AskDefine | Define prototype

Dictionary Definition

prototype n : a standard or typical example; "he is the prototype of good breeding"; "he provided America with an image of the good father" [syn: paradigm, epitome, image]

User Contributed Dictionary





  1. An original object or form which is a basis for other objects, forms, or for its models and generalizations
  2. An early sample or model built to test a concept or process
    The prototype had loose wires and rough edges, but it worked.


Related terms

Extensive Definition

A prototype is an original type, form, or instance of something serving as a typical example, basis, or standard for other things of the same category. The word derives from the Greek πρωτότυπον (prototypon), "archetype, original", neutral of πρωτότυπος (prototypos), "original, primitive", from πρώτος (protos), "first" + τύπος (typos), "impression".


In semantics, prototypes or proto instances combine the most representative attributes of a category. Prototypes are typical instances of a category that serve as benchmarks against which the surrounding, less representative instances are categorized (see Prototype Theory).

Design and modeling

In many fields, there is great uncertainty as to whether a new design will actually do what is desired. New designs often have unexpected problems. A prototype is built to test the function and feel of the new design before starting production of a product. The construction of a fully working full-scale prototype, the ultimate test of concept, is the engineers' final check for design flaws and allows last-minute improvements to be made before larger production runs are ordered.
Building the full design is often expensive and can be time-consuming, especially when repeated several times -- building the full design, figuring out what the problems are and how to solve them, then building another full design. As an alternative, "rapid-prototyping" or "rapid application development" techniques are used for the initial prototypes, which implement part, but not all, of the complete design. This allows designers and manufacturers to rapidly and inexpensively test the parts of the design that are most likely to have problems, solve those problems, and then build the full design.
This counter-intuitive idea—that the quickest way to build something is, first to build something else—is shared by scaffolding and the telescope rule.

Mechanical and electrical engineering

The most common use of the word prototype is a functional, although experimental, version of a non-military machine (e.g., automobiles, domestic appliances, consumer electronics) whose designers would like to have built by mass production means, as opposed to a mockup, which is an inert representation of a machine's appearance, often made of some non-durable substance.
An electronics designer often builds the first prototype from breadboard or stripboard or perfboard, typically using "DIP" packages. However, more and more often the first functional prototype is built on a "prototype PCB" almost identical to the production PCB, as PCB manufacturing prices fall and as many components are not available in DIP packages, but only available in SMT packages optimized for placing on a PCB.
Builders of military machines and aviation prefer the terms "experimental" and "service test".

Computer programming

In many programming languages, a function prototype is the declaration of a subroutine or function. (This term is rather C/C++-specific; other terms for this notion are signature, type and interface.)
In prototype-based programming (a form of object-oriented programming), new objects are produced by cloning existing objects, which are called prototypes.
The term may also refer to the Prototype Javascript Framework.

Computer software engineering

In software engineering, a prototype generally refers either to a breadboard (or evolutionary) prototype or a throwaway (or one-off) prototype. Breadboard prototypes are often software in a development stage, focusing on a subset of the total requirements for a product. These prototypes usually are intended to evolve into the final design. Project managers may formally identify a software component as prototype to communicate with stakeholders that the component may or may not comprise the techniques ultimately allocated to the product design, or to meet business objectives.
It should not be assumed that the prototype is merely for testing concepts (throwaway). That would be an aspect of a "research" project or "proof of concept." Prototypes provide the software developers with a "working model" for demonstration or use by customers, quality-assurance, business analysts, and managers to confirm or make changes to requirements, help define interfaces, develop collaborating components, and to provide proof of incremental achievement of scheduled contractual agreements. Software prototyping serves any and all of these purposes in practice.
Extreme programming uses iterative design to gradually add one feature at a time to the initial prototype, attempting to minimize "irreducible complexity".
Continuous learning approaches within organizations or businesses may also use the concept of business or process prototypes through software models.

