dongle

[dong-guhl, dawng]
noun Digital Technology.
1.
a hardware device attached to a computer without which a particular software program will not run: used to prevent unauthorized use.
2.
Also called wireless adapter. a device that can be plugged into a USB port to enable wireless access from a computer to an external Wi-Fi device, as a mobile phone, or to the Internet, via high-speed broadband, or to enable wireless connectivity in a printer or other peripheral.

Origin:
1980–85; probably an arbitrary coinage

Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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Collins
World English Dictionary
dongle (ˈdɒŋɡəl)
 
n
computing an electronic device that accompanies a software item to prevent the unauthorized copying of programs

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Slang Dictionary

dongle

/dong'gl/ n.
1. A security or copy protection device for proprietary software consisting of a serialized EPROM and some drivers in a D-25 connector shell, which must be connected to an I/O port of the computer while the program is run. Programs that use a dongle query the port at startup and at programmed intervals thereafter, and terminate if it does not respond with the dongle's programmed validation code. Thus, users can make as many copies of the program as they want but must pay for each dongle. The idea was clever, but it was initially a failure, as users disliked tying up a serial port this way. Almost all dongles on the market today (1993) will pass data through the port and monitor for magic codes (and combinations of status lines) with minimal if any interference with devices further down the line -- this innovation was necessary to allow daisy-chained dongles for multiple pieces of software. The devices are still not widely used, as the industry has moved away from copy-protection schemes in general.
2. By extension, any physical electronic key or transferable ID required for a program to function. Common variations on this theme have used parallel or even joystick ports. See dongle-disk.

[Note: in early 1992, advertising copy from Rainbow Technologies (a manufacturer of dongles) included a claim that the word derived from "Don Gall", allegedly the inventor of the device. The company's receptionist will cheerfully tell you that the story is a myth invented for the ad copy. Nevertheless, I expect it to haunt my life as a lexicographer for at least the next ten years. :-( --ESR]
FOLDOC
Computing Dictionary

dongle definition

hardware
/dong'gl/ (From "dangle" - because it dangles off the computer?)
1. A security or copy protection device for commercial microcomputer programs that must be connected to an I/O port of the computer while the program is run. Programs that use a dongle query the port at start-up and at programmed intervals thereafter, and terminate if it does not respond with the expected validation code.
One common form consisted of a serialised EPROM and some drivers in a D-25 connector shell.
Dongles attempt to combat software theft by ensuring that, while users can still make copies of the program (e.g. for backup), they must buy one dongle for each simultaneous use of the program.
The idea was clever, but initially unpopular with users who disliked tying up a port this way. By 1993 almost all dongles passed data through transparently while monitoring for their particular magic codes (and combinations of status lines) with minimal if any interference with devices further down the line. This innovation was necessary to allow daisy-chained dongles for multiple pieces of software.
In 1998, dongles and other copy protection systems are fairly uncommon for Microsoft Windows software but one engineer in a print and CADD bureau reports that their Macintosh computers typically run seven dongles: After Effects, Electric Image, two for Media 100, Ultimatte, Elastic Reality and CADD. These dongles are made for the Mac's daisy-chainable ADB port.
The term is used, by extension, for any physical electronic key or transferable ID required for a program to function. Common variations on this theme have used the parallel port or even the joystick port or a dongle-disk.
An early 1992 advertisment from Rainbow Technologies (a manufacturer of dongles) claimed that the word derived from "Don Gall", the alleged inventor of the device. The company's receptionist however said that the story was a myth invented for the ad.
[Jargon File]
(1998-12-13)
2. A small adaptor cable that connects, e.g. a PCMCIA modem to a telephone socket or a PCMCIA network card to an RJ45 network cable.
(2002-09-29)
The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010 http://foldoc.org
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Example sentences
Another is to buy a pay-as-you go dongle for the laptop.
Extra audio ports only accessible through included dongle.
Still, for many people this will mean one less charger to carry, and this tiny
  dongle can be kept in a wallet.
The dongle hinders unauthorized use or duplication of software because each
  copy of the program requires a dongle to function.
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