Ask Difference

Port vs. Harbor — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on October 5, 2023
Port and Harbor both relate to water bodies where ships dock, but a port specifically denotes a facility for loading and unloading ships, while a harbor is a sheltered area of water where ships can anchor safely.
Port vs. Harbor — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Port and Harbor

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Key Differences

A "port" primarily refers to a man-made or natural facility where ships load and unload cargo or passengers. It serves as a critical junction between marine and land transportation. In contrast, a "harbor" is a natural or artificially created sheltered area of water where ships and boats can dock, anchor, and find refuge from storms. Both "port" and "harbor" play significant roles in maritime activities, but their primary functions differ.
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Oct 05, 2023
The word "port" often conjures images of bustling activity, cranes lifting containers onto ships, and vast areas designated for cargo storage. It's a point of convergence for goods and people. "Harbor", on the other hand, often carries a sense of calm, depicting images of anchored boats gently swaying with waves in a protected area. While both "port" and "harbor" are central to marine landscapes, a port typically embodies commerce, whereas a harbor denotes safety.
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Oct 05, 2023
In everyday language, the terms "port" and "harbor" might be used interchangeably. For example, someone might say, "Let's sail to the next port," even if they're merely referring to a sheltered anchorage. Yet, technically, a "port" emphasizes facilities and infrastructure for marine trade, and a "harbor" accentuates the protection it offers to vessels. Both "port" and "harbor" are integral to maritime communities, aiding in both commerce and safety.
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Oct 05, 2023
Certain locations might possess both a port and a harbor. For instance, a large sheltered bay (a harbor) might house a well-equipped facility on its shore where ships conduct trade (a port). Both "port" and "harbor" can coexist in the same geographical location, with the harbor providing natural protection and the port facilitating maritime trade.
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Comparison Chart

Primary Function

Facility for loading/unloading ships.
Sheltered area for ships to anchor or dock.
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Connotation

Trade, commerce, transportation.
Safety, refuge, anchorage.
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Construction

Can be natural or man-made.
Can be natural or artificially enhanced.
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Associated Activity

Cargo handling, passenger transit.
Anchoring, seeking shelter.
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Relation to Land

Directly linked to land-based transportation systems.
Might not always have land facilities.
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Compare with Definitions

Port

A place where ships load and unload goods or passengers.
The city's port is always bustling with activity.
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Harbor

To hold in the mind secretly.
She harbored a grudge for years.
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Port

A town or city with a harbor where ships dock.
We'll be visiting three ports during our cruise.
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Harbor

A sheltered area of water where ships can anchor or dock.
The boats sought refuge in the harbor during the storm.
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Port

A type of fortified wine from Portugal.
I enjoy a glass of port after dinner.
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Harbor

A place on the coast where vessels may find shelter.
The ship anchored overnight in a peaceful harbor.
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Port

A port is a maritime facility comprising one or more wharves or loading areas, where ships load and discharge cargo and passengers. Although usually situated on a sea coast or estuary, ports can also be found far inland, such as Hamburg, Manchester and Duluth; these access the sea via rivers or canals.
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Harbor

An area in a town or city alongside where ships dock.
The harbor district is known for its seafood restaurants.
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Port

A town or city with a harbour or access to navigable water where ships load or unload
The French port of Toulon
Port Elizabeth
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Harbor

A harbor (American English) or harbour (British English; see spelling differences) (synonym: haven) is a sheltered body of water where ships, boats, and barges can be docked. The term harbor is often used interchangeably with port, which is a man-made facility built for loading and unloading vessels and dropping off and picking up passengers.
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Port

A strong, sweet dark red (occasionally brown or white) fortified wine, originally from Portugal, typically drunk as a dessert wine
Tawny ports do not need decanting
They settled down to a final glass of port
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Harbor

A sheltered part of a body of water deep enough to provide anchorage for ships.
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Port

The side of a ship or aircraft that is on the left when one is facing forward
The ferry was listing to port
The port side of the aircraft
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Harbor

A place of shelter; a refuge.
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Port

