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What Is a Keyboard Buffer?

By Alex Newth
Updated May 17, 2024
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A keyboard buffer is a very small partition of memory that is usually stored in the computer memory in random access memory (RAM) and captures all the keystrokes made on a keyboard. Keystrokes are stored because there is a slight delay between when the key is pushed and when it displays on the screen. By capturing the keystroke, processing is easier and more accurate for the computer. Unlike what a user sees on the screen, not all keystrokes are captured, such as when a user pushes the “Delete” key. The keyboard buffer can be manipulated to hold more information, and there are also malicious programs designed to spy on the buffer’s data.

The keyboard buffer takes up a very small portion of the memory, because it only stores keystrokes for portion of a second. Once a keystroke is processed, the buffer removes that keystroke memory. By doing this, the computer ensures there are no inaccuracies when translating the keystroke from the keyboard to the computer screen, and it also helps the processor to process the keyboard data.

When someone clicks a button on a keyboard, that stroke enters the keyboard buffer, but not all characters are captured. Keystrokes that modify the text, such as the “Delete” or “Space Bar” keys, do not enter the keyboard buffer. This is because these keys are working to modify the characters, whereas the buffer is only made to hold legible characters. If someone were to read the buffer’s memory, it would appear incomprehensible as first, because it would be a large chunk of unorganized characters without any spaces.

While the keyboard buffer may be incomprehensible, there are programs available that can steal the buffer’s data. This usually serves a malicious purpose, such as corporate spying, but is also used by concerned parents to watch what their child is typing on the computer. These programs take and copy the information from the buffer and store that data somewhere away from the buffer. Unlike the buffer, which stores the keystrokes temporarily, these programs will store the information until the user deletes it.

Sometimes, on older computers with weak RAM or computers where an excessive amount of typing is done, an error may appear saying the keyboard buffer is full. In this instance, the user must either type slower, upgrade the RAM, or change the buffer’s threshold. While the solution is different for each operating system (OS), this is commonly done by modifying the buffer’s registry data.

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