bits vs. bytes

Here is an article that I wrote in collaboration with Christopher Willcock from Route2.

One of the most frequent points of confusion brought about by this age of commonplace access to the Internet is also one of the most basic. Bits or Bytes? Each Byte is made of eight (8) basic units of information and each of those basic units is called a Bit. There are eight (8) bits in every byte.

One bit vs. several Bytes

In common usage, bits are used to describe data in transit between two points on a network. Bytes are a completely different unit, used to describe the size of stored files on a disk. When you run an Internet speedtest, the results are usually bits per second (bps – little ‘b’), quite different from Bytes per second (Bps – big ‘B’). Modern connections to the Internet are much, much faster than they used to be and bandwidth is most often measure in thousands of bits per second, or kilobits per second (kbps).

Downloading your file may take longer than you expected.

It’s easy to make the mistake. We may wrongly say: “The file is 5 MegaBytes (5 million bytes), and the connection I’m using should download at 500 kiloBytes (one half million bytes per second), so the math says that 5 MB should downloaded in 10 seconds.” It doesn’t. It takes 1.5 minutes and we wonder what’s wrong. We should rightly say: “The file is 5 MegaBytes and the connection I’m using can download at 500 kilobits (sixty two thousand five hundred bytes per second), so the math says that 5 MB should be downloaded in 80 seconds.

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