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A Dictionary of Cyberspace Terms

This is only a partial listing, if you don't see what you need here, try typing your query into a Google search. There are many extensive dictionaries available on the web.

anchor: Either the starting point or the destination of a hyperlink (or link) within a document. Example: a highlighted word within an online help file may display additional information related to the word. This information is “anchored” to the highlighted word.
ASCII file: A file that can be opened and read by standard text editor programs (for example, Notepad or Simple Text) on almost any type of computer. Also referred to as “plain text files”. Examples: documents saved in ASCII format within word processors like Microsoft Word or WordPerfect; e-mail messages created by a program like Eudora; or HTML files.
attachment: In this context, a file that is sent along with an e-mail message. ASCII (plain text) files may be appended to the message text, but other types of files are encoded and sent separately (common formats that can be selected include MIME, BinHex, and Uuencode).
backbone: A term that is often used to describe the main network connections that comprise the Internet or other major network.
bandwidth: A measurement of the amount of data that can be transmitted over a network at any given time. The higher the network’s bandwidth, the greater the volume of data that can be transmitted.
binary file: A file that cannot be read by standard text editor programs like Notepad or Simple Text. Examples: documents created by applications such as Microsoft Word or WordPerfect or DOS files with the extension “.com” or “.exe”.
BinHex: A common file format for Macintosh computers; it enables a binary file to be transferred over the Internet as an ASCII file. Using a program like Stuffit, a file can be encoded and renamed with an “.hqx” extension. The recipient uses a similar program to decode the file.
bit: A binary digit (either 0 or 1); it is the most basic unit of data that can be recognized and processed by a computer.
bookmark: A shortcut you can use to get to a specified location within a document
 bounce: A term applied to an e-mail message when it is returned to you as undeliverable.
buffered: Data that is collected but not made immediately available. For example streaming media data viewable using a tool like RealMedia Player is buffered.
byte: A group of adjacent binary digits that a computer processes as a unit to form a character such as the letter “z”. A byte consists of eight bits.
cable modem: A special type of modem that connects to a local cable TV line to provide a continuous connection to the Internet. Like an analog modem, a cable modem is used to send and receive data, but the difference is that transfer speeds are much faster. A 56 Kbps modem can receive data at about 53 Kbps, while a cable modem can achieve about 1.5 Mbps (about 30 times faster). Cable modems attach to a 10Base-T Ethernet card inside your computer.
cache: Refers to: 1) a region of computer memory where frequently accessed data can be stored for rapid access; or 2) a optional file on your hard drive where such data also can be stored. Examples: Inernet Explorer and Netscape have options for defining both memory and disk cache.
case-sensitive: Generally applies to a data input field; a case-sensitive restriction means lower-case letters are not equivalent to the same letters in upper-case. Example: “cat” is not recognized as being the same word as “Cat” or “CAT”.
CD-R drive: A type of disk drive that can create CD-ROMs and audio CDs. CD-R drives that feature multisession recording allow you to continue adding data to a compact disk which is very important if you plan on using the drive for backup.
CD-ROM: Compact Disk, Read Only Memory; a high-capacity secondary storage medium. Information contained on a CD is read-only. Special CD-ROM mastering equipment available in the OIT Multimedia Lab can be reserved for creating new CDs.
CD-RW, CD-R disk: A CD-RW disk allows you to write data onto it multiple times instead of just once (a CD-R disk). With a CD-R drive you can use a CD-RW disk just like a floppy or zip disk for backing up files, as well as for creating CD-ROMs and audio CDs.
CGI: Common Gateway Interface; a mechanism used by most web servers to process data received from a client browser (e.g., a user). CGI scripts contain the instructions that tell the web server what to do with the data.
chat: Real-time communication between two or more users via networked-connected computers. After you enter a chat (or chat room), any user can type a message that will appear on the monitors of all the other participants. While most ISPs offer chat, it is not supported by OIT. However, the WebCT software supported by TELR does provide the capability for live chat among students participating in online courses.
cookie: A small piece of information you may be asked to accept when connecting to certain servers via a web browser. It is used throughout your session as a means of identifying you. A cookie is specific to, and sent only to the server that generated it.
