers, architectural issues, and peripheral devices.


  1. 1 2 Null, Linda; Julia Lobur (2006). The Essentials of Computer Organization and Architecture. Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 185. ISBN   0763737690. Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 Abd-El-Barr, Mostafa; Hesham El-Rewini (2005). Fundamentals of Computer Organization and Architecture. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 161–162. ISBN   9780471478331. Archived from the original on 21 December 2016. Retrieved 11 December 2016.