A data type is a type of data. Of course, that is rather circular definition, and also not very helpful. Therefore, a better definition of a data type is a data storage format that can contain a specific type or range of values.
When computer programs store data in variables, each variable must be assigned a specific data type. Some common data types include integers, floating point numbers, characters, strings, and arrays. They may also be more specific types, such as dates, timestamps, boolean values, and varchar (variable character) formats.
Some programming languages require the programmer to define the data type of a variable before assigning it a value. Other languages can automatically assign a variable's data type when the initial data is entered into the variable. For example, if the variable "var1" is created with the value "1.25," the variable would be created as a floating point data type. If the variable is set to "Hello world!," the variable would be assigned a string data type. Most programming languages allow each variable to store a single data type. Therefore, if the variable's data type has already been set to an integer, assigning string data to the variable may cause the data to be converted to an integer format.
Data types are also used by database applications. The fields within a database often require a specific type of data to be input. For example, a company's record for an employee may use a string data type for the employee's first and last name. The employee's date of hire would be stored in a date format, while his or her salary may be stored as an integer. By keeping the data types uniform across multiple records, database applications can easily search, sort, and compare fields in different records.
Updated: October 17, 2007