CPU: Central processing unit; the part of a computer that oversees all operations and calculations.
daemon: A special small program that performs a specific task; it may run all the time watching a system, or it can take action only when a task needs to be performed. Example: If an e-mail message is returned to you as undeliverable, you may receive a message from the mailer daemon.
database: A collection of information organized so that a computer application can quickly access selected information; it can be thought of as an electronic filing system.
decompress: Opposite of compressing a file; the process of restoring the file to its original size and format.
digitize: Sometimes referred to as digital imaging; the act of translating an image, a sound, or a video clip into digital format for use on a computer.
DNS: Domain Name System; a service for accessing a networked computer by name rather than by numerical address. That's why you can type in instead of
download: The process of transferring one or more files from a remote computer to your local computer. The opposite action is upload.
dpi: Dots per inch; a measure of a printer’s resolution. The higher the number, the better the print quality. A minimum of 300 dpi usually is required for professional-looking results.
extension: A suffix preceded by a period at the end of a filename; used to describe the file type. Example: On a Windows computer, the extension “.exe” represents an executable file.
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions; Usually a list of question and answer pairs pertinent to the relevant subject material.
field: A single piece of information within a database (e.g., an entry for name or address). Also refers to a specific area within a dialog box or a window where information can be entered.
firewall: A method of preventing unauthorized access to or from a particular network; firewalls can be implemented in both hardware and software, or both.
frames: A feature of some web browsers that enables a page to be displayed in separate scrollable windows. Frames can be difficult to translate for text-only viewing via ADA guidelines, so their use is increasingly being discouraged.
FTP: File Transfer Protocol; a method of exchanging files between computers via the Internet. A program like WS_FTP for IBM PC or compatibles or Fetch for Macintosh is required. Files can contain documents or programs and can be ASCII text or binary data.
gigabyte (Gig or GB): 1024 x 1024 x 1024 (2 to the 30th power) bytes; it’s usually sufficient to think of a gigabyte as approximately one billion bytes.
gopher server: Information on a gopher server is organized into a hierarchy of menus that become more specific as the levels descend. Usage has declined recently due to the superiority of the hypertext-based interface used for World Wide Web sites.
GPS: Global Positioning System; a collection of Earth-orbiting satellites. In a more common context, GPS actually refers to a GPS receiver which uses a mathematical principle called “trilateration” that can tell you exactly where you are on Earth at any moment.
GUI: Graphical user interface; a mouse-based system that contains icons, drop-down menus, and windows where you point and click to indicate what you want to do. All new Windows and Macintosh computers currently being sold utilize this technology.
hard disk: A storage device that holds large amounts of data, usually in the range of hundreds to thousands of megabytes.
hardware: The physical components of a computer including the keyboard, monitor, disk drive, and internal chips and wiring. Hardware is the counterpart of software
header: The portion of an web page, e-mail message or a network newsgroup posting that precedes the body of the message.
helper application: A program used for viewing multimedia files that your web browser cannot handle internally; files using a helper application must be moved to your computer before being shown or played. Contrast to a plug-in which enables you to view the file over the Internet without first downloading it.
home page: The index or first page of a particular web site; it also is the page that automatically loads each time you start your browser.
host: A computer accessed by a user working at a remote location.
HTML: HyperText Markup Language; a language used for creating web pages. Various codes and sets of tags are used to define how the document will look.
HTTP: HyperText Transfer Protocol; a set of instructions that defines how a web server and a browser should interact. Example: When you open a location (e.g., enter a URL) in your browser, what actually happens is an HTTP command is sent to the web server directing it to fetch and return the requested web page.
hyperlink: Connects one piece of information to a related piece of information in an electronic document. Clicking on a hyperlink takes you to directly to the linked destination which can be within the same document or in an entirely different document.
icon: A small picture or symbol that represents some object or function. Examples: a file folder for a directory.
image map: A graphic overlay that contains more than one area (or hot spot) which is clickable and links to another web page or anchor.
Internet: A worldwide network based on the TCP/IP protocol that can connect almost any computer to another computer.
Internet Explorer: A client program from Microsoft which enables you to browse the World Wide Web.
