Information Technology glossary of terms

computers, information technology, and the Internet

Access provider
an organisation that provides access to the Internet. Also known as Internet Service Provider (ISP)

The identification of a physical or virtual distinct entity in a network. On the Internet, this network address is called a URL (Uniform Resource Locator). For instance: [It is important to type these accurately.]

Anonymous ftp
A publicly available Internet file site. Users must sign on as anonymous and enter their email address to connect to an anonymous ftp site.

An open source Web server package, mostly used on Linux and Solaris platforms.

A self-contained mini-executable program, such as one written in the Java programming language. It connects with or is designed to work with a larger ‘partner’ program.

Application servers
Software used to provide an interface between systems to enable Web services.

A program that locates files that are freely available on anonymous ftp sites across the Internet. To use Archie, telnet to one of these sites and login as archie. Type help to obtain full instructions.

American Standard Code for Information Interchange. A standard for digital representation of letters, numbers, and control codes; understood by most computers.

Active Server Pages – a scripting language created by Microsoft for dynamically created web pages and database functions. Web pages created with ASP usually have an .asp suffix.

A binary file (such as a document, spreadsheet, or graphic) which is delivered as part of an email message. [NB – some mailing systems will not accept attachments.]

Acceptable Use Policy. A binding document signed by all users that explains the rules of Internet use at an institution.

Auto responder
An email message that is sent automatically in response to a message to another email address. Also known as Autobot or Infobot.

The Central network infrastructure of the Internet is often referred to as the backbone and its allows data to travel from one network to another.

To make a second copy of a file as a safety measure. The copy may be held on a floppy disk, a zip disk, or on CD-ROM.

A Term used to describe how much data you can send through a connection to the Net. The transmission capacity of a given medium, in terms of how much data the medium can transmit in a given amount of time. The greater the bandwidth, the faster the rate of data transmission. Information carrying capacity of a communication channel.

Baud rate
The speed at which a modem can deal with information, measured in bits per second, 56Kbps is currently fastest.

Files which contain eight-bit bytes (as distinct from ASCII files which contain seven-bit bytes). Some systems can only accept ASCII.

Basic Input-Output System. This is the small but fundamental program which starts up your computer and allows you to access your software programs.

An acronym for BInary digiT. It is the basic unit of information in the computer world. A bit is a digit in binary form and carries one of two
values, 0 or 1.

An autonomous network of academic and research sites.

A word or picture ‘marked’ so that you can jump to it by name from
within a list. Also used by browsers to mark frequently visited web sites.

To switch on a computer. If the machine is re-started whilst running, this is called ‘re-booting’.

Software that allows users to access and navigate the World Wide Web. Some Web browsers, such as Mosaic and Netscape, are graphical. Lynx is a text-based browser.

Bulletin Board Service. A forum for users to browse and exchange information. Computer BBSs are accessible by telephone via a personal computer and a modem. Many BBSs are small operations run by a single person that allow only several users to log on at the same time. Some are much larger and allow hundreds of users to login simultaneously to use the system. Huge, commercial examples are America Online, CompuServe, and Prodigy.

A single computer character, generally eight bits. For example, the letter ‘G’ in binary code is 01000111.

A section of computer memory set aside for storing frequently-used data from a disk drive, speeding up the transfer of information.

Cascading style sheets
An extension to HTML which allows style features (colour, font size, spacing, and page-layering) to be specified for certain elements of a hypertext document. CSSs are especially useful for making a global change to multiple web pages – because the style is specified just once, often in a separate file.

Compact Disk – Read Only Memory: A record like storage medium that uses digital and optical laser technology to store about 600Mb of text, pictures, and sound on a single disk. With newer versions (CD-ROMXA, CDTV, CD-i) animations and moving pictures can be retrieved from the discs.

Compact Disk – Recordable: blank compact disks on which data can be recorded – but once only.

Compact Disc Re-Writable format: these are blank compact disks that can be recorded over and over again, like a floppy disk.

Common Gateway Interface – an interactive system installed on Web servers to automatically process information entered into Web page forms.

A small square box which, when clicked on, displays a cross or
tick to show that an option has been selected.

Chip sockets
Most of the microchips used in a computer are soldered directly to the circuit boards but some, including the main processor and some memory components, are mounted into sockets. This is so that they can be easily replaced or upgraded.

A section of a computer’s memory where you can temporarily copy chunks of text, data, graphics, or pictures. Once in the clipboard, the item can be pasted into another part of a document, or transferred to any other application. The clipboard normally holds one object at a time.

