byte

[bahyt]
noun Computers.
1.
adjacent bits, usually eight, processed by a computer as a unit.
2.
the combination of bits used to represent a particular letter, number, or special character.

Origin:
1959; origin uncertain

bight, bite, byte.
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World English Dictionary
byte (baɪt)
 
n
1.  a group of bits, usually eight, processed as a single unit of data
2.  the storage space in a memory or other storage device that is allocated to such a group of bits
3.  a subdivision of a word
 
[C20: probably a blend of bit4 + bite]

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Etymonline
Word Origin & History

byte
1956, Amer.Eng.; see bit (2). Reputedly coined by Dr. Werner Buchholz at IBM.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Science Dictionary
byte   (bīt)  Pronunciation Key 
A sequence of adjacent bits operated on as a unit by a computer. A byte usually consists of eight bits. Amounts of computer memory are often expressed in terms of megabytes (1,048,576 bytes) or gigabytes (1,073,741,824 bytes).

Our Living Language  : The word bit is short for binary digit. A bit consists of one of two values, usually 0 or 1. Computers use bits because their system of counting is based on two options: switches on a microchip that are either on or off. Thus, a computer counts to seven in bits as follows: 0, 1, 10 [2], 11 [3], 100 [4], 101 [5], 110 [6], 111 [7]. Notice that the higher the count, the more adjacent bits are needed to represent the number. For example, it requires two adjacent bits to count from 0 to 3, and it takes three adjacent bits to count from 0 to 7. A sequence of bits can represent not just numbers but other kinds of data, such as the letters and symbols on a keyboard. The sequence of 0s and 1s that make up data are usually counted in groups of 8, and these groups of 8 bits are called bytes. The word byte is short for binary digit eight. To transmit one keystroke on a typical keyboard requires one byte of information (or 8 bits). To transmit a three-letter word requires three bytes of information (or 24 bits).
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary
byte [(beyet)]

In computer technology, a unit of information made up of bits (often eight bits). The memory capacity of a typical personal computer runs from millions to billions of bytes.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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FOLDOC
Computing Dictionary

Byte definition

publication
A popular computing magazine.
(http://byte.com).
(1997-03-27)

byte definition

unit
/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).
[True origin? First 8-bit byte architecture?]
See also nibble, octet.
[Jargon File]
(2003-09-21)
The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010 http://foldoc.org
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Encyclopedia Britannica
Encyclopedia

byte

the basic unit of information in computer storage and processing. A byte consists of 8 adjacent binary digits (bits), each of which consists of a 0 or 1. The string of bits making up a byte is processed as a unit by a computer; bytes are the smallest operable units of storage in computer technology. A byte can represent the equivalent of a single character, such as the letter B, a comma, or a percentage sign; or it can represent a number from 0 to 255. Because a byte contains so little information, the processing and storage capacities of computer hardware are usually given in kilobytes (1,024 bytes) or megabytes (1,048,576 bytes). Still larger capacities are expressed in gigabytes (about one billion bytes) and terabytes (one trillion bytes).

Learn more about byte with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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Example sentences
Unlike earlier utility programs that required the user to be something of a byte mechanic, this version is largely trouble-free.
Binary access provides a byte-by-byte view of a file.
On many modern computers, a byte is a group of eight bits.
Some of the binary files will require you to swap the byte order of their data.
Synonyms
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