An opening in the side of a ship for boarding or loading.
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Harbor

To give shelter to
Harbor refugees.
Harbor a fugitive.
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Port

A socket in a computer network into which a device can be plugged
A communications port for optional cellular and other wireless modules
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Harbor

To provide a place, home, or habitat for
A basement that harbors a maze of pipes.
Streams that harbor trout and bass.
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Port

A gate or gateway, especially into a walled city.
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Harbor

To entertain or nourish (a specified thought or feeling)
Harbor a grudge.
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Port

The position required by an order to port a weapon
Parker had his rifle at the port
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Harbor

(countable) Any place of shelter.
The neighborhood is a well-known harbor for petty thieves.
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Port

A person's carriage or bearing
She has the proud port of a princess
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Harbor

A sheltered expanse of water, adjacent to land, in which ships may anchor or dock, especially for loading and unloading.
A harbor, even if it is a little harbor, is a good thing, since adventurers come into it as well as go out, and the life in it grows strong, because it takes something from the world, and has something to give in return - Sarah Orne Jewett
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Port

A transfer of software from one system or machine to another
The first port of a commercial database to this operating system
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Harbor

A mixing box for materials.
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Port

A suitcase or travelling bag
She packed her ports and walked out
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Harbor

A house of the zodiac, or the mansion of a heavenly body.
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Port

Turn (a ship or its helm) to port
The yacht immediately raised all sail and ported her helm
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Harbor

Shelter, refuge.
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Port

Transfer (software) from one system or machine to another
The software can be ported to practically any platform
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Harbor

(transitive) To provide a harbor or safe place for.
The docks, which once harbored tall ships, now harbor only petty thieves.
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Port

Carry or convey
We ported the milk cans from the plentiful water supply of the gym
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Harbor

(intransitive) To take refuge or shelter in a protected expanse of water.
The fleet harbored in the south.
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Port

A place on a waterway with facilities for loading and unloading ships.
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Harbor

(transitive) To drive (a hunted stag) to covert.
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Port

A city or town on a waterway with such facilities.
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Harbor

(transitive) To hold or persistently entertain in one's thoughts or mind.
She harbors a conviction that her husband has a secret, criminal past.
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Port

The waterfront district of a city.
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Harbor

A station for rest and entertainment; a place of security and comfort; a refuge; a shelter.
[A grove] fair harbour that them seems.
For harbor at a thousand doors they knocked.
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Port

A place along a coast that gives ships and boats protection from storms and rough water; a harbor.
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Harbor

Specif.: A lodging place; an inn.
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Port

A port of entry.
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Harbor

The mansion of a heavenly body.
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Port

The left-hand side of a ship or aircraft facing forward. Also called larboard.
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Harbor

A portion of a sea, a lake, or other large body of water, either landlocked or artificially protected so as to be a place of safety for vessels in stormy weather; a port or haven.
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Port

An opening in a ship's side providing access to the interior.
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Harbor

A mixing box for materials.
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Port

A porthole.
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Harbor

To afford lodging to; to entertain as a guest; to shelter; to receive; to give a refuge to; to indulge or cherish (a thought or feeling, esp. an ill thought); as, to harbor a grudge.
Any place that harbors men.
The bare suspicion made it treason to harbor the person suspected.
Let not your gentle breast harbor one thought of outrage.
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Port

(Archaic) A cover for a porthole.
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Harbor

To lodge, or abide for a time; to take shelter, as in a harbor.
For this night let's harbor here in York.
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Port

An opening, as in a cylinder or valve face, for the passage of steam or fluid.
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Harbor

A sheltered port where ships can take on or discharge cargo
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Port

A hole in an armored vehicle or a fortified structure for viewing or for firing weapons.
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Harbor

A place of refuge and comfort and security
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Port

An entrance to or exit from a data network.
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Harbor

Maintain (a theory, thoughts, or feelings);
Bear a grudge
Entertain interesting notions
Harbor a resentment
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Port

A connection point for a peripheral device.
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Harbor

