Backward Compatible

What Does Backward Compatible Mean?

Backward compatible refers to a hardware or software system that can use the interface of an older version of the same product. A new standard product or model is considered backward compatible when it is able to read, write or view older formats. Backward compatibility allows newer technology to advance without superseding a current component.


Backward compatible is also known as downward compatible.

Techopedia Explains Backward Compatible

Backward compatibility can refer to a program, system or platform.

A backward compatible program is a new application that supports the features of the older version. An example would be Microsoft Word 2010, which can read and open older versions back to Word 2007.

A backward compatible system is newer hardware that is backward compatible with older hardware versions of the same model. For example, PlayStation 3 (PS3) is backward compatible with PlayStation 1 (PS1) and most PlayStation 2 (PS2) systems. Hardware that is backward compatible can vary with the model and version. Backward compatibility with hardware can also include USB ports, format software, peripheral controls and hard disk drives. Although newer hardware may work with older systems, the performance level may not be optimal.

A backward compatible platform or library refers to the framework that allows the hardware or software (or the subprograms for that software) to function. For example, the Intel 80486 processor is backward compatible with the Intel 80386 processor programs.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret 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 IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.