#WhatIs: What is Data Encoding?

Encoding is the process of converting data into a format required for a number of information processing needs. In this Internet Age, we use a lot of smart devices for various communication purposes to transmit and receive carious forms of data. 

By Cisco Eng. Shingie Lev Muringi 

So have you ever imagined how these smart devices communicate behind the scenes to pass your emails, whatsapp messages, voice phone calls and other data? Data Encoding and Decoding techniques are the answer to what you get on your digital conversations.

So today am going to be dissecting the meaning of data encoding and the processes which run behind the scenes to make communication a success.

During data encoding, the below processes and algorithms take place:

  • Program compiling and execution
  • Data transmission, storage and compression/decompression
  • Application data processing, such as file conversion


Encoding can have two meanings:

  • In computer technology, encoding is the process of applying a specific code, such as letters, symbols and numbers, to data for conversion into an equivalent cipher.
  • In electronics, encoding refers to analog to digital conversion.

Encoding involves the use of a code to change original data into a form that can be used by an external process.

The type of code used for converting characters is known as American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII), the most commonly used encoding scheme for files that contain text. ASCII contains printable and nonprintable characters that represent uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols, punctuation marks and numbers.

The standard ASCII scheme has only zero to 127 character positions; 128 through 255 are undefined. The problem of undefined characters is solved by Unicode encoding, which assigns a number to every character used worldwide. Other types of codes include BinHex, Uuencode (UNIX to UNIX encoding) and Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME).

Encoding is also used to reduce the size of audio and video files. Each audio and video file format has a corresponding coder-decoder (codec) program that is used to code it into the appropriate format and then decodes for playback.

Encoding should not be confused with encryption, which hides content. Both techniques are used extensively in the networking, software programming, wireless communication and storage fields.

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