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In computer science, "log" is often used over "history" when keeping track of events (see /log and .log in Unix filesystems, and "git log" with the Git version control system). I can see that "log" is shorter, so that is one advantage over "history". However with "history" there is less confusion because it does not have a second meaning, as far as I could tell. Whereas "log" is also used in mathematics.

  1. What is the difference between "history" and "log"?
  2. When to use "log" over "history"?
  3. When to use "history" over "log"?
  4. Why is "log" often used in computer science?
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    A history is likely more detailed, cohesive, analyzed, narrative, expert, etc. A log is just a mindless recording of a series of events, as the occur (and therefore in chronological order). In case you didn't know, log is called a log because in the Age of Sail, ships threw actual logs --chunks of tree trunk-- behind them in th sea, attached to a rope with equally-spaced knots along it. The number of knots that unspooled in a given amount of time indicated the ship's speed. These speeds were written down in a book. The book recorded what the log measured, in knots.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 19, 2016 at 19:08
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    So the key characteristics that led to log being used, today, to mean "a recording of a series of events as they occur" was that logs are readily available, cheap or free, and they float. Isn't language fun? (And weird?)
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 19, 2016 at 19:10
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    Don't mix up with log. short for logarithm, because other than that log isn't really used in mathematics to my knowledge. Jul 19, 2016 at 19:15
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    On the other hand, the bash command history is just a log of your commands. Jul 19, 2016 at 19:29
  • Maybe because programmers use log as a verb so often, it enters their vocabulary, so when they need a noun for the data, log comes to mind. I've no references to back this up.
    – k1eran
    Jul 19, 2016 at 19:47

2 Answers 2

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The word log originated from its usage in 'Ship Log Book', which originally referred to the book for recording readings from the 'Chip Log' (apparatus containing an actual wooden log, giving it the name).

The usage of word log thus is more accurate when used for maintaining well defined records in a more or less scientific way to potentially derive specific information in the future like ship's speed or investigating issues in computer software.

A log does captures historical information but lacks narrative and is generally very specific in its scope.

In computer science it makes sense to use the word log because computer logs keep track of well defined(and formatted in most instances) events and related information.

I hope this helps.

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A log is a series of time-data pairs. A history usually purports to be more comprehensive and explanatory with regards to cause and effect than a simple sequential series of timestamped information.

For instance, the log book kept by any individual ship in the Battle of Trafalgar would not purport to be a history of that battle.

Computer science uses the term log because log files contain data, written sequentially. They do not contain analytical conclusions based on that data.

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