Word length is an enormously important facet of computer systems. In simple terms, word length expresses the number of bits in a byte. For example ... a byte made up of 8 bits (eg "10011101") has a word length of 8. We can also say the byte is 8-bit. In simple terms, the longer the word length the more detailed or precise the information can be, so a 16-bit byte can contain more "precise" or "detailed" information than an 8-bit byte.
word length determines the number of possible variations a byte can be. For example, there are 16 possible variations in a 4-bit byte ...
|Byte (binary)||Equivalent decimal value|
Here are some other typical word length values ...
|Word length||Byte length||Example Byte||Possible values||No of values|
|1||1 bit||1||1 and 0||2|
|8||8 bits||10010011||00000000 to 11111111||256|
|16||16 bits||1001001110010011||00000000 - 00000000 to 11111111-11111111||65,536|
|24||24 bits||100100111001-001100111010||00000000 - 00000000 - 00000000 to 11111111- 11111111-11111111||Millions!|
As a general rule ...
As a general rule, the bytes in an individual software element (eg an image file, application or system component) will have identical bit-depths. There are some exceptions such as the MP3 format which offers a variable word length option, but this is not the norm.
However, word length may differ between software elements in a single computer system. For example, a system may be dealing with all the following file types simultaneously ...
It is possible for a single application to handle different media files of different bit depths simultaneously. For example ... Flash can replay audio, display images and play video files each with a different word length.