IP address: Internet Protocol address; every computer connected to the Internet has a unique identifying number. For example the MissouriFamilies web IP address is
ISP: Internet Service Provider; an organization or company that provides Internet connectivity.
Java: A general purpose programming language commonly used in conjunction with web pages that feature animation. Small Java applications are called Java applets; many can be downloaded and run on your computer by a Java-compatible browser like Netscape or Internet Explorer.
Kbps: Kilobits per second; a measure of data transfer speed; one Kbps is 1,000 bits per second. Example: a 28.8 Kbps modem. Standard telephone lines are capable of transmitting data at a maximum speed of about 33.6 Kbps, although with newer technologies this limit is increasing.
keyword: Most often refers to a feature of text editing and database management systems; a keyword is an index entry that correlates with a specific record or document.
kilobyte (K, KB, or Kb): 1,024 (2 to the 10th power) bytes; often used to represent one thousand bytes. Example: a 720K diskette can hold approximately 720,000 bytes (or characters).
knowledge base: A database where information common to a particular topic is stored online for easy reference; for examle, a frequently-asked questions (FAQ) list may provide links to a knowledge base.
LAN: Local area network; a network that extends over a small area (usually within a square mile or less). Connects a group of computers for the purpose of sharing resources such as programs, documents, or printers. Shared files often are stored on a central file server.
laser printer:
A type of printer that produces exceptionally high quality copies. It works on the same principle as a photocopier, placing a black powder onto paper by using static charge on a rolling drum.
link: Another name for a hyperlink.
LINUX: An open-source operating system that runs on a number of hardware platforms including PCs and Macintoshes. Linux is freely available over the Internet.
ListProcessor: A program that manages electronic mailing lists.
LISTSERV, Listserver: An electronic mailing list; it provides a simple way of communicating with a large number of people very quickly by automating the distribution of electronic mail.
log in, log on: The process of entering your username and password to gain access to a particular computer.
Macintosh: A personal computer introduced in the mid-1980s as an alternative to the IBM PC. Macintoshes popularized the graphical user interface.
mail server: A networked computer dedicated to supporting electronic mail.
megabyte (Meg or MB): 1,024 x 1,024 (2 to the 20th power) bytes; Generally megabytes are thought of as one million bytes.
MHz or mHz: Megahertz; a measurement of a microprocessor’s speed; one MHz represents one million cycles per second. The speed determines how many instructions per second a microprocessor can execute. The higher the megahertz, the faster the computer.
menu: In a graphical user interface, a bar containing a set of titles that appears at the top of a window. Once you display the contents of a menu by clicking on its title, you can select any active command.
Microsoft Windows: A group of operating systems for IBM PC or compatible computers; Windows provides a graphical user interface.
MIDI: Musical Instrument Digital Interface; enables a computer to control devices, such as synthesizers and sound cards, that emit music. Computers with a MIDI interface can record sounds created by a synthesizer and then manipulate the data to create new sounds. A variety of programs are available for composing and editing music conforming to the MIDI standard.
MIME: Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions; a protocol that enables you to include various types of files as an attachment to an e-mail message.
modem: A device that enables a computer to send and receive information over a normal telephone line.
moderator: A person who reviews and has the authority to block messages posted to a supervised or “moderated” network newsgroup.
multimedia: The delivery of information, usually to a personal computer, in a combination of different formats including text, graphics, animation, audio, and video.
multitasking: The ability of a CPU to perform more than one operation at the same time; Windows and Macintosh computers are multitasking in that each program that is running uses the CPU only for as long as needed and then control switches to the next task.
nameserver: A computer that runs a program for converting Internet domain names into the corresponding IP addresses and vice versa.
Netscape: A client program for Macintosh and Windows which enables you to browse the World Wide Web.
network: A group of interconnected computers capable of exchanging information. A network can be as few as several personal computers on a LAN or as large as the Internet, a worldwide network of computers.
newsgroup: A online forum that contains articles or postings devoted to a similar topic.
