In computer science, spooling refers to a process of transferring data by placing it in a temporary working area where another program may access it for processing at a later point in time. The term "spool" is an acronym of "Simultaneous Peripheral Operation On Line". The normal English verb "spool" can refer to the action of a storage device that incorporates a physical spool or reel, such as a tape drive; the acronym was presumably contrived by analogy.
Acronym for simultaneous peripheral operations on-line, spooling refers to putting jobs in a buffer, a special area in memory or on a disk where a device can access them when it is ready. Spooling is useful because devices access data at different rates. The buffer provides a waiting station where data can rest while the slower device catches up.
This temporary working area could be a file or storage device, but probably not a buffer. Usual uses of the term spooling apply to situations where there is little or no direct communication between the program writing the data and the program reading it. Spooling is often used when a device writes data faster than a target device can read it, allowing the slower device to work at its own pace without requiring processing to wait for it to catch up. Data is only modified through addition or deletion at the ends of the area, i.e., there is no random access or editing.
The most common spooling application is print spooling: documents formatted for printing are stored onto a buffer (usually an area on a disk) by a fast processor and retrieved and printed by a relatively slower printer at its own rate. As soon as the fast processor has written the document to the spool device it has finished with the job and is fully available for other processes. One or more processes may rapidly write several documents to a print queue without waiting for each one to print before writing the next. Spooler or print management software may allow priorities to be assigned to jobs, notify users when they have printed, distribute jobs among several printers, allow stationery to be changed or select it automatically, generate banner pages to identify and separate print jobs, etc.
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