Buffering in Computers: Definition, Purpose & Strategies

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  • 0:05 The Purpose of Buffering
  • 0:58 What Makes it Useful?
  • 1:34 Buffering vs. Spooling
  • 2:34 Input/Output Buffering
  • 3:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephen Perkins

Stephen is a technology and electronics expert who has a passion for the work that he does.

This lesson will take you through some of the basics of a computer buffer, some of the techniques used, and what makes it so important when it comes to operating systems.

The Purpose of Buffering

We live in a connected world. The first thing that may come to mind when you hear the word buffer is probably related to watching videos on YouTube or live streams from Netflix or Hulu. In a video stream, a buffer represents the amount of data required to be downloaded before the video can be played back to the viewer in real time. The buffer stores transmitted data temporarily as it is going between devices or between a device and an app.

A buffer in a computer environment means that a set amount of data is going to be stored in order to preload the required data right before it gets used by the CPU. Computers have many different devices that all operate at varying speeds, and a buffer is needed to act as a sort of temporary placeholder for everything that is interacting. This is done to keep everything running efficiently and without issues between all the devices, programs, and processes running at that time.

What you might see from online buffering.

What Makes It Useful?

Imagine a world where computers are far less efficient, and things are not as lovely as they are today. Not fun to think about, is it? Efficiency is one of the most cited reasons why we have data buffering for computers. Not only do buffers allow specific programs or services to run more efficiently, but there are a variety of types and specific uses for each unique situation. For example, text editor programs store the content into a buffer before being saved onto the hard disk. This means the data is stored temporarily until it is physically saved to the hard disk by the user.

Buffering vs. Spooling

We already know that a buffer is a process that temporarily stores data to a reserved area of memory right before use. Spooling is an acronym known as Simultaneous Peripheral Operation Online and is used to temporarily store specific data in a very similar way that a buffer does. The main difference between these two processes is that a buffer will only allow the input/output (I/O) of a job to overlap with the one computation its working on at the time. Spooling allows multiple computations to overlap others at the same time.

This technically makes spooling more efficient than buffering since it can do multiple things at once, but they both have their purposes and ideal situations. Spooling is mainly used as a large buffer for tasks or jobs that are to be completed at a later time. For example, a printer can receive multiple print jobs at once in a queue without interrupting what the user is doing on the computer because the spooler is taking care of all that in the background.

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