OCR: Optical character recognition; the act of using a visual scanning device to read text from hard copy and translate it into a format a computer can access.
online: A term that has commonly come to mean “connected to the Internet”. It also is used to refer to materials stored on a computer (e.g., an online newsletter) or to a device like a printer that is ready to accept commands from a computer.
packet: A unit of transmission in data communications. The TCP/IP protocol breaks large data files into smaller chunks for sending over a network so that less data will have to be re-transmitted if errors occur.
palette: The range of colors a computer or an application is able to display. Most newer computers can display as many as 16 million colors, but a given program may use only 256 of them. Also refers to a display box containing a set of related tools within a desktop publishing or graphics design program.
page: Refers to an HTML document on the World Wide Web.
parallel port: An interface on a computer that supports transmission of multiple bits at the same time; almost exclusively used for connecting a printer. On IBM or compatible computers, the parallel port uses a 25-pin connector. Macintoshes have a SCSI parallel port.
password: A secret combination of characters used to access a secured resource such as a computer, a program, a directory, or a file; often used in conjunction with a username.
PC: Usually refers to an IBM PC or compatible, or when used generically, to a “personal computer”.
PDA: Personal Digital Assistant; a small hand-held computer thatallows you to store names and addresses, prepare to-do lists, schedule appointments, keep track of projects, track expenditures, take notes, and do calculations. Depending on the model, you also may be able to send or receive e-mail; do word processing; play MP3 music files; get news, entertainment and stock quotes from the Internet; play video games; and have an integrated digital camera or GPS receiver.
Perl: Practical Extraction and Report Language; a programming language that is commonly used for writing CGI scripts used by most servers to process data received from a client browser.
PING: Packet Internet Groper; a utility used to determine whether a particular computer is currently connected to the Internet. It works by sending a packet to the specified IP address and waiting for a reply.
pixel: Stands for one picture element (one dot on a computer monitor); commonly used as a unit of measurement.
plug-in: A program used for viewing multimedia files that your web browser cannot handle internally; files using a plug-in do not need to be moved to your computer before being shown or played. Contrast to a helper application which requires the file to first be moved to your computer. Examples of plug-ins: Macromedia’s Shockwave (for animation) and RealAudio (for streamed files over the Internet).
POP: Post Office Protocol; a method of handling incoming electronic mail.
post: The act of sending a message to a particular network newsgroup.
PostScript: A page description language primarily used for printing documents on laser printers; it is the standard for desktop publishing because it takes advantage of high resolution output devices.
PPP: Point-to-Point Protocol; a type of connection over telephone lines that gives you the functionality of a direct ethernet connection.
protocol: A set of rules that regulate how computers exchange information. Example: error checking for file transfers or POP for handling electronic mail.
proxy: Refers to a special kind of server that functions as an intermediate link between a client application (like a web browser) and a real server. The proxy server intercepts requests for information from the real server and whenever possible, fills the request. When it is unable to do so, the request is forwarded to the real server.
public domain software: Any non-copyrighted program; this software is free and can be used without restriction. Often confused with “freeware” (free software that is copyrighted by the author).
pull: Frequently used to describe data sent over the Internet; the act of requesting data from another computer. Example: using your web browser to access a specific page. Contrast to “push” technology when data is sent to you without a specific request being made.
push: Frequently used to describe data sent over the Internet; the act of sending data to a client computer without the client requesting it. Example: a subscriptions service that delivers customized news to your desktop. Contrast to browsing the World Wide Web which is based on “pull” technology; you must request a web page before it is sent to your computer.
queue: A list of messages or items waiting to be sent.
QuickTime: A video format developed by Apple Computer commonly used for files found on the Internet; an alternative to MPEG. A special viewer program available for both IBM PC and compatibles and Macintosh computers is required for playback.
RealPlayer: A program or plug-in that gives you access to multimedia files, both on the Internet and those stored locally on your computer. With the program you can find and play clips (e.g., video, audio, video with audio, etc.) without having to launch your web browser first. The plug-in works in conjunction with your web browser to allow you to access streaming media files.
RAM: Random Access Memory; the amount of memory available for use by programs on a computer. Also referred to as “main memory”. Example: A computer with 8 MB RAM has approximately 8 million bytes of memory available. Contrast to ROM (read-only memory) that is used to store programs that start your computer and do diagnostics.
remote login: An interactive connection from your desktop computer over a network or telephone lines to a computer in another location (remote site).