Secretly shelter (as of fugitives or criminals)
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Port

(Scots) A gateway or portal, as to a town.
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Harbor

Keep in one's possession; of animals
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Port

A rich sweet fortified wine.
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Harbor

Hold back a thought or feeling about;
She is harboring a grudge against him
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Port

The position of a rifle or other weapon when ported.
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Harbor

To give shelter or refuge.
The family harbored the fugitive.
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Port

The manner in which one carries oneself; bearing.
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Port

Of, relating to, or on the port.
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Port

To turn (a craft) or make a shift to the port side
Port the helm.
Ported sharply to avoid a shoal.
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Port

(Computers) To modify (software) for use on a different machine or platform.
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Port

To hold or carry (a weapon) diagonally across the body, with the muzzle or blade near the left shoulder.
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Port

A place on the coast at which ships can shelter, or dock to load and unload cargo or passengers.
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Port

A town or city containing such a place, a port city.
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Port

The left-hand side of a vessel, including aircraft, when one is facing the front. Used to unambiguously refer to directions relative to the vessel structure, rather than to a person or object on board.
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Port

(rowing) A sweep rower that primarily rows with an oar on the port side.
Each eight has four ports and four starboards.
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Port

An entryway or gate.
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Port

An opening or doorway in the side of a ship, especially for boarding or loading; an embrasure through which a cannon may be discharged; a porthole.
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Port

A space between two stones wide enough for a delivered stone or bowl to pass through.
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Port

An opening where a connection (such as a pipe) is made.
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Port

(computing) A logical or physical construct in and from which data are transferred. Computer port (hardware)
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Port

(computing) A female connector of an electronic device, into which a cable's male connector can be inserted.
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Port

Something used to carry a thing, especially a frame for wicks in candle-making.
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Port

(archaic) The manner in which a person carries himself; bearing; deportment; carriage. See also portance.
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Port

(military) The position of a weapon when ported; a rifle position executed by throwing the weapon diagonally across the front of the body, with the right hand grasping the small of the stock and the barrel sloping upward and crossing the point of the left shoulder.
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Port

(computing) A program that has been adapted, modified, or recoded so that it works on a different platform from the one for which it was created; the act of this adapting.
Gamers can't wait until a port of the title is released on the new system.
The latest port of the database software is the worst since we made the changeover.
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Port

A set of files used to build and install a binary executable file from the source code of an application.
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Port

A type of very sweet fortified wine, mostly dark red, traditionally made in Portugal.
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Port

(Australia) A suitcase or schoolbag.
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Port

(nautical) Of or relating to port, the left-hand side of a vessel when facing the bow.
On the port side
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Port

To turn or put to the left or larboard side of a ship; said of the helm.
Port your helm!
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Port

To carry, bear, or transport. See porter.
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Port

(military) To hold or carry (a weapon) with both hands so that it lays diagonally across the front of the body, with the barrel or similar part near the left shoulder and the right hand grasping the small of the stock; or, to throw (the weapon) into this position on command.
Port arms!
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Port

To adapt, modify, or create a new version of, a program so that it works on a different platform. Porting (computing)
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Port

To carry or transfer (an existing telephone number) from one telephone service provider to another.
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Port

To transfer a voucher or subsidy from one jurisdiction to another.
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Port

A dark red or purple astringent wine made in Portugal. It contains a large percentage of alcohol.
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Port

A place where ships may ride secure from storms; a sheltered inlet, bay, or cove; a harbor; a haven. Used also figuratively.
Peering in maps for ports and piers and roads.
We are in port if we have Thee.
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Port

In law and commercial usage, a harbor where vessels are admitted to discharge and receive cargoes, from whence they depart and where they finish their voyages.
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Port

A passageway; an opening or entrance to an inclosed place; a gate; a door; a portal.
Him I accuseThe city ports by this hath entered.
Form their ivory port the cherubimForth issuing.
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Port

An opening in the side of a vessel; an embrasure through which cannon may be discharged; a porthole; also, the shutters which close such an opening.
Her ports being within sixteen inches of the water.
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Port