Command prompt
The C:\> sign in DOS at which codes are typed. These commands control the computer. For many people, this system has been replaced by the Graphic User Interface [GUI] of Windows.

Commercial online services
A company that, for a fee, allows computer users to dial in via modem to access its information and services, which can include Internet access. Examples are America Online, CompuServe, Delphi, and Prodigy.

A technique to reduce the size of a file in order to make it more manageable and quicker to download. Compressed files have to be extracted using a utility such as PKZip or WinZip. Such files usually have a .zip extension.

Control panel
This is where many of Window’s settings can be viewed. Here you will find icons for most functions including printers, modems and sound.

Small text files created by an Internet web site and stored on the user’s computer. A cookie contains information that can help speed access on subsequent visits, such as passwords and details of the user’s display facilities.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)
A way of assigning visual style to the content of Web pages. The style sheet deals with colour, fonts, and the position of text – leaving HTML code to describe the structure of the content.

DataBase Administrator – is software which administers databases. It can carry out the maintenance of a database, including the applications and content structure.

A computer holding large amounts of information that can be searched by an Internet user. A storehouse of information on the Net.

Default setting
The computer or software settings made by the manufacturer. These will remain in place unless you decide to change them.

Over time, the files on a computer’s hard disk drive become disorganised. Running a defragmentation program restores order and speeds up the reading and writing of data.

Dynamic HTML – an integration of JavaScript, Cascading Style Sheets, and the Document Object Model. With DHTML, the content of a web page can move across the screen or respond to user inputs.

Dialogue box
A box which appears on screen, inviting input from the user. Usually to set options, or choose a name for saving files.

Dialup Internet connection
Lets a user dial into an Internet service provider using a modem and telephone line to access the Internet. The user is presented with a text-based set of menus which are used to navigate the Internet. (See SLIP or PPP connections)

A list of files or other directories on a computer at an Internet site. (Same thing as a folder.)

The part of the Internet address that specifies your computer’s location in the world. The address is written as a series of names separated by full stops. The most common top level domains are .edu education (US), .net network resource, .com commercial, .gov public bodies

Disk Operating System. This is a standard operating system, created by Microsoft before the dawn of Windows. DOS manages how files are stored on your computer. It is controlled through commands typed at the command prompt. Even Windows 95 and Windows 98 are still fundamentally dependent on DOS.

To download is to transfer a file from another computer to the user’s computer. To upload is to send a file to another computer.

Digital Video Disk: This new medium can store large amounts of data on one disk that looks like a CD, including full length films with high-quality sound and pictures.

Performing business transactions on the Internet – which may include the use of credit cards, ‘shopping trolleys’, forms, and secure servers.

Allows users to send and receive messages to each other over the Internet.

Email address
A code representing a unique email user on the Internet. Examples might include –,

Smileys [ these things ūüôā ] and other character art used to express feelings in email communication.

A process that turns files into gobbledegook so that they cannot be read, other than by programs containing the appropriate password-protected encryption software.

Executable files
These are programs or self-extracting files with an .exe filename extension. Clicking on an executable file will start the program running.

Expansion cards
Small circuit boards which are plugged into the main motherboard. They are used for controlling the video output, processing sounds, or communicating with modems and network cards.

Files are identified by a three or four letter or number code, called an extension. This comes after the full stop following the filename. Common types include .doc and .txt for word-processor documents. Files ending in .gif and .jpg generally contain images. Files ending in .exe and .com usually contain executable programs which load into memory and carry out a set of instructions.

A type of Internet Web site that is a closed community protected by a password and/or firewalls. It is typically provided by businesses for suppliers and key customers.

Frequently Asked Questions. Files on the Net which store the answers to common questions. If you are stuck, check the FAQs first, before you ask you own question.

File Allocation Table. The part of a computer’s disk system that decides how and where disk storage space is allocated.

File Transfer Protocol. An application program that uses TCP/IP protocol to allow you to move files from a distant computer to a local computer using a network like the Internet.

Hardware or software designed to restrict access to certain areas on the Internet.

Software that allows the user to enter the address of an Internet site to find information about that system’s users or a particular user. Some finger addresses return other topic-specific information.

A security system, usually for networked computers, which controls access in and out of the network.

To send a harsh, critical email message to another user, usually someone who has violated the rules of netiquette. May be used as a verb or a noun.

Two words for the same thing – a space on your hard disk to store related files or documents.

