Skip the navigation


By Alexx Kay
September 3, 2001 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - To understand spooling, think of it as the process of reeling a document or task list onto a spool, like thread, so it can be unreeled at a more convenient time. Spooling is useful because devices access data at different rates. The spool buffer provides a waiting station where data can rest while a slower device, such as a printer, catches up. When the slower device is ready to handle a new job, it can read another batch of information from the spool buffer.

The term spool is actually an acronym - it stands for simultaneous peripheral operations online. The idea of spooling originated in the early days of computers, when input was read from punched cards for immediate printing (or for processing, followed by the immediate printing of the results).

Since computers operate at a much faster rate than I/O devices such as printers, it was more effective to store the read-in lines on a magnetic disk until they could be conveniently printed, when the printer was free and the computer wasn't so busy working on other tasks.

The most common form of spooling is print spooling. Documents that are to be printed are placed in a print queue and then printed one at a time as the printer becomes ready for them. Most often, they're printed on a first-come, first-served basis, but some systems allow documents to be prioritized so more important documents can be printed first. Modern printers do have memory buffers of their own, but frequently, they aren't large enough to hold entire documents (or multiple documents), requiring multiple I/O operations with the printer.

Print information for files containing pictures, color or complicated formatting can be very large and can take a long time to fully download to a printer. Since the print queue handles these multiple I/O operations in the background, a user can go on with other tasks while a document is still in the process of printing.

The Benefits

The spooling of documents for printing and batch job requests still goes on in mainframe computers where many users share a pool of resources. With the proliferation of low-cost printers, however, many users have printers of their own and need not share them with others. Even in this case, however, print spooling remains useful, because it allows users to continue working while printing in the background. Spooling even makes it possible to set up multiple print jobs at once without having to wait for each job to complete before starting the next.

Our Commenting Policies
Consumerization of IT: Be in the know
consumer tech

Our new weekly Consumerization of IT newsletter covers a wide range of trends including BYOD, smartphones, tablets, MDM, cloud, social and what it all means for IT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!