encoding and decoding

Encoding is the process of putting a sequence of characters (letters, numbers, punctuation, and certain symbols) into a specialized digital format for efficient transmission or transfer. Decoding is the opposite process -- the conversion of a digital signal into a sequence of characters.

In computers, encoding is the process of putting a sequence of characters (letters, numbers, punctuation, and certain symbols) into a specialized format for efficient transmission or storage. Decoding is the opposite process -- the conversion of an encoded format back into the original sequence of characters. Encoding and decoding are used in data communications, networking, and storage. The term is especially applicable to radio (wireless) communications systems.

The code used by most computers for text files is known as ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange, pronounced ASK-ee). ASCII can depict uppercase and lowercase alphabetic characters, numerals, punctuation marks, and common symbols. Other commonly-used codes include Unicode, BinHex, Uuencode, and MIME. In data communications, Manchester encoding is a special form of encoding in which the binary digits (bits) represent the transitions between high and low logic states. In radio communications, numerous encoding and decoding methods exist, some of which are used only by specialized groups of people (amateur radio operators, for example). The oldest code of all, originally employed in the landline telegraph during the 19th century, is the Morse code.

The terms encoding and decoding are often used in reference to the processes of analog-to-digital conversion and digital-to-analog conversion. In this sense, these terms can apply to any form of data, including text, images, audio, video, multimedia, computer programs, or signals in sensors, telemetry, and control systems. Encoding should not be confused with encryption, a process in which data is deliberately altered so as to conceal its content. Encryption can be done without changing the particular code that the content is in, and encoding can be done without deliberately concealing the content.

This was first published in November 2005

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