Image from Pixabay
There are many different codes used in computer programming. One such example of those is alphanumeric codes, also known as character codes.
These codes go beyond the traditional numeric representations found in more basic systems because they allow for the representation of both characters and letters, which then allows for the expression of more information.
These codes have been in use for some time and for good reason. They are much more effective than numeric codes.
This guide will break down the codes to explain why that is.
Alphanumeric Code: More Than Just Numbers
When computers were first invented, their only purpose was to compute calculations. A user would input information and the system would organize it in a way that made sense.
That system was mainly used for numbers in order to make sense of different equations.
However, as time has gone on and computer calculations have gotten more complex, researchers needed a way to go beyond numbers.
Computers are digital systems, which means they are only able to deal or work with 1s and 0s. The alphanumeric code gets around that by allowing them to work in both letters and symbols.
The Definition Of Alphanumeric Code
At their base, alphanumeric codes are binary codes that represent different alphanumeric (meaning more than numeric) data in a form that is only understood and representable by a computer.
That can include numbers, but it also expands to letters, punctuation marks, and mathematical symbols. It also encapsulates more common symbols like #, @, and &.
Those extra symbols are instrumental in allowing input-output devices like keyboards and monitors to interface with the computer. In addition, they enable stronger passwords and generate a tighter layer of security.
They can even be used to create file names and are instrumental in building up a stronger system through programming.
The Power Of Alphanumeric Characters
All instructions, regardless of code, need to be written to computers in the form of numbers. That is the only language they understand, and it is the basis of all modern computing.
To get around that and create more detailed processes, programmers use alphanumeric code to create what is known as alphanumeric characters.
That creates representations of what humans see as alphabet characters and then sends them to the system.
For instance, though computers only recognize 0s and 1s, binary code can be used to create various letters of the alphabet. For example, in binary, the letter “A” is represented as 01000001.
Our eyes see that as a string of numbers, but a computer can read it as a letter. String enough such patterns together and you get an entire word.
Alphanumeric Shellcode To Enhance Security
The alphanumeric code has many advantages over more basic options, and one of the most striking is how well it advances security.
The representation of both letters and characters allows for more patterns, which creates stronger, more secure systems.
Perhaps the best example of this is in passwords and usernames.
Rather than just typing solely in numbers, users are encouraged to mix in alphanumeric characters to make their information more complex. That makes passwords much harder to crack and more resilient to outside attacks.
That security is furthered through alphanumeric shellcode, which is a shellcode that consists of or assembles itself on execution into entirely alphanumeric ASCII or Unicode characters like A through Z or 0 to 9.
Those different options are useful when it comes to creating a code that avoids detection or needs to pass through filters that scrub non-alphanumeric characters from strings.
A similar encoding type known as printable code can even use all printable characters to create a shellcode that is similar to normal English text.
The Origin Of Alphanumeric Code (Morse)
To understand why the alphanumeric code is so useful, we first need to look back into the past.
The first example of the code came about with the Morse Code in 1837, which was the first alphanumeric system used in telecommunication.
Though it may be hard to see the link between the Morse code and modern computing, the system utilized a standardized sequence of short and long elements in order to represent letters, numerals, and special characters in the exact same way modern alphanumeric code does.
While a computer can use 0s and 1s to create a word, Morse created letters through a series of dots and dashes. For instance, the letter “A” is represented from a dot followed by a dash, while “5” is shown by five dots in a row.
This is the principle behind modern alphanumeric code, and it reveals what makes it so useful.
Rather than being confined to one set of characters or a single system, the different combinations allow many characters to be created from two basic symbols.
In Morse, those two symbols are a dot and a dash. In computers, they are a 0 and 1.
American Standard Code For Information Interchange
Alphanumeric codes went through many evolutions over the years, but they eventually settled into the main systems we use today.
One instance of that is the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII), which is yet another way programmers apply alphanumeric characters to computing.
This form is one of the oldest alphanumeric codes out there, and it works for both upper case and lower case numbers.
If you wanted to write out the word “red,” you would use the numbers 82, 69, and 68. However, you could also spell out the color in all lower case with the numbers 114, 101, and 100.
While those representations only come out as numbers when typing on a keypad, you can get ASCII code when working in any text-only program like Notepad.
From there, you can get the application to convert the code into alphanumeric characters by hitting the “Alt” key and using the numeric keypad while typing.
This system is efficient and helps programmers quickly write out words or instructions. For that reason, it is used in personal computers and workstations.
Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code
The other popular alphanumeric code used today is Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code (EBCDIC), which is key for the transfer of alphanumeric data.
This 8-bit code is unique because it represents the numerals 0 to 9 by the 8421 BCD code preceded by 1111. That allows it to represent 23 (=256) different characters that include both lowercase and uppercase letters, symbols, and various commands.
As EBCDIC was designed by IBM, it is used by several of their models. Rather than use a straight binary sequence to represent characters like in ASCII code, this 8-bit can be easily split into groups of 4.
That feature allows it to represent hexadecimal digits, which then reduces the number of digits used to represent different characters.
That makes it much easier to decode if anyone wants to take a look at the internal representation in memory.
Fixing Issues With UNICODE
Though ASCII and EBCDIC encodings are some of the best and most widely used alphanumeric codes in modern technology, they do have a few limitations.
Neither of them has a sufficient number of characters to encode alphanumeric data across all forms, scripts, and languages. That stops them from permitting multilingual computer processing.
In addition, as both codes use some of the same symbols, they are not compatible. What might mean a letter in one code could lead to an entirely different symbol in the other.
To get around such issues, the Unicode Consortium and the International Organization for Standardization created UNICODE (also called universal code).
This code is a 16-bit, which gives it the ability to represent a whopping 65536 different characters. That provides it with a strict advantage over more basic options by simply expanding what it can do.
Not only can it be used for English, but it also allows computers to use text in many different languages and forms.
It has the ability to support a comprehensive set of mathematical and technical symbols as well.
The Different Uses Of UNICODE
As it is so versatile and far-reaching, UNICODE has many important applications.
First, more and more companies are using it for both internal processing and text storage. Some common systems, including Windows NT, follow Unicode as the sole internal character encoding.
Furthermore, all internet consortium recommendations have used it as their document character since the development of HTML 4.0.
That, combined with the fact that is works to address the new line problem that occurs when trying to read a text file on different platforms, is why it is being adopted by so many industry leaders and tech giants.
Characters And Letters Galore
There is no doubt that alphanumeric code has multiple advantages over other code types. It is one of the hallmarks of modern systems and allows programmers to interact with systems in a more complex way.
While numeric codes were fine back when computers were less advanced, a more complex system perfectly fits into a more complex world.