A device in HTML which allows multiple windows to be viewed simultaneously in one browser screen. Often used by Web designers to assist navigation.

Any one of more than two dozen freely accessible Internet sites, primarily offering community and educational information.

Software programs that are free to use, but the author retains control of the original code.

A measurement of storage space. Equal to a thousand megabytes.

A menu-based system for browsing Internet information.

Graphical user interface. Software designed to allow the user to execute commands by pointing and clicking on icons or text. It’s pronounced ‘Gooey’.

A computer user who illegally visits networked computers to look around or cause harm.

Hard disk
A high capacity storage device that a computer uses for programs and data, measured in megabytes or gigabytes. Information held on a hard disk is safe when the power is withdrawn.

The number of requests for files made to a Web server. A much misunderstood term. It is not the number of unique visitors. A typical Web page is made up of one HTML file, plus a number of graphics. One request for this page results in several hits.

Home page
The first page a user sees when visiting a World Wide Web site.

An Internet company providing storage space for web sites on their server computer(s).

Hypertext Markup Language. The programming language of the World Wide Web, HTML software turns a document into a hyperlinked World Wide Web page.

HyperText Transfer Protocol: The protocol used to provide hypertext links between pages. It is the standard way of transferring HTML documents between Web servers and browsers.

HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure – is used to secure Web sites by using encrypted traffic to and from the user by means of Secure Socket Layer (SSL).

A highlighted word or graphic in a document that, when clicked upon, takes the user to a related piece of information on the Internet. When the cursor passes over a link, it usually changes from an arrow to a pointing hand.

A small picture displayed on-screen to identify a command or file. Many word-processors use an icon of a magnifying glass to indicate it will start a search function.

Infobot (or mailbot)
An email address that automatically returns information requested by the user.

The global network of networks that connects more than three million computers (called hosts). The Internet is the virtual space in which users send and receive email, login to remote computers (telnet), browse databases of information (gopher, World Wide Web, WAIS), and send and receive programs (ftp) contained on these computers.

Internet account
Purchased through an Internet service provider, the account assigns a password and email address to an individual or group.

A private internal network based on TCP/IP, usually for the information of staff within a business or an organisation.

Internet Relay Chat. Interactive, real-time discussions between people using text messages. Users log into designated Net computers and join discussions already in progress.

Internet server
A computer that stores data that can be accessed via the Internet.

Integrated Services Digital Network – a set of communications standards offered by telephone carriers which provides users with fast Internet connections.

Internet Service Provider. Any organization that provides access to the Internet. Many ISPs also offer technical assistance to schools looking to become Internet information providers by placing their school’s information online. They also help schools get connected to the Net.

Internet site
A computer connected to the Internet containing information that can be accessed using an Internet navigation tool such as ftp, telnet, gopher, or a Web browser.

IP address
Every computer on the Internet has a unique numerical IP address
assigned to it, such as 123.456.78.9.

Java 2 Enterprise Edition. Middleware written in Java used in critical, large-scale networked developments, such as electronic banking.

A programming language developed by Sun Microsystems used for cross-platform Web-based applications. Its primary contribution to the Web has been in the form of Java Server Pages (JSP), J2EE¬† and it is also used in ‘applets’ –¬†mini-programs written in Java that run in browsers.

A scripting language developed by Netscape that adds interactivity to web pages. Its name reflects a shared syntax with the Java programming language.

A widely-used graphic file format. Acronym of the Joint Photographic Experts Group. (It’s pronounced ‘Jay-peg’.)

Java Server Pages – a scripting language based on Java for developing dynamic Web pages and sites. It is typically used on Solaris and Linux platforms.

Junk email
Email messages which are received, but not asked for or even wanted. (Also known as ‘spam’.)

A word or words which can be searched for in documents or menus.

Killer application
A software program which is so successful that it corners the market, or inspires people to upgrade their equipment in order to be able to use it.

Software that searches Internet ‘white pages’ and lists of users at large institutions, to find a person’s name and address.

Local Area Network: A private transmission that interconnects computers within a building or among buildings for the purpose of sharing voice, data, facsimile, and/or video.

A version of the Unix operating system designed to run on PCs. Controversial because it has been developed as part of the Open Sources movement and given away free of charge. Very popular for Web servers and appliances.

To sign on to a computer system.

