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What is hardware and software - Hardware vs. Software

Updated Jan 14, 2020

We aim to throw light on what is computer hardware and software, how to best define hardware and software, the features of software and hardware, and the difference between hardware and software in this article. Once you know the exact hardware and software difference, you will find it easy to go about their selection and use. Read on for a closer look.

Hardware vs. Software

Software refers to the general term used to describe a set of computer programs and codes, procedures, documentation, etc. (that are useful for performing necessary tasks on computer systems), hardware refers to physical devices used with or within the main computing machine.

Given below is a comparison chart depicting the difference between software and hardware:

Basis of Differentiation Hardware Software
Definition Hardware refers to physical components and physical devices that are necessary for storing and executing (or running) the software. They serve as a delivery system for the set of instructions provided by the software. Software refers to a collection of programs, documentation, codes, instructions, etc.  that enables users to interact with computer systems. Software is typically a program that’s essential for computers to perform specific tasks. They are intangible and cannot be physically seen as hardware components.
Types The different types of hardware comprised of input and storage devices, processing units, control devices, and output components. Programming software, System software, and Application software are the different types of software available for users.
Functionality The hardware performs as a delivery system for different types of software solutions. In comparison to software programs, hardware components are infrequently changed. The primary function of the software is to enable the performance of specific tasks with the help of hardware units. Although software may not be obligatory for the basic level tasks performed by computers, they enhance the overall functionality of operating systems. Software is said to be ‘soft’ in nature as it can be readily created, erased, or modified.
Examples CD-ROM, display monitor, sound card, printer, video card, scanner, label maker, router, modem, etc.  Examples of Software such as Adobe Acrobat, QuickBooks, Google Chrome, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, Apple Maps, etc.
Nature Hardware is tangible and physical. Software is non-tangible and logical.
Inter-dependency Hardware components can only start their operation once the software has been loaded correctly. The software has to be installed on specific hardware to enable it to work correctly and give its instructions.
Failure Hardware failure is said to be random. It is common to find hardware showcasing increasing inability at their last stages. Software failures are systematic and do not depict any increasing failure rate or pattern.
Wear and tear Hardware depreciates in performance and wears out over time. Software remains the way it is and does not wear out over time. However, it is common for bugs to appear in software with constant usage.
Virus attacks Hardware cannot be impacted by viral attacks directly. Viral attacks with use can impact software programs and applications.

What is Hardware?

Technically, hardware or computer hardware refers to physical objects, components, or devices that can be attached to a computer system for making it work or increase its functionality. These physical components or accessories depict various features and properties that are useful for carrying out varying input and output processes.

Some common examples of hardware include GPU, mouse, motherboard, monitor, keyboard, CD-ROM, printer, video card, hard drive, memory, sound card, motherboard, and so on. The easiest way to differentiate between hardware and software is that hardware is tangible or perceptible to touch. Very useful for making any computerized system function well, hardware can be operated with the help of a set of instructions referred to as software.

Hardware is physically connected to computers or any other device that can be physically touched. Monitor, mouse, keyboard, printer, scanner, router, modem, video card, sound card, etc. are all examples of computer hardware. Hardware and software have to interact consistently with each other and have to function in unison. The software is responsible for telling the hardware about the sequence and method of the tasks to be performed.

These days, computer systems of the kinds of a thin client and server make it possible to be installed and run without a keyboard, display, keyboard, hard drive, etc. However, it is common to find most computer systems running with the help of input and output devices that form essential parts of the hardware.

In case any particular part of the hardware is malfunctioning or missing, the system will encounter errors, and it may not start at all. Given this, users need to keep checking for the smallest of mistakes in their hardware system to avoid downtime or work lags.

Though the addition of specific hardware devices such as a printer, sound card, modem, mouse, external disc drive (e.g., CD-ROM or DVD), etc. is not obligatory, they serve to provide added functionality to computer systems. These hardware components, which are not required by computers necessarily, are referred to as peripherals.

What is Software?

Technically referred to as computer software, the software is a collection of instructions, programs, procedures, documentation, etc. used to direct computer systems to perform and execute specific actions. The software encompasses computer programs, libraries, digital media, non-executable data, etc. It is easy to distinguish between hardware and software as the software is primarily non-tangible but operates around the hardware.

The software can be written in different programming languages, which, when compiled or interpreted correctly, provides users with software that is effective, easy, and efficient to use. Software applications function in diverse ways. While some software components are not readily used or applied daily, many others cannot be done without and are used regularly by hardware systems for their in-time and accurate performance.

