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We all know what decimal numbers are: However, many other numeral systems exist and you might have heard about or seen others, like hexadecimal numbers for example: These hexadecimal or binary numbers can easily be converted to the well-known decimal numbers. Other numeral systems exist because there are specific uses where a certain numeral system is easier to use and offers advantages over another. Binary and hexadecimal numbers are widely used in computer science. Binary numbers can be considered the very basic representation of a number in an electronic device.
This will help to explain why binary numbers are so important. The very first computers used binary numbers, and they are still used today. Every computer is made up of many electronic components. That is why a basic knowledge of electronics is needed to understand how and why binary numbers are used in computers.
A computer is built with many connections and components, which are used to transfer and store data, as well as communicate with other components. Most of that storing, transferring, and communicating happens with digital electronics.
In electronics, a voltage level or current flow is a way to represent a value. For example, 5V volts or 0. The makers of electronic devices could, of course, assign any meaning that they want to different voltage values. You would end up with 0. This means that when building an electronic device, it is most often desired to have the energy consumption as low as possible and to have a low voltage. Furthermore, electronic signals are not always very steady and can vary because of surrounding influences, like nearby internal circuits for other electronic devices.
This might then lead to voltage levels where it gets difficult to distinguish which value it represents. As a result, we cannot divide the 5V into 10 steps. The values could be misinterpreted. A computer might suddenly make wrong calculations because of random interference. This example of voltage ranges shows that it is necessary to have a safe range between two voltage levels in order to read the correct value with percent probability.
There are additional methods on the software level to verify that data is read correctly, but this is out of the scope of this article. Binary comes from the Latin language and means that something is composed of two things.
Binary electronics are usually called digital electronics. Another major reason is because a lot more circuitry is needed to distinguish between more than two voltage levels. Each additional state needs about the same amount of additional circuitry. Quantum computing, however, might one day replace the binary system. It might be the next big step in how our computers work! What does a Binary Number Mean?