Discrete-Time Impulse and Unit Step Functions

Discrete-Time Signals are understood as a set or sequence of numbers. These sequences possess magnitudes or values at a given index.

One mark of Discrete-Time Signals is that the index value is an integer. Thus, the sequence will have a magnitude or value for a whole number index such as -5, -4, 0, 6, 10000, etc.

A discrete-time signal represented as a sequence of numbers takes the following form:

x[n] = {x[n]},          -∞ < n < ∞,

where n is any real integer (the index).

An analog representation describes values of a signal at time nT, where T is the sampling period. The sampling frequency is the inverse of the sampling period.

x[n] = X_a(nT),      -∞ < n < ∞.


Common Sequences

Both a very simple and important sequence is the unit sample sequence, “discrete time impulse” or simply “impulse,” equal to 1 only at zero and equal to zero otherwise.


The discrete time impulse is used to describe an entire system using a delayed impulse. An entire sequence may also be shifted or delayed using the following relation:

y[n] = x[n – n0],

where n0 is an integer (which is the increment of indices by which the system is delayed. The impulse function delayed to any index and multiplied by the value of the system at that index can describe any discrete-time system. The general formula for this relationship is,


The unit step sequence is related to the unit impulse. The unit step sequence is a set of numbers that is equal to zero for all numbers less than zero and equal to one for numbers equal and greater than zero.


The unit step sequence is therefore equal to a sequence of delta impulses with a zero and greater delay.

u[n] = δ[n] + δ[n-1] + δ[n-2] + . . .


The unit impulse can also be represented by unit step functions:

δ[n] = u[n] – u[n-1].

Below I’ve plotted both the impulse and unit step function in matlab.


t = (-10:1:10)';

impulse = t==0;
unitstep = t>=0;

stem(t, impulse)
stem(t, unitstep)
title('Unit Step')



1 thought on “Discrete-Time Impulse and Unit Step Functions

  1. Pingback: Sinusoidal and Exponential Sequences, Periodicity of Sequences | RF/Photonics Lab

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