Take the 2-minute tour ×
Super User is a question and answer site for computer enthusiasts and power users. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I saw the word "dongle" while reading, but what does it do? Why would you want to have one on your system?

share|improve this question

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

A dongle is a piece of hardware, now usually a USB device (in the past, they also connected to serial and LPT ports), that plugs into a computer to provide copy protection for a piece of software.

Usually they come with more expensive software packages to prevent piracy because you not only have to have the software installed, but that physical device (the dongle). So even if you gave your friend a copy of the software, you only have the one physical dongle to use it, and share.

You don’t really want to have one on your system…the software maker wants it. Most consumers hate them, but they since they are mostly on high-end software, they are seen more in businesses. Strange name, annoying devices, but effective.

For more info, go here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_protection_dongle

share|improve this answer
3  
They received that name because they were first invented bu Don Gaul. –  Xavierjazz Jul 2 '11 at 13:48
2  
"A 1992 advertisement for Rainbow Technologies claimed the word dongle was derived from the name "Don Gall". Though untrue, this has given rise to an urban myth.[5]" –  KCotreau Jul 2 '11 at 14:02

Dongle is essentially just a synonym for peripheral.

In the past, most dongles were connectors that plugged into the serial or parallel port to provide a means of enforcing copy-protection for expensive software (often 3D graphics packages, CAD programs, etc.) This was done because having the license enforcement code be in a piece of hardware as opposed to in a piece of software was presumed to be unhackable/uncrackable. (It was usually not very effective, and most of these programs were indeed cracked because regardless of the hardware, software entered the equation at some point, at which time the program became vulnerable—even hardware has been hacked like unlocking AMD CPUs for overclocking.)

These days, most dongles provide new functionality that is not built into the motherboard (eg Bluetooth, IRDA, etc.), or as receivers for wireless input devices. A while back, these devices would usually be somewhat bulky devices that sat on the desk, but they have since been miniaturized so that they are basically just a little plug on a USB port.

In either case, they are generally caps, containing all of their functionality, that connect to a system port and have nothing plugged into them (ie, a terminator). However, some dongles can have things plugged into them like keyloggers and audio adapters.

As you can see, the term dongle applies to adapters, receivers, transmitters, and so on. In other words, it is just a term that applies to any sort of (usually small) external hardware peripheral that connects to the system (generally, wireless devices are not considered dongles).


Softimage XSI parallel dongle:
enter image description here

Bluetooth serial dongle:
enter image description here

Remote Wonder USB receiver:
enter image description here

Remote Wonder II USB receiver:
enter image description here

PS/2 keylogger dongle:
enter image description here

USB keylogger dongle:
enter image description here

USB audio adapter:
enter image description here

share|improve this answer
    
+1 much better answer than the accepted one –  Colin Pickard Mar 13 '12 at 12:14
    
Oh, and the word itself is likely a reference to the fact that dongles dangle from the system. :-) –  Synetech Mar 13 '12 at 19:15

Dongles can also be used to give a non-Bluetooth computer Bluetooth capability. This is handy in a library setting for connecting a computer to a wireless scanner, for example. I have seen one used on an older laptop for inventory purposes.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.