AskDefine | Define subsystem

Dictionary Definition

subsystem n : a system that is part of some larger system

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A group of related components that are part of a larger system.


  • Finnish: alajärjestelmä, osajärjestelmä

Extensive Definition

System (from Latin systēma, in turn from Greek systēma) is a set of interacting or interdependent entities, real or abstract, forming an integrated whole. The concept of an 'integrated whole' can also be stated in terms of a system embodying a set of relationships which are differentiated from relationships of the set to other elements, and from relationships between an element of the set and elements not a part of the relational regime.
There are natural and man-made (designed) systems. Man-made systems normally have a certain purpose, set of objectives. They are “designed to work as a coherent entity”. Natural systems may not have an apparent objective but they are sustainable, efficient and resilient. There are many kinds of systems.
A system is a fundamental concept of systems theory, which views the world as a complex system of interconnected parts. We determine a system by choosing the relevant interactions we want to consider plus choosing the system boundary —– or, equivalently, providing membership criteria to determine which entities are part of the system, and which entities are outside of the system and are therefore part of the environment of the system. We then make simplified representations (models) of the system in order to understand it and to predict or impact its future behavior.
An open system usually interacts with some entities in their environment. A closed system is isolated from its environment.
A subsystem is a set of elements, which is a system itself, and a part of a larger system.


The scientific research field which is engaged in the transdisciplinary study of universal system-based properties of the world is general system theory, systems science and recently systemics. They investigate the abstract properties of the matter and mind, their organization, searching concepts and principles which are independent of the specific domain, independent of their substance, type, or spatial or temporal scales of existence.
The term system has multiple meanings :
  1. A collection of organized things; as, a solar system.
  2. A way of organizing or planning.
  3. A whole composed of relationships among the members.
Most systems share the same common characteristics. These common characteristics include the following:
  1. Systems have a structure that is defined by its parts and processes.
  2. Systems are generalizations of reality.
  3. Systems tend to function in the same way. This involves the inputs and outputs of material (energy and/or matter) that is then processed causing it to change in some way.
  4. The various parts of a system have functional as well as structural relationships between each other.
The characteristics of systems have been studied in general systems theory.


The term System has a long history which can be traced back to the Greek language.
In the 19th century the first to develop the concept of a "system" in the natural sciences was the French physicist Sadi Carnot who studied thermodynamics. In 1824 he studied what he called the working substance (system), i.e. typically a body of water vapor, in steam engines, in regards to the system's ability to do work when heat is applied to it. The working substance could be put in contact with either a heat reservoir (a boiler), a cold reservoir (a stream of cold water), or a piston (to which the working body could do work by pushing on it). In 1850, the German physicist Rudolf Clausius generalized this picture to include the concept of the surroundings and began to use the term "working body" when referring to the system.
In the 1980s the term complex adaptive system was coined at the interdisciplinary Santa Fe Institute by John H. Holland, Murray Gell-Mann and others.

Types of systems

Evidently, there are many types of systems that can be analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively. For example, with an analysis of urban systems dynamics, [A.W. Steiss] defines five intersecting systems, including the physical subsystem and behavioral system. For sociological models influenced by systems theory, where Kenneth D. Bailey defines systems in terms of conceptual, concrete and abstract systems; either isolated, closed, or open, Walter F. Buckley defines social systems in sociology in terms of mechanical, organic, and process models. Bela H. Banathy cautions that with any inquiry into a system that understanding the type of system is crucial and defines Natural and Designed systems.
In offering these more global definitions, the author maintains that it is important not to confuse one for the other. The theorist explains that natural systems include sub-atomic systems, living systems, the solar system, the galactic system and the Universe. Designed systems are our creations, our physical structures, hybrid systems which include natural and designed systems, and our conceptual knowledge. The human element of organization and activities are emphazized with their relevant abstract systems and representations. A key consideration in making distinctions among various types of systems is to determine how much freedom the system has to select purpose, goals, methods, tools, etc. and how widely is the freedom to select distributed (or concentrated) in the system.
George J. Klir maintains that no "classification is complete and perfect for all purposes," and defines systems in terms of abstract, real, and conceptual physical systems, bounded and unbounded systems, discrete to continuous, pulse to hybrid systems, et cetera. The interaction between systems and their environments are categorized in terms of absolutely closed systems, relatively closed, and open systems. The case of an absolutely closed system is a rare, special case. Important distinctions have also been made between hard and soft systems. Hard systems are associated with areas such as systems engineering, operations research and quantitative systems analysis. Soft systems are commonly associated with concepts developed by Peter Checkland through Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) involving methods such as action research and emphasizing participatory designs. Where hard systems might be identified as more "scientific," the distinction between them is actually often hard to define.

Cultural system

A cultural system may be defined as the interaction of different elements of culture. While a cultural system is quite different from a social system, sometimes both systems together are referred to as the sociocultural system. A major concern in the social sciences is the problem of order. One way that social order has been theorized is according to the degree of integration of cultural and social factors.