A passageway in a machine, through which a fluid, as steam, water, etc., may pass, as from a valve to the interior of the cylinder of a steam engine; an opening in a valve seat, or valve face.
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Port

The manner in which a person bears himself; deportment; carriage; bearing; demeanor; hence, manner or style of living; as, a proud port.
And of his port as meek as is a maid.
The necessities of pomp, grandeur, and a suitable port in the world.
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Port

The larboard or left side of a ship (looking from the stern toward the bow); as, a vessel heels to port. See Note under Larboard. Also used adjectively.
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Port

To carry; to bear; to transport.
They are easily ported by boat into other shires.
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Port

To throw, as a musket, diagonally across the body, with the lock in front, the right hand grasping the small of the stock, and the barrel sloping upward and crossing the point of the left shoulder; as, to port arms.
Began to hem him round with ported spears.
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Port

To turn or put to the left or larboard side of a ship; - said of the helm, and used chiefly in the imperative, as a command; as, port your helm.
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Port

A place (seaport or airport) where people and merchandise can enter or leave a country
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Port

Sweet dark-red dessert wine originally from Portugal
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Port

An opening (in a wall or ship or armored vehicle) for firing through
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Port

The left side of a ship or aircraft to someone facing the bow or nose
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Port

(computer science) computer circuit consisting of the hardware and associated circuitry that links one device with another (especially a computer and a hard disk drive or other peripherals)
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Port

Transfer data from one computer to another via a cable that links connecting ports
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Port

Put or turn on the left side, of a ship;
Port the helm
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Port

Bring to port;
The captain ported the ship at night
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Port

Land at or reach a port;
The ship finally ported
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Port

Turn or go to the port or left side, of a ship;
The big ship was slowly porting
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Port

Carry, bear, convey, or bring;
The small canoe could be ported easily
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Port

Carry or hold with both hands diagonally across the body, especially of weapons;
Port a rifle
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Port

Drink port;
We were porting all in the club after dinner
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Port

Located on the left side of a ship or aircraft
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Port

The left-hand side of a ship when facing forward.
The lighthouse is on the port side.
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Port

An opening or interface on a computer or device for connecting external devices.
Plug the USB into the port on the laptop.
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Common Curiosities

Does a harbor always have facilities for ships?

Not always; while many harbors have facilities, some are merely sheltered areas for anchorage.
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Can a location have both a harbor and a port?

Yes, a sheltered bay (harbor) might house a facility (port) for maritime trade.
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Can the word "harbor" be used as a verb?

Yes, "harbor" can mean to give shelter or to secretly hold something in the mind.
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Is a port always man-made?

No, ports can be natural or man-made, but they usually have man-made facilities.
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What's the primary function of a harbor?

A harbor primarily offers shelter and safety for ships and boats.
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Is a port always associated with trade?

Primarily yes, ports are primarily for loading and unloading goods and passengers.
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Is the word "port" used in contexts other than maritime?

Yes, it can refer to wine, a computer interface, or the left side of a ship.
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What types of ships typically use harbors?

Various ships, from fishing boats to large vessels, might use harbors for anchorage or shelter.
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Can a harbor exist in a river?

Yes, a harbor can be any sheltered body of water, including areas within rivers.
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Do all ports have harbors?

Most ports are located within or near harbors for protection, but not every harbor has a port.
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Which is busier, a port or a harbor?

Generally, a port is busier due to trade activities, while a harbor focuses on shelter and safety.
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Is every coastal town with a docking facility a port?

Not necessarily. While many coastal towns have ports, others might have simple docking facilities without the infrastructure of a port.
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Why are harbors vital for maritime safety?

Harbors provide protection from storms, rough seas, and other maritime hazards.
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Can you have a port without a harbor?

It's rare, as ports usually need the shelter and safety that harbors provide.
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Which word, port or harbor, has a broader range of meanings?

Both have varied meanings, but "port" might have a broader range, including non-maritime contexts like wine or computer interfaces.
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Oct 05, 2023

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Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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