RGB: Red, green, and blue; the primary colors that are mixed to display the color of pixels on a computer monitor. Every color of emitted light can be created by combining these three colors in varying levels.
ROM: Read Only Memory; a special type of memory used to store programs that start a computer and do diagnostics. Data stored in ROM can only be read and cannot be removed even when your computer is turned off. Most personal computers have only a few thousand bytes of ROM. Contrast to RAM (random access or main memory) which is the amount of memory available for use by programs on your computer.
router: A device used for connecting two Local Area Networks (LANs); routers can filter packets and forward them according to a specified set of criteria.
scroll bar: In a graphical user interface system, the narrow rectangular bar at the far right of windows or dialog boxes. Clicking on the up or down arrow enables you to move up and down through a document; a movable square indicates your location in the document. Certain applications also feature a scroll bar along the bottom of a window that can be used to move from side-to-side.
search engine: A tool that searches documents by keyword and returns a list of possible matches; most often used in reference to programs such as Google that are used by your web browser to search the Internet for a particular topic.
secure server: A special type of file server that requires authentication before access is granted.
self-extracting file: A type of compressed file that you can execute to begin the decompression process; no other decompression utility is required. Example: on IBM PC or compatibles, certain files with an “.exe” extension and on Macintoshes, all files with a “.sea” extension.
serial port: An interface on a computer that supports transmission of a single bit at a time; can be used for connecting almost any type of external device including a mouse, a modem, or a printer.
server: A computer that is responsible for responding to requests made by a client program (e.g., a web browser or an e-mail program) or computer. Also referred to as a “file server”.
shareware: Copyrighted software available for downloading on a free, limited trial basis; if you decide to use the software, you’re expected to register and pay a small fee. By doing this, you become eligible for assistance and updates from the author. Contrast to public domain software which is not copyrighted or to freeware which is copyrighted but requires no usage fee.
Shockwave: A technology that enables web pages to include multimedia objects such as audio, animation, and video; you use an authoring tool by Macromedia called “Director” to create a shockwave object and a program called “Afterburner” to compress the object. A plug-in available from Macromedia’s web site is required to see a Shockwave object included on a web page.
signature: A file containing personal information that you can set to be automatically appended to your outgoing e-mail messages.
SIMM: Single In-line Memory Module; a small circuit board that can hold a group of memory chips; used to increase your computer’s RAM in increments of 1,2, 4, or 16 MB.
site licensed software: A collection of inexpensive software packages available to a specific group (e.g., Extension) as a result of site license agreements, bulk purchases, and educational discounts by vendors as well as public domain software.
SMTP: Simple Mail Transfer Protocol; a method of handling outgoing electronic mail.
snail mail: A colloquial term for paper mail handled by the U.S. Post Office.
software: Any program that performs a specific function. Examples: word processing, spreadsheet calculations, or electronic mail.
spam: In the context of the Internet, electronic junk mail that promotes a commercial product or web site.
streaming (streaming media): A technique for transferring data over the Internet so that a client browser or plug-in can start displaying it before the entire file has been received; used in conjunction with sound and pictures. Example: RealPlayer is used for viewing sound and video.
Stuffit: A common file compression utility for Macintoshes. Compressed files are referred to as “stuffed” and usually end with a “.sit” file extension. A special kind of stuffed file is self-extracting and ends with a “.sea” extension. Stuffed binary files can be converted to ASCII format for transfer over the Internet; such files have a “.sit.hqx” or “.sea.hqx” extension.
subdirectory: An area on a hard disk that contains a related set of files; on IBM PC or compatibles, a level below another directory. On Macintoshes, subdirectories are referred to as folders.
SVGA: Super VGA (Video Graphics Array); a set of graphics standards for a computer monitor that offers greater resolution than VGA. There are several different levels including 800 x 600 pixels, 1024 by 768 pixels, 1280 by 1024 pixels; and 1600 by 1200 pixels. Although each supports a palette of 16 million colors, the number of simultaneous colors is dependent on the amount of video memory installed in the computer.
table: With reference to web design, a method for formatting information on a page. Use of tables and the cells within also provide a way to create columns of text. Use of tables vs frames is recommended for helping to make your web site ADA-compliant.
