Bit rot definition
Bit rot refers to the phenomenon where digital information (software, files, or data) degrades over time.
See also: network degradation
Why bit rot occurs
- Physical degradation. All storage media, whether magnetic (hard drives) or solid-state (SSDs, flash drives), have a finite lifespan.
- Software decay. Older software might not run correctly on newer systems. If not properly maintained or updated, the software becomes unusable, even if the data hasn’t been altered.
- Data format obsolescence. Older data formats become unreadable when new software no longer supports them.
Examples of bit rot
- Digital photos. You open an old digital photo with strange colors, streaks, or pixelated sections.
- Music and video files. An audio track plays with hiccups or a video freezes at certain parts and displays visual artifacts.
- Archived software. You try to open an old program on a new computer, but it crashes or doesn’t run correctly.
- Document files. An old document doesn’t open in a modern word processor.
- Video games. A game crashes because of corrupted saved game files.
- Hard drives and SSDs. Over long periods without use, sectors on a disk become readable, and data gets corrupted.
- Optical media. CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays degrade over time, especially in poor conditions.