Definition of Emulator

An emulator is a software or hardware system that replicates the functions of another system, typically an older device or computer platform. By simulating the behavior of the original system, it enables users to run applications, games, or operating systems that were initially designed for the older system. Emulators facilitate the preservation of older software, compatibility across platforms, and a means to test or debug software.


The phonetic pronunciation of the keyword “Emulator” is:/ˈemjəˌleɪtər/

Key Takeaways

  1. Emulators replicate the functionality of a specific system, allowing software or games designed for that system to be run on other devices.
  2. They are often used for retro gaming, software preservation, and development and testing of applications in a controlled environment.
  3. While emulators can be a legal tool, using them to play copyrighted games or software without permission may infringe on intellectual property rights.

Importance of Emulator

The term “emulator” is essential in technology because it facilitates the use of software or hardware, designed to mimic the behavior of an entirely different system, thus enabling users to run applications and programs that are otherwise incompatible with their platform.

Emulators enhance cross-platform compatibility, enable legacy software and videogames to be used on modern systems, and streamline software development and testing processes.

They also contribute greatly to the preservation of digital artifacts by ensuring that older software remains accessible even on newer hardware.

In essence, emulators bridge the gap between various technology generations and platforms, fostering versatility and accessibility in the rapidly evolving technology landscape.


Emulators serve a significant purpose in the world of technology, primarily offering a way to imitate the functions and behavior of one system, known as the guest system, within another system, known as the host system. Emulators are commonly used in the software development process, either for testing or ensuring backward compatibility, since emulators allow developers to ascertain the proper functioning of their software, applications, or games on different devices and operating systems without the need for owning or using each specific hardware.

This capacity also benefits users, as it enables them to access, enjoy, and experiment with old software that might have otherwise been lost to history or incompatible with modern systems. Moreover, emulators play a crucial role in preserving and archiving past technological advancements, which is especially beneficial for industries such as gaming and educational research.

For instance, video game enthusiasts can use emulators to revisit old games that were initially released on obsolete gaming consoles, experiencing a sense of nostalgia and reviving classic gaming moments. Similarly, educators and researchers are able to access older software which can be studied and analyzed to better understand the evolution of technology over time.

In summary, emulators provide a versatile and practical solution for bridging the gaps between past and present technology, ensuring that software can be accessed, used, and appreciated by different systems and future generations.

Examples of Emulator

RetroArch: RetroArch is a popular open-source emulator software that allows users to play games from various classic gaming consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Sega Genesis, and Sony PlayStation. By emulating the hardware of these gaming consoles on a modern computer or device, RetroArch brings old gaming experiences to life, allowing gamers to enjoy their favorite retro games once again.

Android Studio: Android Studio is an integrated development environment (IDE) for creating Android applications. One of the key features it offers is an Android Emulator, which simulates Android devices on a computer. This allows developers to test and debug their applications in a virtual environment before deploying them to physical devices, making it easier to ensure that the application works correctly across different Android versions, screen sizes, and hardware configurations.

Virtual PC & VirtualBox: Virtual PC (by Microsoft) and VirtualBox (by Oracle) are popular emulation software that allows users to run multiple operating systems simultaneously on a single computer. These emulators create virtual machines with simulated hardware, enabling users to run Linux, Windows, or other operating systems on the same device without the need to dual-boot or partition their hard drives. This functionality is especially useful for software developers, IT administrators, and users who need to access or test software on different operating systems.

Emulator FAQ

What is an emulator?

An emulator is a software program that replicates the behavior of a specific hardware or system, allowing another device to run software or perform functions originally designed for that specific hardware or system.

Why are emulators used?

Emulators are used for various purposes such as running legacy software on modern systems, testing software or applications on different platforms, and enabling users to play video games on platforms other than their original consoles.

Are emulators legal?

Emulators themselves are generally considered legal. However, using emulators to play copyrighted games or obtain copyrighted system files may be considered illegal in some jurisdictions. It is always recommended to check the legal status in your region before using emulators for copyrighted material.

What is the difference between an emulator and a simulator?

An emulator replicates the behavior of a specific hardware or system accurately, whereas a simulator imitates the behavior of a system with some level of approximation. Emulators are used for tasks requiring precise system replication, while simulators are typically used for modeling and predicting system behavior.

How do I use an emulator?

To use an emulator, you first need to download and install the emulator software on your device. Then, you need to obtain the necessary system files (also known as BIOS files) and any compatible software or games that you wish to run. Once everything is set up, you can launch the emulator, load the system files, and run the desired software or game within the emulated environment.

Related Technology Terms

  • Virtual Machine
  • Hardware Emulation
  • Software Emulation
  • ROM Images
  • Platform Compatibility

Sources for More Information


About The Authors

The DevX Technology Glossary is reviewed by technology experts and writers from our community. Terms and definitions continue to go under updates to stay relevant and up-to-date. These experts help us maintain the almost 10,000+ technology terms on DevX. Our reviewers have a strong technical background in software development, engineering, and startup businesses. They are experts with real-world experience working in the tech industry and academia.

See our full expert review panel.

These experts include:


About Our Editorial Process

At DevX, we’re dedicated to tech entrepreneurship. Our team closely follows industry shifts, new products, AI breakthroughs, technology trends, and funding announcements. Articles undergo thorough editing to ensure accuracy and clarity, reflecting DevX’s style and supporting entrepreneurs in the tech sphere.

See our full editorial policy.

More Technology Terms

Technology Glossary

Table of Contents