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Connectivity and communication protocols of Mouse

A Microsoft wireless Arc mouse

To transmit their input, typical cabled mice use a thin electrical cord terminating in a standard connector, such as RS-232C, PS/2, ADB or USB. Cordless mice instead transmit data via infrared radiation (see IrDA) or radio (including Bluetooth), although many such cordless interfaces are themselves connected through the aforementioned wired serial buses.

While the electrical interface and the format of the data transmitted by commonly available mice is currently standardized on USB, in the past it varied between different manufacturers. A bus mouse used a dedicated interface card for connection to an IBM PC or compatible computer.

Mouse use in DOS applications became more common after the introduction of the Microsoft mouse, largely because Microsoft provided an open standard for communication between applications and mouse driver software. Thus, any application written to use the Microsoft standard could use a mouse with a Microsoft compatible driver (even if the mouse hardware itself was incompatible with Microsoft's). An interesting footnote is that the Microsoft driver standard communicates mouse movements in standard units called "mickeys".

Serial interface and protocol

Standard PC mice once used the RS-232C serial port via a D-subminiature connector, which provided power to run the mouse's circuits as well as data on mouse movements. The Mouse Systems Corporation version used a five-byte protocol and supported three buttons. The Microsoft version used an incompatible three-byte protocol and only allowed for two buttons. Due to the incompatibility, some manufacturers sold serial mice with a mode switch: "PC" for MSC mode, "MS" for Microsoft mode.

PS/2 interface and protocol

With the arrival of the IBM PS/2 personal-computer series in 1987, IBM introduced the eponymous PS/2 interface for mice and keyboards, which other manufacturers rapidly adopted. The most visible change was the use of a round 6-pin mini-DIN, in lieu of the former 5-pin connector. In default mode (called stream mode) a PS/2 mouse communicates motion, and the state of each button, by means of 3-byte packets. For any motion, button press or button release event, a PS/2 mouse sends, over a bi-directional serial port, a sequence of three bytes, with the following format:

Bit 7 Bit 6 Bit 5 Bit 4 Bit 3 Bit 2 Bit 1 Bit 0
Byte 2 X movement
Byte 3 Y movement

Here, XS and YS represent the sign bits of the movement vectors, XV and YV indicate an overflow in the respective vector component, and LB, MB and RB indicate the status of the left, middle and right mouse buttons (1 = pressed). PS/2 mice also understand several commands for reset and self-test, switching between different operating modes, and changing the resolution of the reported motion vectors.

In Linux, a PS/2 mouse is detected as a /dev/psaux device.

A Microsoft IntelliMouse relies on an extension of the PS/2 protocol: the ImPS/2 or IMPS/2 protocol (the abbreviation combines the concepts of "IntelliMouse" and "PS/2"). It initially operates in standard PS/2 format, for backwards compatibility. After the host sends a special command sequence, it switches to an extended format in which a fourth byte carries information about wheel movements. The IntelliMouse Explorer works analogously, with the difference that its 4-byte packets also allow for two additional buttons (for a total of five).

The Typhoon mouse uses 6-byte packets which can appear as a sequence of two standard 3-byte packets, such that an ordinary PS/2 driver can handle them.

Mouse vendors also use other extended formats, often without providing public documentation.

For 3-D (or 6-degree-of-freedom) input, vendors have made many extensions both to the hardware and to software. In the late 1990s Logitech created ultrasound based tracking which gave 3D input to a few millimetres accuracy, which worked well as an input device but failed as a profitable product. In 2008, Motion4U introduced its "OptiBurst" system using IR tracking for use as a Maya (graphics software) plugin.

