What Does Lag Mean?

Lag is a slang term for a noticeable decrease in application speed, due to extreme network congestion or insufficient processing power. When traffic is heavier than network capacity, the network requires that a program wait before sending or receiving data.


In real-time applications (like games), lag refers to an application’s failure to respond to inputs in a timely manner. Lag is commonly used to describe a time delay between a player’s action and a game’s reaction to that input. This may be caused by a lack of processing power in the case of games running on a computer or console. Online video games also experience lag during periods of network congestion and insufficient processing power. Lag is especially noticeable when playing online games via dial-up connections.

Techopedia Explains Lag

Lag primarily occurs because data requires a certain amount of travel time between applications, compounded by data application processing time. Specific types of lag include:

  • Local video gaming lag: Most video games suffer a degree of lag. Video gaming lag is measured according to noticeable delay. Lag inconvenience and frustration level largely depend on the type of game played. In shooting games, lag can quickly become a serious issue, but in turn-based strategy games, lag is well tolerated.
  • Online multiplayer gaming lag: Online video games suffer lag because of communication latency (sending/receiving packets) and local processing deficiencies. Again, the type of game played dictates the user’s level of lag frustration.
  • Cloud gaming lag: In online cloud gaming, a complete game is hosted on a central server that allows a user to operate a local thin client for forwarding streaming game controller actions. The game server streams the video game frame by frame to the thin client in a low-lag compressed video.

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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…