Mailing lists (or Listserv)
There are more than 4,000 topic-oriented, email-based message bases that can be read and posted to. Users subscribe to the lists they want to read and receive messages via email. Mailing lists are operated using listserv software. Thus, many users call mailing lists ‘listservs’. There are two types of lists: moderated and unmoderated. Moderated lists are screened by a human before messages are posted to subscribers. Messages to unmoderated lists are automatically forwarded to subscribers.

A measure of storage space. 1 Mb roughly translates to a million characters of text, or 180,000 words.

A list of information that leads to documents or other menus.

Applications and servers designed to take content from otherwise incompatible back-end data sources (often legacy – that is outdated – systems) and pass it on to Web front-ends.

Some FTP sites are so heavily used that in order to relieve the load, their entire contents are copied to and made available by other sites. These are then known as ‘mirror sites’.

Acronym for MOulate DEModulate. An electronic device that attaches to a computer and links that computer to the online world via a telephone line. Modems are available for any computer, can be internal or external, and come in several speeds, known as the baud rate. The higher the baud rate, the faster the modem. A modem of 56,000 baud is now considered the standard. Most Internet service providers allow you to dial into their systems at rates up to 33,600 baud and beyond.

The main printed circuit board inside a computer, containing the main processing chip, memory chips, plus all the other circuits needed to control the disk drives, the keyboard, and to communicate with plug-in extension cards.

A popular, highly compressed file format used for music.

A family of multimedia standards developed by the Motion Picture Experts Group, commonly used to refer to audio or visual files saved with MPEG compression schemes. Files usually have an .mpg extension (pronounced ‘Em-Peg’).

An Open Source development of the SQL language for talking to databases. Most commonly used amongst small business users and run on Linux operating systems.

National Information Infrastructure
The official U.S. government name for the Internet and other computer networks. Commonly known as the Information Superhighway.

The rules of conduct for Internet users. Violating netiquette could result in flaming or removal from a mailing list. Some service providers will even cancel a user’s Internet account, denying him or her access to the Net, if the violation is severe enough.

Internet navigation software that allows users to access information through a graphical, point-and-click interface rather than text-only screens or menus. Netscape is known as a Web browser because it accesses World Wide Web information formatted into special home pages using hypertext. Other graphical Web browsers include Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera.

Net surfer
Someone who browses the Internet with no definite destination.

A group of computers that are connected in some fashion. Most school networks are known as LANs, or Local Area Networks, because they are networks linking computers in one small area. The Internet could be referred to as a WAN, or a Wide Area Network, because it connects computers in more than one local area.

These are the bulletin boards of the Internet. There are around 20,000 groups covering every subject under the sun. Most IAPs have a newsgroup server which periodically takes all new messages from a newsgroup feed and adds the messages which have been posted by its own users. To access the newsgroups stored on your IAPs newsgroup server you need a newsreader program.

Optical Character Recognition. Software that translates a scanned image of printed or typewritten text into a plain text file that can be read by a word processor.

When you are logged onto a computer through your modem, you are said to be online. When you are using your computer but are not connected to a computer through your modem, you’re said to be working offline.

Operating System
The operating system or OS is a program, or a collection of programs, that manages all your computer’s resources – disk drives, RAM, display screen – and controls how files are stored and retrieved.

A bundle of data transmitted across a network. It contains the source address (where the packet has come from) the destination address (where it’s going to) a packet identifier (what sort of packet it is) and the data being sent.

PC card
Short for PCMCIA – Personal Computer Memory Card International Association. It is a standard-sized module used in laptops for memory expansion and other peripherals, including modem cards.

Peripheral Component Interconnect. A type of connector on computer motherboards, used for expansion or adapter cards.

Portable Document Format – a file format developed by Adobe Systems for capturing formatted page layouts for distribution. Requires the proprietary Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is now given away free of charge.

A scripting language used for developing dynamic Web pages and sites. It is typically used on Solaris and Linux platforms.

An extra bit of software which has to be added to a Web browser before a certain type of file can be viewed. Recent browsers come with the most popular plug-ins pre-installed.

A Web site that acts as a doorway or introduction to many other Web sites that are sometimes grouped into categories [Yahoo is a famous example].

Email messages sent to a mailing list or Usenet newsgroup to be read by subscribers or others on the Internet.

Used as a noun – a series of instructions which tell a computer what to do. Used as a verb – the act of writing or revising a program.

Public domain software
Shareware programs that are free to use and modify, as the author has relinquished control over the code.

Random Access Memory. A computer’s working memory, where programs store information when they are running. The bigger it is, the less time your computer will have to wait to get data from the hard disk drive.

