How Do Computers Work?

By Himanshu Sethia

Chances're reading this on a computer or phone.

In this generation of amazing digital and physical technological advances, enabled through smart devices, computers, the internet and more, there's one thing that powers them all. Something that enables the lines of code and commands that developers, computer scientists and coders write to be transferred into a language that hardware technology can understand.

This language is called Binary

In our everyday lives, we use numbers from 1 to 10; these numbers are in the format of base 10.

In binary, base 2 numbers are used: only the numbers 1 or 0 are utilized, and they function similar to a switch. These on-off switches can be combined in order to communicate a message, execute a command, and even develop an entire program.

Figure A [“Binary – Combining 1s and 0s | Know the Code.” Know the Code, 25 Feb. 2020,]

Figure A shows the binary base process. In this case there are 8 different base 2 powers, making this code an 8-bit code. By plugging in 1's and 0's into the 8-bit code (with 11111111 being the highest possible value and 00000000 being the lowest possible value), one can convey numbers.

With computers and other devices in the present, developers and companies have expanded the base limitation to be able to convey many more numbers, with many laptops and computers having 16, 32 and 64 bit systems.

But what do all these bits and numbers mean? What is the significance of being able to input a set of on-off switches and getting an output of a number value?

Here's where the American Standard Code for Information Interchange comes in, or otherwise known as "ASCII." ASCII codes take these numbers and transforms them into text.

Figure B | ASCII values shown on an 8-bit computational system

For example, as shown in Figure B, the binary code for the letter A would be "0100 001" which is valued at 65 using base calculations (shown in E1)

Different letters and symbols have different set codes which all come together to form the messages, programs, and software which drive everyday devices which occupy our lives, like the phone in your hand, or the computer sitting at your desk.

Commonly Asked Questions

→ What mathematical system does binary use? How does it work?

Binary uses the base system in order to convert binary code consisting of 1s and 0s into numeric values. It does so by converting normal base 10 numbers into base 2 numbers and using powers to construct values.

Example :

The binary code for the letter A would be "0100 001" which is valued at 65 using base calculations (shown in Equation E1).

→ What do their numeric values mean?

American Standard Code For Information Interchange (ASCII) sets the standard for numbers, letters and much more (such as emojis). Each of these characters have a set "value" when computed with binary, and you can convert these values into their specific character.


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