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What Is a USB Socket?

By Christian Petersen
Updated May 17, 2024
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A USB socket, also known as a USB port, is a type of interface used primarily by personal computers, but also by smartphones, digital music players and other digital devices. The letters stand for universal serial bus and, in 2011 USB sockets are present on nearly every personal computer that is made. They can be used to connect any standard computer peripherals such as a keyboard, mouse, or external hard drive. A USB socket is designed to accept USB plugs, and this configuration has become the industry standard for many digital devices and computer peripherals.

Near the end of the 20th century, a standard for connecting digital devices and peripherals to personal computers was needed. A group of leading companies in the computing industry began work on the standard in 1994, and the first USB devices were introduced in 1996. A second generation USB standard, USB 2.0, was introduced in 2000, and the third generation became available in 2010. The USB standard quickly crowded out other types of interfaces for connecting digital devices and peripherals. In 2011, several sizes and variants of the standard USB socket exist.

The design of a USB socket is intended to allow for a number of uses. The interface allows a computer or other digital device to communicate with other digital devices or peripherals. Devices such as printers and scanners as well as input devices like keyboards, a mouse, and microphones can all use standard USB sockets. USB sockets allow for digital data transfer as well, and each generation has increased the speed of these transfers.

An additional feature of USB sockets is the ability to provide electric power to any device through the interface. This means that most USB equipped devices will not require an external power source when connected to a computer or other powered device. Many devices designed to use the USB interface, such as digital music players, have internal batteries that can be recharged by connecting them to a computer.

Portable data storage devices, like flash drives and external hard drives, allow for quick and easy transfer of files and other data to and from almost any computer. In a matter of minutes, one can use such a device to transfer data from one computer to another when a standard network is unavailable. Multiple USB devices can be connected to each other or to a computer through a USB hub, which is essentially a device with several USB sockets designed to allow other devices to communicate.

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Discussion Comments
By miriam98 — On Nov 17, 2011

@everetra - That’s a good point. I’d like to point out that if you decide to use a HUB you should keep track of the version of the USB technology it works with.

On my computer I had USB 1.0 in the front of the computer, and when I attached the hub, it didn’t work very well. The keyboard and mouse were not responsive.

When I attached the hub to the back of the computer, where I had USB 2.0 ports, it worked fine. Of course nowadays USB 3.0 is the new standard, which is supposed to be blazing fast. The point is to just make sure all your ports are consistent.

By everetra — On Nov 17, 2011

Most computers nowadays have several USB ports, usually two in the front and four to six in the back. While it may seem that you may never run out of ports, many devices use USB technology.

I’ve already used up all my ports. What many people don’t realize is that you have two options to expand your ports. You can in fact get a USB hub as mentioned in the article (I have one of those) and that will work fine.

However, you can also get a USB adapter, which is a card you plug into your computer into one of the PCI slots. Yes, you’ll have to remove the computer casing in order to do this, but it’s plug and play technology. Just slide the card into the PCI slot and you’re good to go.

These cards come with an additional four to six USB ports for your devices.

By orangey03 — On Nov 16, 2011

@seag47 – It is really handy to be able to detach your mouse from the USB socket on your keyboard. I take advantage of this feature when I need to clean my mouse.

Some people at work think I'm crazy for not using a mouse pad, but I need to have a wide range of motion, so I use my bare desk. Because of this, the bottom of my mouse frequently gets fuzz and dirt on it, making it harder to move around and causing a scratching noise.

When I need to clean my mouse, I simply pull its connecting wire out of the USB socket on the keyboard and hold it in my hand. This way, it doesn't go crazy and click all over the screen while I'm cleaning it off.

By shell4life — On Nov 15, 2011

My cell phone has several different sockets on it, and when I first bought it, I had to have someone show me which one to plug the charger into. They showed me how the end of the charger had a unique trapezoid shape that perfectly fit the USB socket.

This socket has a sort of lid on it. When I want to charge my phone, I flip this lid up with my fingernail and turn it to the side, out of the charger's way.

I used to get confused with my old phone as to which charger was mine. My husband had a newer phone, and his wouldn't fit mine. We now have USB sockets that are made for the same charger.

By seag47 — On Nov 14, 2011

I had never really noticed how keyboards and mouses were hooked up to my work computer until I went to clean my desk. I started to unhook them so that I could move them out of the way and dust, and I was surprised to find USB sockets there.

My coworker told me that I could actually unplug them, and I never knew that. I always thought they were permanently attached. She knew I didn't know a whole lot about computers, and when she saw me struggling to dust around them, she offered her advice.

At first, I was concerned that I might not know which hole to use to plug the mouse back into the keyboard, but then I discovered that there was only one hole shaped the right way to fit it. The USB socket had a unique rectangular shape.

By Perdido — On Nov 13, 2011

I have a separate USB socket in the back of my computer that I attach a memory card reader into. It rests on top of my modem. I use this whenever I want to download photos from my camera onto my computer.

My digital camera stores one hundred photos before I have to empty the memory card onto my hard drive. I usually do so more often than necessary, because I often have good photos I want to share, either by printing them out or emailing them.

I rarely pay attention to the back of my computer, but when I had to unhook something back there, I noticed that I actually have a couple more USB sockets available. My husband now uses one to plug his phone into and download photos he has stored on it.

By julies — On Nov 13, 2011

I am on the road quite a bit, and don't go anywhere without my laptop. Once of the best things I invested in was a plan from my cell phone company where I could get wireless internet anywhere I went.

If I am away from home, all I have to do is plug this into a USB socket on my laptop and I can get online.

I know there are many airports and hotels that offer high speed internet, but this give me my own secure connection that is so much better.

I also keep a lot of information stored on a flash drive and can just plug it in to any USB socket and have the information I need.

By SarahSon — On Nov 12, 2011

I remember when computers used to only have one or two USB ports to connect to. These were usually at the back of the computer and not very convenient to reach when you needed them.

Now most desktop computers have many USB ports and have several in front and in the back. It seems like you can never have too many places in the front of your computer to plug things in to.

One port in the front of my computer that is constantly in use is for my cordless mouse. Once I started using a cordless mouse, I have never gone back. They are so much easier to navigate with than one that has a cord attached.

The USB adapter is always plugged in to one of my ports so my mouse is always charged and ready to go.

By wander — On Nov 12, 2011

One of the best things you can buy if you travel a lot is to by a USB adapter that plugs into wall sockets. The one I have is a multi-prong adapter that can work in over 100 countries, making charging my tablet and other gadgets really easy.

There are some hotels out there that also have USB wall sockets so that you can easily charge your stuff, but unfortunately this is usually only true of higher end hotels. So unless you are always staying in five-star hotels you're best off buying a USB travel adapter.

By animegal — On Nov 11, 2011

@letshearit - It sounds to me like you have way too many USB cables running around your computer. What I would do is get a USB hub so that you can run multiple peripherals off of one USB socket.

A USB hub is basically like a power bar that you use to plug in all of the gadgets around your home when you run out of wall sockets. It is exactly the same principal.

You can get really neat USB hubs as well. The one I am using is really cute and looks like an octopus. There is no need for computer accessories to not be stylish.

By letshearit — On Nov 11, 2011

Does anyone know if you can have more USB jacks installed in your home desktop computer?

I am always running out of space to plug things into my computer. Between my USB mouse, keyboard, printer, scanner and camera, there is always something that gets left out of being connected.

It is a real pain to have to constantly switch things around when I want to do something in particular. This is doubly true when it comes to charging my MP3 player. I am hoping that I can find a way for me to be able to use most of my peripherals.

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