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What is Batch Processing?

By S. Zaimov
Updated May 16, 2024
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A handy way of optimizing a computer's performance and saving time is batch processing. Unlike interactive processing that prompts the human user for a command, batch processing stores up several tasks and executes them while the computer is idle. This frees up memory for more exhaustive programs and speeds up productivity.

Batch processing can go unmonitored and only stops when it encounters an error or completes all tasks in the script. It allows the user to redistribute his or her computer’s resources amongst the programs he or she desires, and it takes full advantage of the processor’s capabilities. The drawbacks are that undesired commands may be executed without the user’s knowledge.

The name stems from the time users would manually enter programs on punch cards and the system operator would feed them in batches to the computer. Computer prices were very high in the 1950s, so this method was one of the main ways of optimizing time and money, making computers economical. In those days, however, not many systems had the capability of loading multiple programs.

Since the development of personal computers, frequently performed tasks have been stored in "batch files" or "scripts" scheduled to be performed at a later time. Command interpreters read these files, but sometimes the process is executed by graphical user interface (GUI) applications that define mouse actions. The recorded sequence of GUI actions are given the name "macro" and exist only in memory.

Today the process is used in several different ways. A batch processing system is one of the prime tools for the image-editing program Adobe® Photoshop®. Instead of manually playing around with each image, this tool can rotate, resize, and rename as many as the user requires at once. The automatic changes that can be made extend to correcting the color, tweaking the filters, and transformations. This system has contributed to eliminating redundant tasks such as repeating the same step over and over again.

File batch processing can convert several computer files to different formats all at once. This saves time by eliminating the need for the user to convert each file individually. Updates to a database and transaction processing can also save time by being processed in the same script.

One example of batch processing are monthly bills. Credit card companies do not provide customers a paper bill for every transaction they make, but store the data to be sent out in batches at the end of the month. Electric bills, rent, and hourly salaries all work on the same principle.

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Discussion Comments
By Perdido — On Jun 30, 2012

You have to be careful with batch processing, especially when you are doing a batch resize. As many people may know, once you make an image smaller, you cannot resize it to make it larger without losing image quality. It will become blurry and pixelated if you do.

Before I came to this knowledge, I had a folder full of house photos that needed resizing before I could put them in a page layout for a realty company's magazine ad. I thought that the realtor who took the photos had used the same setting for every one of them, so after resizing a couple of the tremendously large photos down to fit in the space, I decided to set up a batch resize.

I didn't realize until afterward that many of the photos were much smaller than the original few I had resized manually, so I ruined a bunch of photos. It's a good thing that I still had the CD with the original photos on it, or else the realtor would have had to re-shoot all the houses.

By cloudel — On Jun 29, 2012

I had never thought of emailed credit card bills as a form of automatic batch processing, but I suppose it's true. The only time I receive any notification about one single transaction is if there is reason to believe that it was made fraudulently. Otherwise, I get my statement emailed to me on the 27th of every month.

Since I know that I will be getting this batch of transaction details only once a month, I often log into my account on the site to check my balance. I just want to have an idea of how much I will be owing ahead of time, instead of getting shocked when the day arrives.

I do use my card rather frequently, so the company has quite a batch to process! It's okay, though, because I never buy more than I can pay off by the due date.

By wavy58 — On Jun 29, 2012

@kylee07drg – I haven't done a whole lot of work with Photoshop, but my computer does use Photoshop Elements when getting the photos off of my digital camera card. This program automatically does batch processing of images that it downloads.

Even if I have dozens of photos on the card, batch processing will eliminate red eye in all of them, and I don't even have to ask. It will also save them all as the same resolution and color mode.

This is helpful when I want to print some out, because I know that they will all be the same size. I love programs that handle batch processing for me, because I'm no photo genius.

By kylee07drg — On Jun 28, 2012

I remember hearing about image batch processing with Adobe Photoshop at a newspaper conference. I was a graphic designer at a paper then, and all the workers at all the papers across the state met at this conference to learn about our profession.

Even though I had been very familiar with Photoshop already, I didn't know a thing about batch processing until the speaker revealed it to us. He mentioned those large car dealership ads that we designers frequently have to do that contain fifty to a hundred photos of cars, and he said that batch processing could save us so much time when doing these ads.

With batch processing, we could save all the photos in the same file format at once. We could also convert all of them to CMYK, and this was helpful, since most of them came to us in RGB mode.

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