Data Representation

Data in a computer is stored in the form of "bits." A bit is something that can be either zero or one. This web page shows eight interpretations of the same 32 bits. You can edit any of the interpretations, and the others will change to match it. For a more detailed explanation, see the rest of this page.

Binary (32 bits):
Unsigned Decimal:
Signed Decimal:
Real Number:
8-bit Characters:
16-bit Characters:

About the Representations

In a computer, items of data are represented in the form of bits, that is, as zeros and ones. More accurately, they are stored using physical components that can be in two states, such as a wire that can be at high voltage or low voltage, or a capacitor that can either be charged or not. These components represent bits, with one state used to mean "zero" and the other to mean "one." To be stored in a computer, a data item must be coded as a sequence of such zeros and ones. But a given sequence of zeros and ones has no built-in meaning; it only gets meaning from how it is used to represent data.

The table at the right shows some possible interpretations of four bits. This web page shows some possible interpretations of 32 bits. Here is more information about the eight interpretations:

As a final remark, note that you can't really ask for something like "the binary representation of 17", any more than you can ask for the meaning of the binary number "11000100110111". You can type "17" into six of the seven input boxes in this web app, and you will get five different binary representations! The meaning of "17" depends on the interpretation.

David Eck