When a computer programmer is writing a program, he has no magic code language that all computers understand. Technology is constantly changing and improving, and thus, computer hardware (the physical components of a computer) are also changing.
If a programmer were to write a program to communicate directly with computer hardware, he would need to know all of the ins and outs of the circuitry of each memory chip, processor, graphics card, keyboard, webcam, computer screen, mouse, and the list goes on.
It would be incredibly complicated. However, this is fortunately not the case. Device drivers have come to the rescue.
Every computer model is different. We might be inclined to think that all computers are created equal and that software written on one of them should work on any other. This is only the case thanks to device drivers.
When a piece of hardware is developed, a piece of software—a device driver—is developed to accompany it. A driver acts as a middleman—a sort of translator—through which computer programs can communicate with the physical parts of a computer. This way, programmers can use standardized programming languages that work on most computers. Drivers save you a lot of work.
So what kinds of hardware need drivers?
Pretty much every kind! When you buy a new computer it comes with a whole lot of drivers pre-installed. There are drivers for the keyboard, the computer screen, the mouse, the graphics card, and a whole lot of other stuff. If it weren’t for drivers, you literally wouldn’t be able to do anything with your computer.
When drivers are accidentally erased or when they go out of date, your computer may not function correctly. It is therefore important to make sure that your computer’s drivers stay up to date.
Knowing what drivers are, can also be handy when you want to use an external (not included in your computer) accessory, such as a USB memory chip or MP3 player. Just like we said earlier, your computer can’t really communicate with any hardware (physical components) without a driver.
Imagine you plug your MP3 player into your computer. Your MP3 player is considered hardware, even though it didn’t come with your computer. Your computer needs to be able to communicate with your MP3 player in order to download songs to it (or to do whatever you want to do with it).
Sometimes, your computer will already have the driver necessary for your MP3 player; however, sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, when you plug your MP3 player (or any other device) into your computer, you will normally see a box pop up on your screen asking if you want to install it (or install the driver).
Simply click the buttons that the box tells you to (usually a “next” button or an “install” button) and it will guide you through the necessary process of installing the drivers.