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buffer
Last modified: Wednesday, September 22, 2004 

(n.) A temporary storage area, usually in RAM. The purpose of most buffers is to act as a holding area, enabling the CPU to manipulate data before transferring it to a device.

Because the processes of reading and writing data to a disk are relatively slow, many programs keep track of data changes in a buffer and then copy the buffer to a disk. For example, word processors employ a buffer to keep track of changes to files. Then when you save the file, the word processor updates the disk file with the contents of the buffer. This is much more efficient than accessing the file on the disk each time you make a change to the file.

Note that because your changes are initially stored in a buffer, not on the disk, all of them will be lost if the computer fails during an editing session. For this reason, it is a good idea to save your file periodically. Most word processors automatically save files at regular intervals.

Buffers are commonly used when burning data onto a compact disc, where the data is transferred to the buffer before being written to the disc.

Another common use of buffers is for printing documents. When you enter a PRINT command, the operating system copies your document to a print buffer (a free area in memory or on a disk) from which the printer can draw characters at its own pace. This frees the computer to perform other tasks while the printer is running in the background. Print buffering is called spooling.

Most keyboard drivers also contain a buffer so that you can edit typing mistakes before sending your command to a program. Many operating systems, including DOS, also use a disk buffer to temporarily hold data that they have read from a disk. The disk buffer is really a cache.

(v.) To move data into a temporary storage area.

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related categories

Caches

Memory

related terms

backpressure

buffer overflow

buffer underrun

burn

cache

command buffer

disk cache

frame buffer

jitter buffer

save

spooling


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