What is SAS?

SAS is distinctive and complex, making it difficult to define. In a nutshell, SAS is computer software for working with data. Or, SAS is a programmable integrated system of software published by SAS Institute Inc. for accessing, managing, analyzing, and reporting data. But even these simple assertions miss something.

Global Statements Dictionary provides a simple dictionary definition of SAS:


Looking in Wikipedia, you can see an example of the awkwardness people display when they try to say what SAS is. Wikipedia attempts to define SAS in 4GL terms (many, including the marketing department at SAS, would disagree with this approach). The result gives you a general working idea of some aspects of SAS but misses most of what SAS is:


(What is “4GL”? See SAS in Context.)

SAS, the makers of SAS, define SAS with the slogan “The Power to Know” (a registered trademark). Beyond that, they describe SAS as a set of products and solutions (see SAS Products) and as the leader in the business intelligence category (see SAS in Context).

SAS comes from SAS.

SAS Institute Inc., a privately held corporation based in Cary, North Carolina, is the developer and publisher of SAS software. For marketing purposes, the company prefers to be known simply as SAS. So we can say that SAS (the software company) makes SAS (its primary software product suite).

You can read volumes of material about SAS Institute, its philosophy, and the purpose of its software at the SAS marketing web site. This is also the place to go if you think you might want to license SAS for use in your business.


You will find that the site is directed squarely at the business management mindset. You should not conclude that SAS is all about business, only that SAS sees corporate management as its most important customer category.


You can better understand what SAS is if you know what these terms mean:


SAS is computer software. If you are new to the computer field, you need to know the distinction between software and hardware.

Computer hardware is the electronic equipment of a computer system. It’s what you see when you see a computer. Computer software is the programming that tells the computer what to do. It controls what you see on the screen and also what goes on behind the scenes to keep a computer running. It takes a combination of hardware and software for a computer system to take any action.


SAS is classified as proprietary software. This means it comes from one source. Copyright, trademark, and other laws prevent anyone else from making an alternate version or copy of SAS.

You have to pay SAS, one way or another, if you want to use SAS. But this assures that you are getting authentic SAS that will do the things you would expect SAS to do.

If you are curious about SAS trademarks, read about them on the SAS web site:




Software is called integrated when there are multiple software products that are designed to work together. In other words, you simply install them correctly, and they work together automatically. SAS is integrated software because in addition to base SAS, which is the product we talk about most of the time when we talk about SAS, there are dozens of other SAS products that you can add to get specific additional functionality.

For more, see:

SAS Products


When we say that SAS is programmable, it means you can write programs to tell SAS what to do. If you have been using computers but have not written more than a few computer programs yourself, they can seem more mysterious than they really are.

A program is a sequence of events that you decide on in advance. A computer program is written in a very precise way so that the computer can understand it (and at the same time, the programmer can also understand it). That is the purpose of a computer programming language.