TCP/IP: Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol; an agreed upon set of rules that tells computers how to exchange information over the Internet. Other Internet protocols like FTP, Gopher, and HTTP sit on top of TCP/IP.
Telnet: A program that enables you to open an interactive login session over TCP/IP networks like the Internet. Commands you enter from your own computer are executed exactly as if you were seated at the remote machine.
telnet: A generic term that refers to the process of opening a remote interactive login session regardless of the type of computer you’re connecting to.
thread: Commonly refers to a series of messages that have been posted as replies to each other in a network newsgroup.
tool bar: On a graphical user interface system, a bar near the top of an application window that provides easy access to frequently used options.
UNIX: A popular multitasking computer system often used as a server for electronic mail or for a web site.
upload: The process of transferring one or more files from your local computer to a remote computer. The opposite action is download.
USB: Universal Serial Bus; a connector that allows you to quickly and easily attach external devices such as mice, printers, scanners, modems, speakers, digital cameras or webcams, or external storage devices. When a new device is connected, the operating system automatically activates it and begins communicating. USB devices can be connected or disconnected at any time.
username: A name used in conjunction with a password to gain access to a computer system or a network service.
URL: Uniform Resource Locator; a means of identifying resources on the Internet. A full URL consists of three parts: the protocol (e.g., ftp, gopher, http, nntp, telnet); the server name and address; and the item’s path. The protocol describes the type of item and is always followed by a colon (:). The server name and address identifies the computer where the information is stored and is preceded by two slashes (//). The path shows where an item is stored on the server and what the file is called; each segment of the location is preceded by a single slash (/)
utility: Commonly refers to a program used for managing system resources such as disk drives, printers, and other devices.
Video Graphics array; A graphics display system for PCs developed by IBM. Provides a resolution of 720 by 400 pixels in text mode and 640 by 480 (with 16 colors) or 320 by 200 (with 256 colors) in graphics mode. The total palette of colors is 262,144.
virtual memory: A technique that enables a certain portion of hard disk space to be used as auxiliary memory so that your computer can access larger amounts of data than its main memory can hold at one time.
virtual reality: An artificial environment created with computer hardware and software to simulate the look and feel of a real environment. A user wears earphones, a special pair of gloves, and goggles that create a 3D display.
virus: A program intended to alter data on a computer in an invisible fashion, usually for mischievous or destructive purposes.
wild card: A special character provided by an operating system or a particular program that is used to identify a group of files or directories with a similar characteristic. Useful if you want to perform the same operation simultaneously on more than one file. Example: the asterisk (*) that can be used in DOS to specify a groups of files such as *.txt.
window: On a graphical user interface system, a rectangular area on a display screen. Windows are particularly useful on multitasking systems which allow you to perform a number of different tasks simultaneously. Each task has its own window which you can click on to make it the current process. Contrast to a “dialog box” which is used to respond to prompts for input from an application.
Windows: A casual way of referring to the Microsoft Windows operating systems.
wireless (netwoking): The ability to access the Internet without a physical network connection. Devices such as cell phones and PDAs that allow you to send and receive e-mail use a wireless Internet connection based on a protocol called WAP (Wireless Application Protocol).
wizard: A special utility within some applications that is designed to help you perform a particular task. Example: the wizard in Microsoft Word that can guide you through creating a new document.
World Wide Web: A hypertext-based system of servers on the Internet. Hypertext is data that contains one or more links to other data;You use a special program called a “browser” (e.g., Netscape or Internet Explorer) for viewing World Wide Web pages. Also referred to as “WWW” or “the web”.
WWW: An abbreviation for World Wide Web.
zip: A common file compression format for IBM PC or compatibles. Zipped files usually end with a “.zip” file extension. A special kind of zipped file is self-extracting and ends with a “.exe” extension.
Zip drive: A high capacity floppy disk drive from Iomega Corporation; the disks it uses a little bit larger than a conventional diskette and are capable of holding 100 MB of data. Because the disks are portable, a zip drive has become a popular alternative for backing up and transporting large files.
zoom: The act of enlarging a portion of an onscreen image for fine detail work; most graphics programs have this capability.





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Last updated: 09/24/13