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  • meters measures distances or lengthes,
  • volt measures tension or voltage, ,
  • kelvin measures temperature,
  • second measures time,
  • ampere measures electric current,
  • kilogram measures mass,

But what measures the "Byte" unit ? I'm looking for a word that would take the same place than mass takes for kilogram, but for Byte (or bit, as 8 bit makes a Byte.). There's only very unspecific terms that springs to my mind (size, capacity, ...):

  • My file is 3.2 KB in <fill the blank> ?
  • My hard drive has a <fill the blank> of 2TB.
  • Byte measures <fill the blank>.

Could it be information ? But the word alone doesn't seem to refer to something that can be measured. And you don't use it as naturally. For example, in a technical specification you could see:

  • mass: 3kg
  • temperature: 2°
  • voltage: 3V
  • <fill the blank>: 3TB

But what would you use here in front of "3TB" for instance ? It seems we must use 2 words, for example: "information size". But even this doesn't seem so natural.

Have you any word suggestions that I've might missed, references on this topic, if not, do you know other units that don't have a proper word to name what they measures ?

Edit: I'm a software developer and I know relatively well what a Byte measures. I'm looking for a specific English word that could be used as naturally as you would use the word "mass" to qualify what you measure when you say "3 kilograms".

marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt May 15 '14 at 21:01

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Units of information

In computing and telecommunications, a unit of information is the capacity of some standard data storage system or communication channel, used to measure the capacities of other systems and channels. In information theory, units of information are also used to measure the information contents or entropy of random variables.

The most common units are the bit, the capacity of a system which can exist in only two states, and the byte (or octet), which is equivalent to eight bits. Multiples of these units can be formed from these with the SI prefixes (power-of-ten prefixes) or the newer IEC binary prefixes (binary power prefixes). Information capacity is a dimensionless quantity, because it refers to a count of binary symbols.

Actually your guess on Information as the entity which can measured in bytes seems to be acceptable.

  • Thanks a lot for your answer, and if the word 'information' seems to refer to what is definitively measured, strangely, it doesn't feel so natural in all the context I feel it should have. (cf: english.stackexchange.com/questions/164871/… ). – vaab May 15 '14 at 20:06

I would go with capacity since it can be used in context with almost every function of a byte - storage, transportation, memory, and so one.

  • bit is a unit, and it's not the word to refer to what is actually measured. I'm looking for a word which share the same relation to the word "Byte", than 'mass' has for 'kilograms'. – vaab May 15 '14 at 20:43
  • @vaab - well its not really 'units of information'... that sounds like project manager talk. I would say 0s and 1s. – RyeɃreḁd May 15 '14 at 20:45
  • @choster Changing my answer. – RyeɃreḁd May 15 '14 at 20:56
  • I would have gone with storage as it applies well to short-term storage like RAM and long-term storage like disk or flash, although capacity is perhaps a better term when it comes to things like throughput and bandwidth. +1 – Bradd Szonye May 15 '14 at 21:18
  • @BraddSzonye - I thought storage too until I hit the throughput issues. There isn't a great term. Capacity maybe being the best right now. – RyeɃreḁd May 15 '14 at 21:19

OK, terminology time:

A bit is the smallest possible unit of information storage: It can exist in only two possible states (on or off).

A byte is generally defined as the smallest addressable unit of information available on your computer. For nearly all modern computers in existence this is eight bits. That isn't necessarily always the case though, so some folks who really care about the distinctions use the term "octet".

Now since computers generally work best with powers of two, and 1024 in addition to being a power of two is also very close to 1000, when computer folks say "Kilobytes", they generally are talking about 1024 byte units. It goes up from there with similar quasi-metric names (Megabytes, Gigabytes, etc.)

I say "generally" because (and I'm guessing this is where your question comes from), hard drive manufacturers have decided to use the same term to mean "1000 byte units" in their marketing materials, which magically makes everyone think their hard drives are a bit roomier than they really are. Networking hardware manufacturers pull the same cheezy stunts with bit rates.

If this annoys you, you aren't alone. Computer folks absolutely hate the idea of letting the marketing weasels get away with lying to people this way. The solution that was come up with are the SI binary units. However, they use a different terminology ("kibibytes" and "kibibits") that almost nobody outside of technical circles has heard of. So for now it looks like we are stuck with the old familiar ill-defined unit names.

  • you had to add 'storage' after using the word information, and it seems that it illustrates how unnatural it is to use 'information' by itself. Even if it really seem to be the right term on its own. Note that you can measure information size that is being transmitted, or will be produced by an experience (not stored). – vaab May 15 '14 at 20:35
  • @vaab - Mostly I added that because if it weren't for considerations about the ease of storage and addressing of information on computers (particularly CPUs), we almost certainly wouldn't be using the particular units we use. – T.E.D. May 15 '14 at 21:28

I'd say it's basically referring to a more or less abstract physical size: the amount of blocks/sectors needed to store a certain information.

  • I'm confused: 'abstract physical' seems to me an oxymoron and bytes/bit are definitively used to measure something that is not related to the way it is physically stored/transmitted. (Claude Shannon defines the 'bit' as a unit of information, and he was studying communication at first and I'm not sure that in 1948, blocks or sectors existed to store any information). – vaab May 15 '14 at 19:45
  • A bit can either refer to the "amount of information" (if you will) in a certain dataset - this is the way Shannon refers to it or you can see it as "occupied" space - i.e. how many bits are needed to store XY (think hard drives and so on), but I propably missed the point of the question indeed. – Robin Heller May 15 '14 at 19:48

Byte is a unit to measure the size of files on your computer.

8 bits = 1 byte
1024 bytes = 1 KB
1024 KBs = 1 MB
1024 MBs = 1 GB
1024 GBs = 1 TB

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