The abacus also called a counting frame, is a calculating tool that was in use in the ancient Near East, Europe, China, and Russia, centuries before the adoption of the written Hindu–Arabic numeral system. The exact origin of the abacus is still unknown. Today, abacuses are often constructed as a bamboo frame with beads sliding on wires, but originally they were beans or stones moved in grooves of sand or on tablets of wood, stone, or metal.
Abacuses come in different designs. Some designs, like the bead frame consisting of beads divided into tens, are used mainly to teach arithmetic, although they remain popular in the post-Soviet states as a tool. Other designs, such as the Japanese soroban, have been used for practical calculations even involving several digits. For any particular abacus design, there are usually numerous different methods to perform a certain type of calculation, which may include basic operations like addition and multiplication, or even more complex ones, such as calculating square roots. Some of these methods may work with non-natural numbers (numbers such as 1.5 and 3⁄4).
Although today many use calculators and computers instead of abacuses to calculate, abacuses still remain in common use in some countries. Merchants, traders and clerks in some parts of Eastern Europe, Russia, China and Africa use abacuses, and they are still used to teach arithmetic to children. Some people who are unable to use a calculator because of visual impairment may use an abacus.