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Bit rot

Bit rot

(also data degradation, data decay, data rot)

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.

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