Economic system

An economic system is a mechanism (social institution) which deals with the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services in a particular society. The economic system is composed of people, institutions and their relationships to resources, such as the convention of property. It addresses the problems of economics, like the allocation and scarcity of resources.

Application of the system concept

Generally systems modeling is a basic principle in engineering and in social sciences. The system is the representation of the entities under concern. Hence inclusion to or exclusion from system context is dependent of the intention of the modeler.
No model of a system will include all features of the real system of concern, and no model of a system must include all entities belonging to a real system of concern.

Systems in information and computer science

In computer science and information science, system could also be a method or an algorithm. Again, an example will illustrate: There are systems of counting, as with Roman numerals, and various systems for filing papers, or catalogues, and various library systems, of which the Dewey Decimal System is an example. This still fits with the definition of components which are connected together (in this case in order to facilitate the flow of information).
System can also be used referring to a framework, be it software or hardware, designed to allow software programs to run, see platform.

Systems in engineering

In engineering, the concept of a system is usually well defined. It is used in numerous different concrete contexts, and it is the subject of the basic engineering activities, such as: planning, design, implementation, building, and maintaining. Systems engineering is also a generalized theoretical branch of the different engineering approaches and paradigms.

Systems in social and cognitive sciences and management research

Social and cognitive sciences recognize systems in human person models and in human societies. They include human brain functions and human mental processes as well as normative ethics systems and social/cultural behavioral patterns.
In management science, operations research and organizational development (OD), human organizations are viewed as systems (conceptual systems) of interacting components such as subsystems or system aggregates, which are carriers of numerous complex processes and organizational structures. Organizational development theorist Peter Senge developed the notion of organizations as systems in his book The Fifth Discipline.
Systems thinking is a style of thinking/reasoning and problem solving. It starts from the recognition of system properties in a given problem. It can be a leadership competency. Some people can think globally while acting locally. Such people consider the potential consequences of their decisions on other parts of larger systems. This is also a basis of systemic coaching in psychology.
Organizational theorists such as Margaret Wheatley have also described the workings of organizational systems in new metaphoric contexts, such as quantum physics, chaos theory, and the self-organization of systems.
In modern systemic socio-cognitive engineering the concept system is generalized to so-called intelligence-based systems. The Top-down Object-based Goal-oriented Approach (TOGA meta-theory) integrates formally the concepts of system, process, function and goal in frame of one congruent conceptualization meta-system. Among others, this paradigm enables the computational analysis of heterogeneous human-organization-technology aggregates and recognition of their pathological properties such as organization vulnerability, crisis and changes .


  • Alexander Backlund, The definition of system, in: Kybernetes, (2000) Vol. 29 nr. 4, pp. 444-451.
  • Bela H. Banathy, "A Taste of Systemics", ISSS The Primer Project, 1997.
  • Kenneth D. Bailey, Sociology and the New Systems Theory: Toward a Theoretical Synthesis, New York: State of New York Press, 1994.
  • Walter F. Buckley, Sociology and Modern Systems Theory, New Jersey: Englewood Cliffs. 1967
  • Peter Checkland, Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 1997.
  • Flood, R.L. Rethinking the Fifth Discipline: Learning within the unknowable, London: Routledge, 1999.
  • George J. Klir, Approach to General Systems Theory, 1969.
  • Steiss, A.W. Urban Systems Dynamics, Toronto: Lexington Books, 1967.


External links

subsystem in Arabic: نظام
subsystem in Bosnian: Sistem
subsystem in Bulgarian: Система
subsystem in Catalan: Sistema
subsystem in Czech: Systém
subsystem in Danish: System
subsystem in German: System
subsystem in Estonian: Süsteem
subsystem in Modern Greek (1453-): Σύστημα
subsystem in Spanish: Sistema
subsystem in Esperanto: Sistemo
subsystem in Persian: سامانه
subsystem in French: Système
subsystem in Galician: Sistema
subsystem in Korean: 계 (물리학)
subsystem in Hindi: तंत्र
subsystem in Ido: Sistemo
subsystem in Indonesian: Sistem
subsystem in Italian: Sistema
subsystem in Hebrew: מערכת
subsystem in Latin: Systema
subsystem in Latvian: Sistēma
subsystem in Lithuanian: Sistema
subsystem in Hungarian: Rendszer
subsystem in Macedonian: Систем
subsystem in Dutch: Systeem (wetenschap)
subsystem in Japanese: システム
subsystem in Norwegian: System
subsystem in Polish: System
subsystem in Portuguese: Sistema
subsystem in Russian: Система
subsystem in Albanian: Sistemi
subsystem in Simple English: System
subsystem in Slovak: Systém (kybernetika)
subsystem in Slovenian: Sistem
subsystem in Serbian: Систем
subsystem in Finnish: Järjestelmä
subsystem in Swedish: System
subsystem in Tamil: ஒழுங்கமைப்பு
subsystem in Thai: การวิเคราะห์และออกแบบระบบ
subsystem in Vietnamese: Hệ thống
subsystem in Turkish: Sistem
subsystem in Ukrainian: Система
subsystem in Yiddish: סיסטעם
subsystem in Chinese: 系統
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