Interrupt, in technology context, refers to a signal that temporarily stops a running process to request immediate attention from the system, usually from an external device or triggered by an event. It allows the processor to handle high-priority tasks and resume the previous task afterwards. In essence, interrupt is a mechanism for the efficient use and management of resources, ensuring smooth system operation.


The phonetic spelling of the keyword “interrupt” is:/ˌɪntəˈrʌpt/

Key Takeaways

  1. Interrupt is a signal that temporarily stops a running program or process to prioritize the execution of a more urgent task or event.
  2. There are two types of interrupts: hardware interrupts and software interrupts. Hardware interrupts are generated by external devices, while software interrupts are triggered by the software itself.
  3. Interrupt handling is a crucial aspect of operating systems and embedded systems, as it ensures that the system can respond to different events efficiently and without missing critical tasks.


The term “interrupt” is important in technology because it plays a crucial role in enhancing the efficiency and performance of computer systems by allowing hardware devices and software processes to communicate with the processor.

Interrupts enable the processor to handle multiple tasks concurrently by temporarily suspending the current execution, diverting to address a high-priority task or event, and then resuming the initial task.

This mechanism helps prevent bottlenecks and lengthy waiting times by handling requests promptly, avoiding the need for continuous polling.

Furthermore, interrupts contribute to the smooth operation of the system, leading to better resource allocation and an overall improved user experience.


Interrupts serve as a crucial mechanism in the computing world, with the primary objective of enhancing the efficiency and overall performance of a computer system. The purpose of an interrupt is to temporarily halt a processor’s current task in order to address an immediate need or a higher priority task without causing the entire system to crash or stall. Interrupts enable a processor to rapidly switch between tasks, maintaining smooth and efficient operations while ensuring valuable system resources are utilized effectively.

As an essential component, interrupts allow hardware devices to communicate with the processor, requesting particular tasks to be executed or alerting the processor of any critical events, such as incoming data, a completed task, or errors that necessitate immediate attention. Implemented as either software interrupts or hardware interrupts, this technology enables seamless multitasking, improving the overall responsiveness of the computer system. Hardware interrupts are triggered by external devices, such as an input device (keyboard or mouse) or other peripheral devices that require the processor’s attention and response.

While simultaneously executing multiple tasks, once the processor receives an interrupt, it saves its state to facilitate a return to the original task, and switches to handle the new task at hand. On the other hand, software interrupts are generated by the operating system or applications, resulting in the alteration of processes, typically in response to system exceptions or requests made by programs. This automatic and instant reallocation of resources and prioritization of tasks plays a crucial role in upholding the reliability and speed of modern computer systems while promoting effective and efficient communication between hardware components and the processor.

Examples of Interrupt

Computer Mouse: When you use a computer mouse to click on a button or navigate through a webpage, the mouse sends an interrupt signal to the computer’s CPU (Central Processing Unit) to notify it that an action has occurred. The CPU then acknowledges this interrupt, pauses its current task temporarily, and processes the relevant instructions for the mouse action.

Keyboard: Similar to the mouse, when you press a key on your keyboard, an interrupt is generated to notify the CPU of the keypress. The CPU stops its current task momentarily to respond to the keyboard input by registering the pressed key and executing any corresponding commands (for example, displaying a character on the screen or executing a shortcut command).

Emergency Notifications: In the telecommunication industry, emergency services often use interrupt-driven technologies to prioritize incoming emergency calls or notifications. For instance, when a user dials emergency services (e.g., 911), their call generates an interrupt for the telecommunication system. This interrupt allows the system to prioritize attending to the emergency call over any ongoing non-emergency connections, ensuring that emergency services are dispatched as quickly as possible.

Interrupt FAQ

What is an interrupt?

An interrupt is a signal sent by a device or software to the CPU, alerting it to change its current task or execute a specific function. Interrupts are commonly used to handle time-sensitive events or tasks that require immediate attention.

What are the different types of interrupts?

Interrupts can be categorized into hardware interrupts, software interrupts, and non-maskable interrupts. Hardware interrupts are signals generated by external devices, while software interrupts are triggered by software instructions. Non-maskable interrupts are high-priority interrupts that cannot be disabled.

How do interrupt handlers work?

When an interrupt occurs, the CPU saves its current state and jumps to a specific location in memory known as the interrupt vector table. This table contains pointers to interrupt handler routines, which are functions designed to handle specific interrupt types. Once the interrupt is processed, the CPU resumes its previous state and continues executing tasks.

How does an operating system manage interrupts?

An operating system manages interrupts by allocating different priority levels to them, ensuring that higher-priority interrupts are processed before lower-priority ones. It also handles interrupt requests, schedules them accordingly, and provides a standardized framework for writing interrupt handlers.

What are some common uses of interrupts?

Interrupts are commonly used for efficiently managing input and output operations, managing timers, handling system errors, and multithreading. They enable a system to respond quickly to external events or certain internal conditions, ensuring smooth and efficient operation.

Related Technology Terms

  • Interrupt Request (IRQ)
  • Interrupt Handler
  • Interrupt Service Routine (ISR)
  • Interrupt Vector Table
  • Interrupt Latency

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