Meanings of Operator

By | September 26, 2021

What does an operator do?

An operator can be found in several places in the IT area, it can be people or code elements. Literally, these are “workers” who are responsible for the administration and execution of processes.

Operators can be found in many places in the IT sector. For example, they work in the field of databases , serve as comparison tools or are responsible for the functionality of systems. This is how we also know human operators: system administrators are examples of this. The variety of the occurrences of operators can best be explained by the meaning of the word – as well as their original origin in mathematics.

The word origin of operator

Operator comes from the Latin term “opus”. This word translates as “work”. However, this does not mean the general sense, but a precisely defined activity – for example the maintenance of a computer system with certain limits. If an operator is a person, it is a “worker” who has a specific task.

If it is not a question of a person, but of a program or a code module, it is a “work instruction”. Database operators are a good example of this: when a request is made, they are responsible for certain sub-steps in the execution. A distinction must be made between logical and physical operators. The first variant includes the mathematical operations. Physical operators implement logical operators.

Logical operators are for example:

  • Cross product
  • selection
  • Union
  • renaming
  • Difference formation

The easiest way to illustrate the interaction is with a street sign: the metal pipe and the material sign are physical operators. They ensure that an instruction can be given in the first place. The content of the sign, for example “Pay attention to the right of way”, is the logical operator that gives the work instruction.

The mathematical origin

In mathematics, operators are used to create new objects from existing ones. The best known examples are addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. These examples show rules that also apply to all operators in the IT area:

  • The rules are clearly identifiable and limited.
  • Operators can be linked or chained to one another.
  • Operators occur repeatedly.
  • The different combination of operators leads to new functions (for example 3 * 3 is not the same as 3 + 3).


In the IT area, the easiest way to differentiate between the individual operators is by means of their operands. Translated, this expression means “what is being worked with”. In mathematics, these are the so-called arguments: With 1 + 2, 1 and 2 are the operands and the addition sign is the operator.

In the IT area, the operators do not share operands directly. As an extreme example: A system administrator as a human operator works with certain software solutions or repairs hardware. A comparison operator that is used in internal calculations, on the other hand, is applied to several arguments and provides truth values . This is used to program loops or conditions.

As an example: If A> B, then C. applies. The> sign forms the comparison operator. A, B and C are the operands. As a concrete example: If the processor temperature A exceeds the prescribed maximum limit B, command C must be executed – starting the processor cooling.

Overall, the following applies: Operators ensure that processes run. However, the way in which they carry out the processes (or have them carried out) is determined.

Meanings of Operator