Meaning of Interface

Basically, an interface connects systems with different physical, electrical and / or mechanical properties. It is mainly used for communication or data exchange. Interfaces are used very frequently, especially in the field of information technology.

  • In computer technology, a distinction is made between so-called hardware interfaces, software interfaces and user interfaces.
  • A hardware interface ensures communication between the various components of a computer.
  • Software interfaces are used either for data exchange (communication interface) or fulfill a specific function (programming interface).
  • If a person interacts with a machine or a computer, it is a so-called user interface.

What is an interface?

In computer technology, an interface represents the transition between the individual components of an information technology system. These partly work independently of one another and have their own functions. Only an interface enables data exchange and data processing between the individual systems.

In the past, computer manufacturers were careful to develop a separate interface for each application. In the meantime, however, universal interfaces such as USB or PCIe have established themselves. Their main advantage is greater compatibility between individual systems. The specification of an interface includes data on the transmission speeds and methods as well as information on the plug, socket and the number of lines.

These interfaces exist

There are different types of interfaces in the field of computer technology. A fundamental distinction must be made between hardware interfaces and software and user interfaces.

Hardware interfaces

A hardware interface ensures the compatibility of different components of the computer. With internal and external interfaces, a computer has two different types of transitions.

Internal interfaces are located inside the housing and are not visible from the outside. They connect the central processing unit (CPU) with other systems in the computer, for example the individual boards and the functional and storage units. The individual components are connected either directly or by means of a cable via a socket or slot. Examples of so-called bus interfaces are the Small Computer System Interface (SCSI), which plays a role in hard drives, for example, or the PCIe bus. This provides connections for up to ten expansion cards.

External interfaces, on the other hand, lead out of the computer housing. They serve as a transition to other systems or peripheral devices such as a keyboard or mouse. As a rule, the connection is made using a plug and a socket. Both analog and digital interfaces exist in this category. A classic VGA connection , for example, represents an analog interface. A USB or HDMI connection, on the other hand, is a digital interface.

Software interfaces

Software interfaces realize the transition between different programs, which enables data exchange. With communication and programming interfaces, there are also two different types here. Information is exchanged between the system components involved via communication interfaces. Therefore, they are also known as data-oriented interfaces.

A programming interface, on the other hand, is usually used to synchronize individual system parts. This makes it possible, for example, to transfer data from word processing software into a database application. Such programming interfaces now exist for a wide variety of applications. The English term API is often used in this context. The abbreviation stands for “Application Programming Interface”.

User interfaces

A user interface occurs when a person interacts with a device or software. The terms human-machine interface (MMS), human-machine interface (HMI) and man-machine interface (MMI) are also used. The interface defines the way in which the end user can communicate directly with the machine, which instructions he gives to the computer and how these are carried out.

User interfaces are used wherever there is interaction between humans and computers via a menu displayed on a screen. From the user’s point of view, the goal is always to complete a specific work task using the selected system. When the first computers came on the market, it was only possible to communicate with the computer using command lines (entering commands via the keyboard), for example. There are now a number of other computerized user interfaces. Examples are speech dialog systems (speech-based user interface) or touch-sensitive touchscreens (natural user interface).