What Does Interrupt Mean?

An interrupt is a function of an operating system that provides multi-process multi-tasking. The interrupt is a signal that prompts the operating system to stop work on one process and start work on another.


Techopedia Explains Interrupt

The idea of the interrupt is at the core of the modern operating system design. By its nature, an operating system is linear and cannot handle more than one computing task at any given time. However, as modern operating systems have become more advanced, engineers and developers have included interrupt functionality to help the operating system to handle many different programs by switching in and out of various tasks, with minimal inconvenience to the user. This means modern operating systems can perform many different tasks in ways that do not delay user activity. Now, while a user is viewing or using one program, the operating system can be in the background working on some other task. When the user generates an event that requires the operating system to focus on the primary program that is being used, an interrupt can facilitate a quick response.

A code module characterized as an interrupt handler uses an available queue to prioritize different programs at different times. In some cases, a piece of code called a scheduler is also used. Many different kinds of interrupts enhance the capability of an operating system to provide on-demand services to users while handling more and more additional computing tasks in the background.

Interrupts can be related to user events like opening windows or using program controls. They can also be based on hardware events, like the beginning and end of a backup process from one disk to another, or related to responses from peripheral drivers. All of these different kinds of interrupts help the operating system to function smoothly and appear to handle many things at once.


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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…