Computers 101: The Differences Between Software vs Hardware

Computers 101: The Differences Between Software vs Hardware


You don’t have to be a computer guru to hear the word ‘software’ or ‘hardware’ being thrown around. You also don’t have to be a computer guru to understand what these two terms mean. That’s because both are terms that describe the computer at its most basic level.

That means that anyone who has ever used a computer has interacted with both. If you’re still not sure what software and hardware are, best believe you’re not alone. Lots of people have trouble differentiating software vs hardware, but we’re here to help.

In this post, we’ll look at what software and hardware are and what makes them so different. 

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Software vs Hardware: The Definitions

 A great place to start is by learning what both terms mean before delving into their differences. So what exactly is computer hardware? And what does software mean?

What Is Computer Hardware?

Hardware took a whole new meaning when the first computer was invented.  Here is how you define hardware in the computer world.

Computer hardware describes the physical parts of the computer. That means any part of the computer that you can touch and feel. Examples of hardware include a mouse, keyboard, monitor, CPU. Other peripheral devices like printers, joysticks, and external drives also count as hardware

You can think of hardware as the actual computer and any other device that you can connect to it. In other instances, folks may refer to hardware as the shell but only when referring to the computer as a unit.

What Is Software?

As you’ve probably guessed, the software is the non-physical part of the computer. Software is a collective term for all computer programs, documentation, and functions of the computer.  It’s what accomplishes various tasks on the computer.

Software is the code of programming that’s executed by the computer’s processor. You can think of software as the lifeblood of the computer.  It is what gives actual function to the hardware; without software, all pieces of hardware would be useless.

You can break down all software into three main types:

System software– System software act as a link between other types of software and the user.  Any operating system is made up of system software that provides a platform for every other software on the computer.

Application software– Application software is any software on the computer that achieves a specific function. They include word processors, media players, CAD software, and even computer games. Most of the programs you install on your computer fall under application software.

Programming software– Programming software are special software for writing codes that instruct the computer on what to do. Examples of programming software include Notepad++, Coda, and Eclipse, among others.

The lines are blurred, for the most part, over which type software is which, but that shouldn’t worry you too much. As long as you understand what software is, you’re good for now.

What Are the Differences Between Hardware and Software

Hardware and software are distinct in so many different ways. Here are some of the major differences between hardware and software.


The most apparent difference between the two is their tangibility. While hardware is the physical parts of the computer that you can feel, you cannot feel software. The closest you can get to feeling software is buying or holding a drive that contains the software.

That’s because software is the set of instructions contained in the drive, while hardware are the devices that interpret the software.  So while you can physically touch hardware, you can’t do the same with software.

Creation Process

Hardware is manufactured by computer and electronic companies for distribution. Software, on the other hand, is developed and engineered to accomplish specific tasks.

That means it’s much easier to update software or create a new version of it. However, it takes a lot of time to create a new edition of hardware because it’s much more expensive and time-consuming to do so.


Software is adversely affected by computer viruses, while viruses have absolutely no effect on hardware. 

The drives containing the software may have viruses that affect the software in the drive, but not the drive carrying the software. That’s why you’ll find anti-viruses in most computers to safeguard them from malware.

Mode of Transfer

Software can be transferred electronically from one device to another, either with cables or wirelessly. This means you can transfer software to a device that’s hundreds of miles away with a wireless network.

You can only move hardware physically from one point to another. 

Damage and Recovery

Hardware is damaged physically from high impact forces or water-damage. High-electrical current and power dips and surges also damage hardware. Physical force doesn’t affect software but only damages the hardware containing the software.

Software damages mostly through other harmful software (malware) or human-interference, but not physical activity. When hardware damages, you have to repair or replace it. When software damages, you can use or reinstall a backup copy, and you’re good to go.


It’s easy for hardware from different manufacturers to be compatible with each other. For instance, you can use a mouse from HP with a dell computer. You can also use an HP printer, keyboard, and other devices on a dell computer.

However, it’s hard to use software meant for macOS on a Windows PC. That’s why you’ll find two versions of a game or software, one for PC and the other for Apple. However, these days you can run Windows on Mac.

Not a lot of people know how to run Windows on Mac, but it’s very possible. Unfortunately, you can’t run the Mac display unit with a Windows CPU.

These are pretty much all the differences between software and hardware. From the differences and the definitions, you can tell that both hardware and software are interdependent on one another. 

Software Is Not Hardware

Hopefully, you’re now well-acquainted with the difference between software vs hardware. You no longer have to embarrass yourself in the office, throwing up terms you have no clue what they mean. Maybe it’s even time for you to update some of your computer software.

Before you do so, we have just one last request from you. Please check out all the other pieces of the site for more informative reads.


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