In a digital circuit, counters are used to do 3 main functions: timing, sequencing and counting.
A timing problem might require that a high-frequency pulse train, such as the output of a 10-MHz crystal oscillator, be divided to produce a pulse train of a much lower frequency, say 1 Hz. This application is required in a precision digital clock, where it is not possible to build a crystal oscillator whose natural frequency is 1 Hz.
A sequencing problem would arise if, for instance, it became necessary to apply power to various components of a large machine in a specific order. The starting of a rocket motor is an example where the energizing of fuel pumps, ignition, and possibly explosive bolts for staging must follow a critical order.
Measuring the flow of auto traffic on roadway is an application in which an event (the passage of a vehicle) must increment a tally. This can be done automatically with an electronic counter triggered by a photocell or road sensor. In this way, the total number of vehicles passing a certain point can be counted.