What Does Endian Mean?

Endian refers to how the order of bytes in a multi-byte value is perceived or acted upon. It is the system of ordering the individual elements in a digital word in a computer’s memory as well as describing the order of transmission of byte data over a digital link. Digital words may be represented as little-endian or big-endian.


Techopedia Explains Endian

Endian or endianness is the byte order chosen for all digital computing made in a specific computer system and dictates the architecture and low-level programming approach to be used for that system. Though today, endianness is not such a large concern for system compatibility since it can always be circumvented in the lower levels so that high-level language programmers and users are already abstracted from the endianness of the system.

The term endian was first introduced by Danny Cohen, specifically the two kinds of endianness: little-endian and big-endian, to describe byte ordering in a well-known political and technical examination document for byte ordering issues in 1980. He had pointedly drawn the term from Jonathan Swift’s 1726 novel “Gulliver’s Travels” where civil war erupted over which end of the egg should be cracked first, the little end or the big end.

The computing world is still divided between big and little-endianness though there are no clear advantages or disadvantages between the two anymore. The microprocessor industry has gravitated towards little-endian because Intel’s x86 architecture, which is in wide use today, uses this. But big-endian is considered as the network byte order because the Internet Protocol (IP) suite, that means IPv4/6, TCP and UDP, makes use of this. However considering their differences, computer systems still work because this difference has already been taken into account.


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Margaret Rouse

Margaret Rouse is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical, business audience. Over the past twenty years her explanations have appeared on TechTarget websites and she's been cited as an authority in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine and Discovery Magazine.Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. If you have a suggestion for a new definition or how to improve a technical explanation, please email Margaret or contact her…