What is a Device Driver?

You have probably connected several devices to your computer, a printer, scanner, or digital camera, and sometimes Windows would recognize the device without difficulty. Other times, however, the device was now recognized by Windows, and you couldn’t use the device.

The reason Windows couldn’t recognize the device was because it didn’t have a device driver for it. This is required by all devices that are connected to your computer, both internal and external. In this post, I will describe what a device driver is, as well as what it does.

Interacting with Hardware

There are many types of hardware that you can connect to your computer. Hardware such as video or sound cards are connected directly to the motherboard inside of your case, while printers and scanners are connected externally into one of the ports. The problem is how does an operating system know how to talk to the hardware if it is all different. Answer: through the use of device drivers.

A device driver, or just driver, is a computer program that allows software interact with hardware. Typically, the software that talks to the device driver is the operating system, such as Windows. Essentially, the driver is an instruction manual that provides information to the operating system on how to communicate and use the device.

Installing Device Drivers

If the operating system needs to use a driver to talk to a device, how is the driver installed? There are many ways a driver is installed.

If the device you are connecting is older than the version of Windows, chances are that Windows already contains the necessary driver. Once you connect your device, then Windows will detect it and install the drivers automatically. You may be prompted to insert the Windows CD/DVD.

Most devices also include a CD that includes such things as applications and manuals. Also on the CD are drivers for specific operating systems that you can install. These drivers should be installed if the operating system is older than the device. Since the device wasn’t around when the operating system was created, then it obviously wouldn’t have the drivers. Follow the instructions included with your device to install the drivers.

You can also navigate to the vendor’s Web site of your device online and download any updated drivers. Once downloaded you just run the application and the drivers are installed.

It is important to keep your device drivers updated as they may help fix any issues you may be having. Sometimes Windows Update will install an updated driver. You can also go to the vendor’s Web site and see if they have a new driver available for download.

Summary

Device drivers are used by the operating system to communicate with a piece of hardware. Anytime you install a new piece of hardware, you will also need to install the device driver associated with that hardware.

There are many ways of installing the driver. The operating system can install the driver if it has one, install the driver from the CD that came with the device, or download the driver from the vendor’s Web site.

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