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The Six Layers of a Computing System

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The author is passionate about electronics, computers, and handicrafts.

Understanding a Computer in Abstract Models

To understand how a computer works, it may be best to use an abstract model theory to understand and manage a complex computing system. The six layers of a computing system is an example of an abstract model. This simplified model is used to remove complex details and reveal the main ideas of how a whole computer system operates. A layered model allows you to understand how one layer works with only some basic information. You can deal with one layer without information on how the other layers work. For example, if we run an application program, let’s say a text editor, we do not concern ourselves with how this program was written and what programming language was used. We may know how it was written, but it is not important to us while we are using it. Layered models allow us to understand, build, and use complex system. Without this abstract model, it would be far more difficult to understand computing systems.

Computer and Computing System

A computer can be defined as a device that can be programmed to perform arithmetic or logical operations. A computing system can be used as a more general term to describe a system that is used to solve problems and interact with the environment.

A computer system consists of:

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Data

All three computing system components enables computers to perform various tasks and solve problems provided by users. Each of these components is essential for system performance. A computing system is worthless if any of these components are missing.

Computer Hardware, Software, and Data

The collection of physical elements that constitute a computing system is called hardware (or computer hardware). It includes physical parts and components such as CPU, memory, board, I/O devices (mouse, keyboard, and display), and so on.

Software (or computer software) is a program or set of programs that provides instructions to a computer to perform task or operations. Programs differ in types and goals. For example, it may be an operational system or application program.

The third and most important component of a computer system is data. A computer system manages data to perform tasks and operations. This data is used to to communicate with an environment. Without data, a computer system is useless.

Six Layers of Computing System

Six Layers of Computing System

Six Layers of a Computing System

LayerDescriptionExamples

Information

Data representation

Binary numbers, audio, video

Hardware

Physical components

CPU, gates, transistors

Programming

Programs and instructions

Drivers, firmware

Operating system

Resources manager

Windows, Linux, Android

Application

Application programs

Text editor, Autocad, Counter Strike

Communication

Communication with other systems

Network programs and applications

Explanation of the Six Layers of a Computing System

Here is an in-depth look into each layer of a computing system.

Information

This refers to the methods and ways of how we represent information on a computer. Information on a computer is managed by using binary numbers. Binary numbers are 1 and 0. In order to understand how data is processed inside a computer, we need to understand binary numbers. All the information and data that we process on a computing system—text, images, videos, and so on—are represented in a binary format.

Hardware

This refers to the physical computer hardware. It is important to note that physical hardware is not only a main board or CPU. On a fundamental level, CPU or other components can include devices such as gates and circuits that are made of tiny transistors that control the flow of electricity. There are millions of transistors inside the CPU and other components such as GPU, memory, and so on.

Programming

This deals with computer software, such as programs that use instructions to process data, perform computations, and manage data. The main goal of these programs is to solve various problems and perform different tasks. Programs can run on different levels and can be written in different languages.

Operating System

The main task of an operating system (OS) is to manage computer resources. There are various computer systems that help users to communicate and interact with their computing system. Examples include Windows, Linux, Mac OS, and Android.

Application

Application programs perform specific tasks. They can write a text document, draw a picture, or play a game. Every program you run on your computer’s operating system is an application program that helps you accomplish a task or solve a certain problem.

Communication

This layer refers to the ability of two computer systems exchanging data. Computers can connect into a network to share information and resources. We use the internet to exchange data or simply chat.

Layers of Abstraction in Computing

Different Models of Abstraction

When analyzing computing systems, different layers of abstraction can be used. For example, we can describe a computing system as using five layers: hardware, firmware, assembler, kernel, OS, and applications. The model explained in the video above has seven layers: devices, logic gates, microarchitecture, instruction set architecture, program, algorithm, and task. There is no standardized model when speaking about computing systems. These models depend on various approaches, but if you start analyzing them, you will find some kind of repetitions.

The layers may have different names, and there may be a different number of layers, but they explain and help manage your computing system.

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