The digital computer is a digital system that performs various computational tasks. The word digital implies that the information in the computer is represented by variables that take a limited number of discrete values. These values are processed internally by components that can maintain a limited number of discrete states. The decimal digits 0,1,2,..,6...,9 for example provide 10 discrete values.

The first electronic digital computer developed in the late 1940s was used primarily for numerical computation. In this case, the discrete elements are the digits.

Digital computers use the binary number system, which has two digits: 0 and 1. A binary digit is called a bit. Information is represented in digital computers in groups of bits. By using various coding techniques, a group of bits can be made to represent not only binary numbers but also other discrete symbols, such as decimal digits or letters of the alphabet. By judicious use of binary arrangements and by using various coding techniques, the groups of bits are used to develop complete sets of instruction for performing various types of computations.

In contrast to the common decimal numbers that employ the base 10 system, binary numbers use a base 2 system with two-digit: 0 and 1. The decimal equivalent of a binary number can be found by expanding it into a power series with a base of 2. For example, the binary number 1001011 represents a quantity that can be converted to a decimal number by multiplying each bit by the base 2 raised to an integer power.

The seven bits 10010ll represent a binary number whose decimal equivalent is 75. However, this same group of seven bits represents the letter K when used in conjunction with a binary code for the letters of the alphabet. It may also represent a control code for specifying some decision logic in a particular digital computer. In other words, groups of bits in a digital computer are used to represent many different things. This is similar to the concept that the same letters of an alphabet are used to construct different languages, such as English and French.

A computer system is sometimes subdivided into two functional entities: hardware and software. The hardware of the computer consists of all the electronic components and electromechanical devices that comprise the physical entity of the device. Computer software consists of the instructions and data that the computer manipulates to perform the various data-processing tasks.A sequence of instructions for the computer is called a program. The data that is manipulated by the program constitute the database.

A computer system is composed of its hardware and the system software available for its use. The system software of a computer consists of a collection of programs whose purpose is to make more effective use of the computer. The programs included in a systems software package are referred to as the operating system. They are distinguished from application programs written by the user for the purpose of solving particular problems. For example, a high-level language program written by a user to solve particular data-processing needs is an application program, but the compiler that translates the high-level language program to machine language is a system program. The customer who buys a computer system would need, in addition to the hardware, any available software needed for effective operation of the computer. The system software is an indispensable part of a total computer system. Its function is to compensate for the differences that exist between user needs and the capability of the hardware.