Apple Desktop Bus

Apple Macintosh Plus mice (left) Beige mouse (right) Platinum mouse 1986

In 1986 Apple first implemented the Apple Desktop Bus allowing the daisy-chaining together of up to 16 devices, including arbitrarily many mice and other devices on the same bus with no configuration whatsoever. Featuring only a single data pin, the bus used a purely polled approach to computer/mouse communications and survived as the standard on mainstream models (including a number of non-Apple workstations) until 1998 when iMac joined the industry-wide switch to using USB. Beginning with the "Bronze Keyboard" PowerBook G3 in May 1999, Apple dropped the external ADB port in favor of USB, but retained an internal ADB connection in the PowerBook G4 for communication with its built-in keyboard and trackpad until early 2005.


The industry-standard USB protocol and its connector have become widely used for mice; it's currently among the most popular types.

Cordless or wireless

A wireless mouse made for notebook computers

Cordless or wireless mice transmit data via infrared radiation (see IrDA) or radio (including Bluetooth). The receiver is connected to the computer through a serial or USB port. The newer nano receivers were designed to be small enough to remain connected in a laptop or notebook computer during transport, while still being large enough to easily remove.


A mouse typically controls the motion of a cursor in two dimensions in a graphical user interface (GUI). Clicking or hovering (stopping movement while the cursor is within the bounds of an area) can select files, programs or actions from a list of names, or (in graphical interfaces) through small images called "icons" and other elements. For example, a text file might be represented by a picture of a paper notebook, and clicking while the cursor hovers this icon might cause a text editing program to open the file in a window.

Users can also employ mice gesturally; meaning that a stylized motion of the mouse cursor itself, called a "gesture", can issue a command or map to a specific action. For example, in a drawing program, moving the mouse in a rapid "x" motion over a shape might delete the shape.

Gestural interfaces occur more rarely than plain pointing-and-clicking; and people often find them more difficult to use, because they require finer motor-control from the user. However, a few gestural conventions have become widespread, including the drag-and-drop gesture, in which:

  1. The user presses the mouse button while the mouse cursor hovers over an interface object
  2. The user moves the cursor to a different location while holding the button down
  3. The user releases the mouse button

For example, a user might drag-and-drop a picture representing a file onto a picture of a trash can, thus instructing the system to delete the file.

Other uses of the mouse's input occur commonly in special application-domains. In interactive three-dimensional graphics, the mouse's motion often translates directly into changes in the virtual camera's orientation. For example, in the first-person shooter genre of games (see below), players usually employ the mouse to control the direction in which the virtual player's "head" faces: moving the mouse up will cause the player to look up, revealing the view above the player's head. A related function makes an image of an object rotate, so that all sides can be examined.

When mice have more than one button, software may assign different functions to each button. Often, the primary (leftmost in a right-handed configuration) button on the mouse will select items, and the secondary (rightmost in a right-handed) button will bring up a menu of alternative actions applicable to that item. For example, on platforms with more than one button, the Mozilla web browser will follow a link in response to a primary button click, will bring up a contextual menu of alternative actions for that link in response to a secondary-button click, and will often open the link in a new tab or window in response to a click with the tertiary (middle) mouse button.

Different ways of operating the mouse cause specific things to happen in the GUI:

  • Click: pressing and releasing a button.
    • (left) Single-click: clicking the main button.
    • (left) Double-click: clicking the button two times in quick succession counts as a different gesture than two separate single clicks.
    • (left) Triple-click: clicking the button three times in quick succession.
    • Right-click: clicking the secondary button.
    • Middle-click: clicking the ternary button.
  • Drag: pressing and holding a button, then moving the mouse without releasing. (Use the command "drag with the right mouse button" instead of just "drag" when you instruct a user to drag an object while holding the right mouse button down instead of the more commonly used left mouse button.)
  • Button chording (a.k.a. Rocker navigation).
    • Combination of right-click then left-click.
    • Combination of left-click then right-click or keyboard letter.
    • Combination of left or right-click and the mouse wheel.
  • Clicking while holding down a modifier key.

Standard semantic gestures include:

  • Rollover
  • Selection
  • Menu traversal
  • Drag and drop
  • Pointing
  • Goal crossing