Types of Software:

Application Software –Word processors, video-games, user-centric programs, and other end-user applications are available in this category of software. They provide codes for utility purposes, entertainment, etc. beyond performing some basic operations.

System Software – System software operates directly with the hardware components installed on a computer system. It enhances the basic functionality of users and computer systems manifold and cannot be done without in any way. The system software for everyday use includes device drivers, operating systems, and utilities.

Malicious Software – Oft referred to as malware; this kind of software is developed to damage or harm computer systems. It makes the use of other types of software and targeted hardware systems a nightmare for home/business users. Related with cyber-crimes in condemnable ways, certain malware is also designed to play practical jokes on users.

Overall, the software is an ordered sequence of a given set of instructions that’s useful for changing the state of computer hardware logically. The software usually showcase programs with user-friendly interfaces that allow for better human interaction with computer systems. Software systems need at least one hardware device for their operation. For instance, a video game software would require a computer processor (CPU), hard drive, memory (RAM), and video card for its effective running. A word processing software app needs memory, hard drive, and a computer processor to create and save documents.

The system software is obligatory as hardware cannot function without the same being installed. In case the interpreter or operating system cannot be found, no information is retrieved, and error messages start coming to the fore. In other words, the operating system serves as an essential link between the software and user and helps in the proper use of computer hardware. Apart from the system software and operating system, there are many other software programs and applications that can be added to provide a computer with additional capabilities. For instance, the installation of MS Office gives you access to its word processor that is very useful for creating and saving documents and letters.

Key Difference between Software and Hardware

  • What is software and hardware can be best understood by going through their differences in more detail? Here is a quick rundown of some of the vital difference between hardware and software for your perusal. An understanding of the difference between hardware and software in points (as given below) will help you understand their features and usage better.
  • Usage: When it comes to hardware vs. software in terms of usage, do note that both are related to a large extent but cannot be termed as same. The proper use of hardware will help you determine the speed at which your computer system will function with the help of advanced material and circuitry designs. However, all kinds of hardware need software for their functions. On the other hand, well-designed software is responsible for making hardware components work correctly and effectively. Software is like programs and codes installed on computer systems. Say, to function correctly. A mouse needs device software that can be installed either manually or automatically.
  • Appearance: Their physical nature can easily understand the software and hardware difference in terms of appearance. While the software is non-tangible and cannot be touched or felt, hardware can be viewed physically as well as affected. Though it is not possible to see software directly as it performs, the actual program and written code can be seen running as and when it is executed.
  • Type: Hardware, which can be installed and used as a physical device only, can be divisible into four distinct categories. These are input devices use for raw data input. Processing devices used for processing raw data as well as for instructions into information. Output devices are used for disseminating data and information. Storage devices used for the retention of data and information.
  • On the other hand, software devices of a computer are divisible into programming software, application software, and system software. The different types of system software include device drivers, operating systems, middleware, shells & windowing systems, utility software, etc. This explains the difference in the types of computer hardware and software.
  • Function: The software performs differently-natured and specific tasks by providing an orderly set of instructions in the form of programs to the hardware. Overall, hardware components serve as the delivery channels for such software solutions.
  • Interdependence: Hardware can't function unless and until the software is loaded. In contrast, the software is installed on hardware for setting its programs into action. This type of interdependence makes software-hardware different from each other.
  • Firewalls: It is possible to find firewalls for software and hardware alike. The most used and popular firewall choice happens to be a software firewall. Such firewalls are installed on the hardware of a computer in the same manner as software. They are customized for suiting the individual security needs of users. On the other hand, the firewalls related to hardware are found in the broadband routers and allied devices.
  • Changes: It is noted that hardware users stick to their devices unless wear and tear take place, or it becomes essential to upgrade the same. However, it is commonplace for users to keep switching to software developed by other companies, new software, or multiple software solutions to add to their functionality. In other words, the software is more frequently changed in comparison to hardware. More so, it is possible to create, alter, or delete software, but shifting to new hardware components needs higher skills as well as financing. This is one of the primary differences between software and hardware.


The hardware and software definition are self-explanatory once you understand more about hardware and software with examples. The question, “What is the difference between hardware and software?” is an important one and is often asked in interviews. We hope that you have received a fair idea about hardware software from this article. In case you have any further queries or inputs with regards to software vs. hardware, then do write to us. We will be glad to add to the difference between software vs. hardware, as stated above.