A large, constantly changing file in Windows 95, containing details of how your computer is set up, and all the programs stored on the hard disk.

Request for Comments. Online documents that have to do with technical standards for the Internet.

A Windows utility that checks the integrity of data stored on a hard disk drive, identifies problems, and where possible puts them right.

A machine that scans a printed image, such as a photograph or a page of text, and turns it into a file that can be displayed and manipulated on a computer.

Small Computer System Interface [pronounced ‘Scuzzy’]. A high speed data interface that uses a card, which plugs into an ISA [integrated system architecture] socket on the computer motherboard. SCSI cards that use PCI slots are also available.

Search engine
An online service which can trawl through the contents of the Web (Websites, newsgroups, email addresses) looking for specific phrases or words. The engine asks you for keywords and then provides a list of web sites that contain your chosen words. Clicking on the listed web sites will take you to the relevant web page.

Hard disk drives are split into tracks and sectors, which is a way for the computer to identify where particular files or pieces of data are stored.

Standard Generalised Markup Language – a meta-language that provides a comprehensive set of syntax rules for marking up the structure of documents and data. [HTML is a subset of SGML.]

Software programs that you can try before you buy. If you decide to use a program, you should send a payment to the author or publisher.

Signature file
Return address information such as name, telephone number, and email address that users put at the bottom of email messages. Known as a ‘sig’.

Serial Line Internet Protocol (SLIP) or Point to Point Protocol (PPP) Internet connections. Both allow a computer to connect to the Internet using a modem and telephone line. Users then navigate the Internet using software on their own computer. This is in contrast to using a Dialup Internet Connection, where a user is forced to navigate the Net using a text-based set of menus.

Simple Object Access Protocol – which provides a way for applications to communicate with each other using XML.

Slang for posting the same message to multiple newsgroups – frowned on by most people on the Internet.

Structured Query Language – a standard language for talking to databases.

Secure Socket Layer – secures Web sites with encrypted traffic to and from the site user (see HTTPS).

A technology for delivering audio or video files so that they can be heard or seen whilst downloading, without having to wait for the complete file.

Style sheet
A template or a file which defines the layout of a document or a series of documents.

Allows users remote access to computers, most often at libraries, universities,
and government agencies.The remote computer thinks you are using its own keyboard.

A ready-prepared document layout. Many word-processors have simple pre-formed letterheads, fax headers, memos, and invoices. To customise them for your own needs, you simply change the sample text.

Text-based Internet account
The user must use Unix commands to navigate the Internet.

A computer operating system which allows multiple clients to access one host at the same time.

Uniform Resource Locater. This is the (rather clumsy) name for the address of any resource on the Internet. You type the URL into your browser, and are taken to that address.

Usenet newsgroups
More than 17,000 topic-oriented message bases that can be read and posted to. Also called newsgroups.

A means of translating binary data so that it can be sent as an ASCII file across the Internet. (You need a decoder to convert it back into its native format at the other end.

A special type of program which is designed for malicious purposes. It spreads by attaching itself to other programs and then carrying out unwanted and often damaging operations.

A computer program that helps users find what they are looking for on gopher servers around the world. Instead of looking through menus, Veronica allows users to enter keywords to locate the gopher site that holds the information they want.

A computer-generated environment.

Virtual Reality Modelling Language. This is a file format which allows you to create 3D graphics for the Internet.

Wide Area Information Servers These servers allow users to conduct full-text keyword searches in documents, databases, and libraries connected to the Internet. Pronounced ‘Ways’.

A self-activating program that guides you through a simple set-up routine for a particular feature or application.

World Wide Web
A revolutionary browsing system that allows point-and-click navigation of the Internet. The Web is a spiderweb-like interconnection of millions of pieces of information located on computers around the world. Web documents use hypertext, which incorporates text and graphical links to other documents and files on Internet-connected computers.

Extensible Markup Language – a new standard for marking up documents and data. It is based on SGML, but with a reduced feature set that is more appropriate for distribution via the Web. XML allows authors to create customised tags not available in HTML.

Extensible Style Language – a system for controlling the presentation of XML documents and structured data.

The process of compressing a file so it takes up less space. There are two types of Zip files, normal (which require a program to extract them) and self-executing that open up automatically. PKZip and WinZip are popular zipping and unzipping programs.

© Roy Johnson 2009

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One Response to “Information Technology glossary of terms”

  1. Vir2o as a short terminology for virtual: Social Media | says:

    […] A computer-generated environment. Source: Glossary of information technology […]

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