What Is Data Abstraction? (With Benefits And Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 August 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Data abstraction is the process of recognising important qualities of an object or a model and omitting its insignificant aspects. This is an important concept in computer science and problem-solving in general. Learning about data abstraction can help you design efficient products or create applications that offer a convenient user experience. In this article, we answer the question, 'What is data abstraction?', explore its many benefits, discover its types and share some examples of this concept.

What Is Data Abstraction?

The answer to the question, 'What is data abstraction?' is that it is the identification of elements in programming or designing that program designers hide, focusing on the interface. The process helps programmers to control the program's complexity by emphasising the most essential features. This programming and design tool allows designers to show users only the interface and hide how a machine or a system actually responds to the commands. This means that users know what a machine does but are unable to find out the specifications that make the machine function in a particular way.

For instance, you can attend a phone call without having to understand the science behind connectivity or signals. Similarly, atlases have maps of different areas, which usually show the most significant features of that geographical region. It may show mountain ranges, rivers or oceans but generally omits minor features, like ponds or arterial roads.

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Benefits Of Data Abstraction

Data abstraction can be crucial to developing user-centric technologies. Here are some prominent benefits of this tool:

Easier to operate

Data abstraction allows users to focus on a machine's basic functionality without having to understand its complex operation. With buttons, knobs or dials, users can easily operate the machine. Take the television remote, for example. On the remote, different controls show what they do, like turning on the television or increasing the volume. This is helpful information that applies to users. How the remote pairs with the television and what signals it emits to perform a function may be insignificant to a user.

The integrity of the device

With data abstraction, programmers protect the inner workings of a system. Suppose they develop a camera that records video footage with extreme clarity than any other video recording device. Consumers know what the camera does and how to operate it but do not know the programming code that enables the camera to record high-resolution videos. With data abstraction, developers preserve the code from being tampered with by users, which may cause glitches. It also allows them to prevent competitors from accessing the code and modifying it, which safeguards their inventions.

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Reusability of the data

Product developers or company officials are usually the only people who have access to the code for a device. Only these professionals know the inner workings of the product. With data abstraction, consumers remain unaware of the technical details, and companies can reuse the data without disrupting how consumers use their products. With data abstraction, companies and developers may also create objects having similar functions.

For example, a company has two video game controllers that have the same layout. If a customer uses either of the two, they may still understand the function of each button due to the similarity in their designs. As data abstraction helped developers to hide the wire framework of the first variant, they may reuse the data to develop the second variant that implements the same commands. This way, consumers can use different products and yet possess a basic understanding of how all of them function.

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Types Of Data Abstraction

Here are the main types of data abstraction:

  • Abstraction using classes: Programmers use classes to organise their data into categories. With access specifiers, the classes can decide what all functions a user may access and which functions remain isolated.

  • Abstraction through header files: Header files allow programmers to conceal the inner functions from users. This way, users know what an application does but do not know about the underlying algorithm that is performing a particular action.

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Layers Of Data Abstraction

Here are the three layers of data abstraction:

  • Physical: The lowest level of data abstraction is the physical layer. This layer governs the way a system stores the data.

  • Logical: The logical level shows the particular type of data in the storage and the connection between the data. Programmers use a logical layer to determine what data to keep.

  • View: The highest level of data abstraction is the view layer. It defines a portion of the entire database, enabling professionals to access the information whenever they require it.

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Examples Of Data Abstraction

Here are some examples of data abstraction in the field of technology and security:

Listening to music via headphones

When users listen to music on their smartphone using a pair of wireless headphones, then they know that they are required to enable the Bluetooth feature on the phone to establish a connection between the two devices. Headphones also usually have some buttons or touch gestures on the headphones with which users can control the headphones. To charge the battery, the headphones may have a charging port for this audio accessory.

Users can listen to the music without a wired connection, but data abstraction does not allow them to see how the connectivity or signals are working. For charging the battery as well, they do not know how the socket is transferring power through the charging cable. Programmers use data abstraction to give users the functions that matter to them, helping users to enjoy the product or operate it easily.

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Capturing a photograph on a smartphone

Most modern smartphones offer high-resolution photography features with advanced camera features. Users access the camera application on the phone and may choose to use its front-facing or rear-facing camera. There are several filters that users can choose to give a distinct effect to their photos. They may make it vivid or convert the photo into a black-and-white image.

The user has a robust camera on their phone, but data abstraction restricts them from accessing the camera modules or knowing how the lens of the camera is creating sharp images. Product developers use data abstraction to conceal the convex lens that takes real inverted images. They only allow users to utilise the camera's ability to take clear photos.

Playing video games on a handheld device

Several goals for software and hardware engineers remain the same when using data abstraction in the technology industry. For instance, many handheld gaming devices have a button that allows users to access the home screen and ports to plug in their headphones or a charging cable. Users may also be familiar with the screen recording feature of the device. When they click on a game application, they may recognise the button that shows different in-game settings.

Programmers use data abstraction to instal game updates on a user's device. These updates fix errors and improve the performance of the game, which may happen in the background. The user sees the improvements but does not have access to the code that fixes the bugs in the game. There are several functions that allow programmers to change the data without affecting the user experience.

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Withdrawing money from an ATM

Security technologists employ data abstraction techniques to protect a user's confidential banking details. The user knows how to insert their card into the automated teller machine (ATM), select the type of account they have and enter the passcode to withdraw the money. They also know how to change the passcode of their card or update their passbook using the ATM.

With data abstraction, users are not able to see how the machine is counting the currency notes or how the slot is ejecting the money out of the machine. They also do not see how the ATM is printing receipts or updating their passbooks. This also means that data abstraction allows users to keep their banking details confidential, preventing outsiders from accessing their funds.

Scanning identity cards before entering a facility

There are many offices or government facilities that require employees to use their identity cards to gain access to the premises. These buildings have scanning machines that scan the card's code and, after verifying it, give employees access to the building. These employees understand how to put the card on the scanning machine so that the device reads the code properly.

Employees may not be able to differentiate between the physical appearance of their card from that of their colleagues. Data abstraction helps scanners process the code on different identity cards and record the time and date the employee entered the premises. During this process, users only understand how to use their card to enter a building, but not how a scanning machine is transmitting signals.

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