What’s in a Byte?

Many believe that a byte is by definition, an eight-bit data unit. Technically, this definition isn’t correct. A byte is a data unit with an unspecified number of bits. Indeed, almost every hardware architecture nowadays uses eight-bit bytes. However, 20 and 30 years ago, machines that had 6-bit bytes, 11-bit bytes, and other weird numbers, weren’t exceptional. For this reason, communication protocols and other standards (e.g., CORBA) use the term octet ? rather than byte ? to refer to a data unit that occupies exactly eight bits. For example, an IP address consists of four octets.

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