Scientists Say: Hardware and Software

The difference between these two parts of technology is whether you can hold it in your hand

two hands type on the keyboard of a laptop, overlaid with icons representing email, downloads and websites

Hardware, such as keyboards and screens, allows you to use software that runs emails, websites and other aspects of life online.

Manuel Breva Colmeiro/Getty Images

Hardware (noun, “HARD-ware”) and Software (noun, “SOFT-ware”)

Hardware and software are two aspects of computing technology. Hardware refers to all the physical pieces of a computing device. A screen. A keyboard. A game controller. A printer. Speakers. Plus, all the microchips and memory devices hidden inside. Basically, if you can touch it, it’s hardware.

Software, meanwhile, refers to all the computer programs, or code, running on the machine. That code tells the hardware what to do and how to do it. Examples of software include phone apps, video games and web browsers. You can’t physically hold these things, but hardware can’t do useful tasks without them.   

In a sentence

Both hardware and software are continually updated, making devices better — but risking the loss of digital creations built on old technology.

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Maria Temming is the Assistant Managing Editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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