What is Byte?

A byte refers to the unit of measurement for data storage and digital information used for processing by the computer system.

Historically, it implies the number of bits used in a computer to encode one single character of text. In simple terms, it is the unit of memory data.

Technically, a byte refers to the series of binary bits in a sequential data stream used in the data transmission systems.

It is usually equal to 8 bits, but can also be equal to 7 bits, depending on whether or not it needs parity or error correction.

Understanding Byte

What is Byte

A byte is a unit of measurement for data and was first coined by Werner Buchholz in 1956. However, it became a standard due to the efforts put in by Bob Bemer and others later on.

Talking about history, bytes represent the number of bits a computer system uses for encoding a single character of text.

It is for this reason that it is considered as the minimum addressable unit of memory in most computer architectures.

Typically, a byte represents a unit of data that is 8 bits or Binary Digits long.

In most computers, this unit is used to symbolize a character which can be any of the following:

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The string of bits in every byte is used to represent a larger unit for applications such as:

In some computer systems, four bytes make a word. Depending on the architecture and hardware of a computer, some systems can handle only single-byte instructions, while others can handle two-byte instructions.

For example, a language script typically needs two bytes to signify a character. These sets are referred to as double-byte character sets.

A byte represents 8 bits, but not always. This results in ambiguity.

The Internet Protocol (RFC 791) and a few other network protocol documents refer to an 8-bit byte as an octet.

This is done to remove the ambiguity of these arbitrarily sized bytes from the general 8-bit definition.

Types of Bytes

Though a byte is the smallest unit of memory that is addressable, multiple bytes are used over time to represent larger storage capacity.

As of now, there are eight different types of units of measurement used following the byte. These are:

All these byte multiples are measured in two specific systems, such as:

In the base-2 system, numbers are rounded off and expressed. For example, 1 megabyte, which is actually made up of 1,048,576 bytes, is expressed as 1 million bytes.

On the other hand, in the base-10 system, the same number is calculated as powers of 10 and is expressed as 1 million decimal bytes.

Though the difference between the two systems is pretty insignificant, it however seems to widen considerably as the capacity increases.

As a result, the base-10 system is used more commonly today by the manufacturers as well as the consumers.

Here is a list of conversions that will help you to have a better understating of the byte values and other units of data measurement in relation to it, with the measurements smaller than the size of one byte shown in decimals:

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Byte Examples

There can be different examples of bytes depending on how you think it to be. For example, you can think of it as a single letter, which will be equal to 8 bits, and a word of four letters, such as ‘hope’ would be of 4 bytes or 4×8 =32 bits.

There are also some other practical and common examples of bytes depending on their use and on what it measures.

For example:

In addition to the above, the data type byte is also used by several common programming languages such as

Byte is also used in the data transmission systems as a contiguous progression of bits in a sequential data stream. This represented the smallest and most distinguished data unit.

What is the Size of a Byte?

Ideally, the size of one byte is eight bits or two nibbles. However, it is not specified by any standard and usually depends on the hardware of the computer system and therefore can vary from one system to another.

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Initially, the size of a byte could be anything from 1 to 6 bits, because in those days, only 6-bit information was used by the equipment. The 8-bit size became a standard later on when OS/360 came into the picture.

However, depending on whether parity or error correction is required, a byte can be even of 7 bits in size.

Byte vs Bits

What is the Symbol for 1 Byte?

The symbol for byte as it is defined in the IEC 80000-13, IEEE 1541 and the Metric Interchange Format is the upper case character B.

This means that 1 byte will be denoted in its standard symbol as 1B.


A byte containing 8 bits or a set of eight 0s and 1s is an important unit in the world of computers.

It is used to measure a particular type of data in a file instead of the files themselves.

It was designed originally for storing character data, but over the years it has become the basic measuring unit for data storage.