Real-time computing

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In computer science, real-time computing (RTC), or reactive computing, is the study of hardware and software systems that are subject to a "real-time constraint"—i.e., operational deadlines from event to system response. Real-time programs must execute within strict constraints on response time.[1] By contrast, a non-real-time system is one for which there is no deadline, even if fast response or high performance is desired or preferred. The needs of real-time software are often addressed in the context of real-time operating systems, and synchronous programming languages, which provide frameworks on which to build real-time application software.

A real time system may be one where its application can be considered (within context) to be mission critical. The anti-lock brakes on a car are a simple example of a real-time computing system — the real-time constraint in this system is the short time in which the brakes must be released to prevent the wheel from locking. Real-time computations can be said to have failed if they are not completed before their deadline, where their deadline is relative to an event. A real-time deadline must be met, regardless of system load.



The term real-time derives from its use in early simulation. While current usage implies that a computation that is 'fast enough' is real-time, originally it referred to a simulation that proceeded at a rate that matched that of the real process it was simulating. Analog computers, especially, were often capable of simulating much faster than real-time, a situation that could be just as dangerous as a slow simulation if it were not also recognized and accounted for.

Hard and soft real-time systems

A system is said to be real-time if the total correctness of an operation depends not only upon its logical correctness, but also upon the time in which it is performed. The classical conception is that in a hard real-time or immediate real-time system, the completion of an operation after its deadline is considered useless - ultimately, this may cause a critical failure of the complete system. A soft real-time system on the other hand will tolerate such lateness, and may respond with decreased service quality (e.g., omitting frames while displaying a video).

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