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What is a bug?

In computing parlance, unlike normal life, bugs and viruses have nothing to do with each other. A bug is simply a fault, or error, while a virus is a malicious program that propagates from computer to computer by hiding itself inside another program or document.

Legend has it that the term bug was invented by Grace Murray Hopper, a Rear Admiral in the US Navy, who was one of the pioneers of computing. Early computers were huge machines made of relays and valves and wires and so on; compared to today’s sleek laptops or PDAs they were veritable Heath Robinson contraptions. Anyway, they were open to the atmosphere. Hopper tells the story:

Things were going badly; there was something wrong in one of the circuits of the long glass-enclosed computer. Finally, someone located the trouble spot and, using ordinary tweezers, removed the problem, a two-inch moth. From then on, when anything went wrong with a computer, we said it had bugs in it.

Hopper’s team introduced a new term into computing jargon when they said that they had debugged the machine. However, contrary to popular legend, the term bug had been in use since 1878, or even earlier, when Edison used it to refer to a flaw in a system.


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