Scale modeling

In the field of scale modeling (which includes model railroading, vehicle modeling, airplane modeling, military modeling, etc.), a prototype is the real-world basis or source for a scale model—such as the real EMD GP38-2 locomotive—which is the prototype of Athearn's (among other manufacturers) locomotive model. Technically, any non-living object can serve as a prototype for a model, including structures, equipment, and appliances, and so on, but generally prototypes have come to mean full-size real-world vehicles including automobiles (the prototype 1957 Chevy has spawned many models), military equipment (such as M4 Shermans, a favorite among US Military modelers), railroad equipment, motor trucks, motorcycles, airplanes, and space-ships (real-world such as Apollo/Saturn Vs, or the ISS).
There is debate whether 'fictional' or imaginary items can be considered prototypes (such as Star Wars or Star Trek starships, since the feature ships themselves are models or CGI-artifacts); however, humans and other living items are never called prototypes, even when they are the basis for models and dolls (especially - action figures).
As of 2005, conventional rapid prototype machines cost around £25,000.


In the science and practice of metrology, a prototype is a human-made object that is used as the standard of measurement of some physical quantity to base all measurement of that physical quantity against. Sometimes this standard object is called an artifact. In the International System of Units (SI), the only prototype remaining in current use is the International Prototype Kilogram, a solid platinum-iridium cylinder kept at the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (International Bureau of Weights and Measures) in Paris (more precisely in Sèvres) that, by definition is the mass of exactly one kilogram. Copies of this prototype are fashioned and issued to many nations to represent the national standard of the kilogram and are periodically compared to the Paris prototype.
Until 1960, the meter was defined by a platinum-iridium prototype bar with two scratch marks on it (that were, by definition, spaced apart by one meter), the International Prototype Metre, and in 1983 the meter was redefined to be the distance covered by light in 1/299,792,458 of a second (thus defining the speed of light to be 299,792,458 meters per second).
It is widely believed that the kilogram prototype standard will be replaced by a definition of the kilogram that will define another physical constant (likely either Planck's constant or the elementary charge) to a defined constant, thus obviating the need for the prototype and removing the possibility of the prototype (and thus the standard and definition of the kilogram) changing very slightly over the years because of loss or gain of atoms.


In pathology, prototype refers to a disease, virus, etc which sets a good example for the whole category. For example, the vaccina virus is regarded as the virus prototype of poxviridae.

External links


prototype in Czech: Prototyp
prototype in Danish: Prototype
prototype in Spanish: Prototipo
prototype in Esperanto: Prototipo
prototype in French: Étalon (modèle)
prototype in Korean: 원형
prototype in Indonesian: Purwarupa
prototype in Italian: Prototipo
prototype in Hebrew: אבטיפוס
prototype in Lithuanian: Prototipas
prototype in Dutch: Prototype
prototype in Japanese: プロトタイプ
prototype in Polish: Prototyp
prototype in Portuguese: Protótipo
prototype in Slovak: Prototyp
prototype in Finnish: Prototyyppi
prototype in Swedish: Prototyp

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Geistesgeschichte, Hegelian idea, Kantian idea, Platonic form, Platonic idea, aesthetic form, analogue, ancestor, antecedent, antetype, antitype, archetype, art form, biotype, build, cast, classic, classic example, complex idea, configuration, conformation, criterion, cut, epitome, eternal object, eternal universal, example, exemplar, fashion, figuration, figure, first, foregoer, form, formal cause, format, formation, frame, fugleman, fugler, genotype, genre, highest category, history of ideas, ideal, idealism, ideate, ideatum, idee-force, illustration, imitatee, impression, innate idea, inner form, innovation, instance, layout, lead, make, makeup, masterpiece, masterwork, matrix, metaphor, mirror, modality, mode, model, mold, mould, new departure, noosphere, norm, noumenon, original, paradigm, paragon, pattern, pattern of perfection, percept, pilot model, precedent, precursor, predecessor, quintessence, referent, regulative first principle, representative, rule, sample, set, shape, significant form, simple idea, stamp, standard, structure, style, subsistent form, the Absolute, the Absolute Idea, the Self-determined, the realized ideal, transcendent idea, transcendent nonempirical concept, transcendent universal, turn, type, type species, type specimen, universal, universal concept, universal essence, urtext, very model
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