Bits, Bytes, Binary, Hexadecimal, Octal and Decimal

hexadecimal, bits and bytes, decimal, binary and octal

Many terms in computer science can be confusing for people just getting into the subject. Bits, bytes, binary, hexadecimal, octal, and decimal are all common terms that may be unfamiliar to someone who has not done much work with computers. The meaning of the terms bits, bytes, binary, hexadecimal, octal, and decimal can be most easily understood by discussing how these terms are used when referring to computing. In the following paragraphs, we will discuss these terms in detail.


A bit is a unit of information with only two possible values, typically denoted as “0” or “1”. The bit is used for digital computers and was originally used for communication network. A single bit is often called a “binary digit.” It can be represented by a flipped switch in a circuit, either open or closed. Bits can also represent numeric digits as well as for instructions to computers.

A bit consists of one on or off the electrical pulse. A bit can only have two possible values: 0 or 1, as we saw. In computing, information is encoded in binary notation, where 0 volt is expressed as ‘0’ and +5 volt is expressed as ‘1’. Bits are grouped to form bytes (8 bits).

When referring to the number of bytes in a file or disk space allocation, the terms one can use are kilobyte (kB), megabyte (MB), gigabyte (GB), or terabyte (TB). 


A byte contains 8 bits and is a way of storing digitial data. A byte could represent a single letter of text or an entire book, for example. Computer programs use bytes to store instructions or word-processed documents such as this one you are reading now. Most modern computers use powers of 2 for their storage size designations.

A byte is the amount of data that can be transferred between devices in one move. This makes it possible to transmit 256 different symbols with the byte, which make up all the letters and numbers we use in our modern-day digital world. So, to put it simply: a byte is one character, i.e., a byte is eight bits grouped and represents the smallest unit of data that can be interpreted as a character. 

A byte can hold any value from 0 to 255 in decimal notation. For example, ‘11111111’ in binary is 255 in decimal notation. A kilobyte is 1 000 bytes in terms of storage size, and a megabyte is 1 000 000 bytes. As another example, the number ‘10010101’ in binary is 1024 in decimal notation. A kilobyte of memory will hold 512 bytes or less. 

A byte can also be called an octet (8-bit group). This may be an easy way to remember that a byte is made up of eight bits. If you see a reference to an octet in a document or file format specification, it means the same thing as “byte.”

It should be noted that not all bytes have the same number of bits – some may have 8 bits while others may have 12 bits or even 16 bits – so a value that represents one byte may represent something else when looking at it from another perspective (e.g., an integer). Use the term ‘octet’ if you want to be unambiguous about a specific use case is 8 bits.


Binary notation is also called base 2. It is written using two digits such as ’10’, which equals 8 in decimal, and ’11’, which equals 9 in decimal. 

Binary is the number system that uses base 2 instead of base 10 (decimal) as its primary numeral system. It is so-called because it uses only two digits: 0 (zero) and 1 (one). 

Binary numbers were considered natural for computer engineering because they do not have a large range of integer values like decimal numbers do – there are only two possible values for any given digit in a binary number: 0 and 1 – which correspond to off and on switches in electronic circuits. 

Digital electronic circuits manipulate binary numbers easily by turning individual transistors on or off to represent these digits (digital electronics). The term “bit” – which stands for “binary digit” – means one such “on” or “off” switch. 

In this way, any binary number can be broken down into individual bits, from which it can then be reconstituted back into its original form, with all its original values intact. 

Computers use binary code. Each letter or symbol stands for a certain set of numbers. Binary symbols can be used to represent different numbers such as 0-9 and mathematical symbols like + – * / and %. These symbols are stored in computers in a string of 1s and 0s that make up binary code. 


The hexadecimal system uses sixteen distinct symbols, or digits, to represent numbers. The digits are typically used to represent the decimal numbers from ‘0-9’ and ‘A-F’ for values ’10-15′. 

Hexadecimal has gained popularity because it has a prefix for every power of 16 (2^n), and each number can be represented by 4 bits of data. 

This means that there are exactly 16 unique combinations of hexadecimal digits while there are 10 unique combinations of decimal digits, making them much easier to differentiate and recognize than octal digits. 

Hexadecimal became popular with programmers because it was easier to convert binary numbers into hexadecimal without using any calculations. It is not unusual for programmers today to use this system for calculations that involve multiples of 16 or more due to its efficiency and simplicity.

Hexadecimal means six; it is a numbering system similar to binary but based on ’16’ numbers. It is written using 16 digits (0-F), such as ’10’, which equals 16 in decimal, and 11 equals 17 in decimal. 

The hexadecimal number system can be written as either an even-even-odd pattern or as an odd-odd-even pattern (called little-endian or big-endian, depending on whether it starts with the least significant digit). 

Hexadecimal digits correspond directly with binary digits; every 4 bits make up one hexadecimal digit in either case.


Octal means consisting of eight; it is a numbering system similar to binary but based on ‘8’ instead of ‘2’. It is written using 8 digits (0-7), such as ’10’, which equals ‘8’ in decimal, and ’11’, which equals ‘9’ in decimal.


Decimal means consisting of ten; it is a numbering system similar to binary but based on ’10’ ‘instead of 2. It is written using 10 digits (0-9) such as 10, which is familiar to us.

Decimal is our familiar base 10 number system, which is used by people most often in counting. It is even easy to do so with the ten fingers of our hands when we are young.


Bits, bytes, binary, hexadecimal, octal, and decimal are different encoding methods for the same information. The difference is in how they represent numbers. They are used to represent numbers in a way that computers can understand.

The most common form of storing data in a computer system is binary.

Binary numbers can be converted to and from decimal by using a “binary code,” which allows you to represent each digit with two binary digits like this: “1101.” It should be noted that converting from decimal to binary does not change the data much as opposed to converting from decimal to hexadecimal or octal, which changes the data by powers of 2 depending on how many digits you are converting from decimal to those bases, so if you convert “10” to hexadecimal then “16” will appear. At the same time, if you convert “14” to octal, then “20” will appear instead of the original 14.

A computer operates on binary. We use hexadecimal, octal, and decimal to represent numbers. 

There are also disadvantages to these different systems. One disadvantage is that some people may not understand how these different systems work, so some time investment is needed to learn how they work. 

A second disadvantage is that sometimes when you work with these different systems, it can take more time for your computer to process calculations because it has to convert them before doing anything else, which can slow things down significantly.

The first step to program bits, bytes, binary, hexadecimal, octal, and decimal is to learn how to convert them into decimal numbers, which can then be programmed using programming software like C++ or Python.

In Summary

Bits are expressed in binary, which is the same as a 0 or 1. Bits are the smallest unit of data. Bytes are made up of 8 bits, so there are 256 (0-255) possible combinations of eight bits. Hexadecimal numbers are base 16, and our usual number system has 10 digits for representing numbers (0-9). There are 16 characters for representing hexadecimal numbers: 0-9 and A-F. Octal is based on base 8 (with only the digits 0-7), which is used less often than hexadecimal.

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