What does spooling mean on a printer?

So what exactly is printer spooling? (Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels)

Printers are amazing devices, churning out reams of documents and other material at the press of a button. However, most printers also have limited memory and can’t cope with loads of data at once. If you’ve a lot of stuff to print, your printer will need help, and that’s where spooling comes into play.

So what exactly is printer spooling?

Printer spooling functions as a repository for your printing requests. It stores your documents and then drip feeds them to your printer as needed. Using spooling avoids overwhelming the printer or holding up your computer while it waits for the printing to finish.

You could think of printer spooling much like a spool of thread on a sewing machine. As the machine sews, it feeds just the required amount of cotton from the reel, in the same way as the spooler sends the correct amount of documents to your printer. It’s possible the engineers who came up with spooling were thinking along similar lines, since they used the word spool as an acronym that actually means simultaneous peripheral operations online.

Other advantages of printer spooling include the ability to pause and cancel documents that are still waiting to be printed. In certain situations, mainly in large organisations, the spooler can also offer a printing priority. Prioritising means that certain users can jump the queue and get their documents printed more quickly than others.

I can’t print. Is this because of the spooler?

If your printer doesn’t spring to life after pressing the print button on your app, then the spooler may be to blame. In those situations, the best thing to try is a restart of your computer, printer and – if your printer is wireless – your router. On a computer running Windows 8 or above, make sure you do a restart rather than a shutdown. Otherwise, turn everything off, wait a few seconds, and turn it all back on in any order. Give everything five to ten minutes to warm up and, hopefully, the documents you were waiting for should start appearing from your printer.

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About the author

Mark Parvin

I have worked with and wrote about computers, video games and consumer tech for more years than I care to admit.
I currently run my own IT support business and write about the wonders of tech whenever I can.

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