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Definition: platform


A hardware and/or software architecture that serves as a foundation or base. The term originally dealt with hardware and often still refers to only a CPU model or computer family. For example, the x86 PC is the world's largest desktop computer platform. The terms "platform" and "environment" are used interchangeably. See multiplatform, hardware platform and environment.

An Operating System Platform
An operating system often implies the CPU hardware. For example, when an application "runs on the Windows platform," it means that the program has been compiled into the x86 machine language and runs under Windows. It implies x86 because Windows has run on x86 machines for decades. However, it briefly ran on ARM CPUs with Windows RT, and as of 2018, Windows once again runs on ARM (see Windows 10 ARM).

The macOS operating system means Intel x86 hardware, although in the past, it ran on PowerPC and Motorola 68000 CPUs. The Android platform means the Android OS on ARM CPUs, while Apple's mobile platform runs iOS on ARM (see ARM).

With Unix, hardware is not implied. Unix applications run on almost every CPU family and are compiled into the machine language of that hardware. The phrase "the xyz app runs on Unix" typically implies multiple CPUs. See Unix.

Platforms Provide Interfaces
An application can also be a platform if it is a base for other programs. For example, Web browsers accept third-party plug-ins, and the browser application becomes a platform to interface with. Any software can be defined as a platform if it provides programming interfaces (APIs), which are a set of rules and codes that applications are written to interact with. Social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter provide APIs and are thus called "social media platforms." See application framework and online platform.