Encoding is the process of converting data into a different format. When you convert temperature readings from Celsius to Fahrenheit or money from Japanese yen to U.S. dollars, the original values remain the same. They are just represented in a different form.

In the world of computers, encoding works in the same way. The computer converts data from one form to another. It does this to save on storage space or make transmission more efficient.

One example of encoding is when you convert a huge .WAV audio file to a tiny .MP3 file that you can easily send to a friend via email. The files are encoded in different formats but will play the same song.

Other interesting terms…

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What Is the Purpose of Encoding?

The primary purpose of encoding is to make data safely and adequately consumable by different users using various systems. The idea is to make the data readable and available to all possible end-users. The process can be likened to effectively translating text from Hebrew, for instance, to English, making the information digestible for more users.

Without character encoding, a website will display text a lot differently than intended. Improper encoding spoils text readability, which may also result in search engines failing to display data correctly or machines to process inputs incorrectly.

What Are the Different Types of Encoding Standards?

American Standard Code for Information Interchange 

The American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) is the most commonly used language by computers for text files. It was developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). It represents alphabetic characters (both lowercase and uppercase), numerals, symbols, and punctuation marks using seven-bit binary numbers (strings made up of combinations of seven 0s or 1s). ASCII has 128 characters.

Unicode Encoding

The Unicode standard is a universal character set that allows writing in most languages on computers. It is categorized into 8-, 16-, and 32-bit character sets, amounting to over a billion characters.

URL Encoding

Uniform resource locator (URL) encoding, also known as “percent encoding,” is often done when some characters can’t be included in URLs. URL encoding thus allows unrecognized ASCII characters to be represented in the Unicode format so all computers can read them.

Base64 Encoding

Before, Base64 was only used to represent binary data in printable characters. It is commonly used in basic HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) authentication when encoding user credentials. It is also used to encode email attachments to allow their transmission over the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) and send binary data within cookies to make it less readable to tamperers.

Most mail systems can’t deal with binary data. Without Base64 encoding, images or other files sent become corrupted. Computers deal with data in bytes, making ASCII unsuitable for transmission.

What Is the Difference between Encoding and Decoding?

Encoding refers to converting data into a different form, while decoding is the opposite—data is converted back to its original form.

For computers, the encoding process happens every time you store a file. Since they can only understand series of 0s and 1s, your files are converted to such a format. When you view the file, the computer decodes it back to its original format to make the file human-readable.

what is encoding

What Is Encoding in Human Communication?

The process comes so naturally in human communication that we seldom pay attention to it. Still, encoding happens every time we formulate a message, whether vocally or digitally. When you type a text message to a friend, encoding happens as you think about how to phrase the message.

When your friend receives the message, he or she tries to understand its meaning. In essence, he or she decodes the message.

What Is Encoding in Data Communications?

Encoding in data communications is the process of converting data into digital signals or values that computers can understand. As previously mentioned, these are series of binary digits whose value can only be 0 or 1.

What Is Encoding in Programming?

Encoding in programming is the critical process of converting data into different formats to make it easier to transmit over a network. The process can differ depending on the programming language.

For instance, encoding in Python occurs when transferring an instance through a network. On the other hand, encoding in Java happens when transferring data over the Internet.

Key Takeaways

  • Encoding is simply converting data to different formats to make it easier to transmit.
  • Encoding and decoding are opposite processes.
  • Computers can only understand binary digits, making encoding essential.
  • Encoding happens in day-to-day communication with other people as well as in computers and programming languages.