What is an Encoding Error?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An encoding error is a mistake which happens during the process of encoding data. Depending on the nature of the mistake, the results of the encoding error are variable. Encoding errors happen for a wide variety of reasons with all sorts of technology, although there are a number of safeguards in place which are designed to minimize or prevent such errors.

Woman holding a disc
Woman holding a disc

In encoding, data is transitioned from one format to another. Encoding is often used to compress data so that it will take up less room, as when a raw audio file is encoded so that it will fit easily on a compact disc. In addition to encoding for storage, data can also be encoded for transmission; that same audio file, for example, might be encoded so that it could be embedded in a livestream from a radio station. Encoding is also used for the purpose of cryptography, a technique which is used to secure data by ensuring that it can only be read with people with the right decoding equipment.

Sometimes an error during encoding occurs because the original data itself is corrupted and the program doing the encoding has difficulty processing it. Errors can also occur when a system's memory is overused during the encoding process, and it is not able to process the encoding smoothly. Likewise, confusing commands issued to a program may disrupt the encoding process, as can events such as power outages. It is also possible for an encoding error to be random in nature, with no apparent cause.

A content encoding error may be fatal. In these cases, the newly encoded content cannot be accessed because of the magnitude of the error. The content may not be recognizable to the program which is supposed to decode it, or the content may be so corrupted as a result of the encoding error that large chunks of data are missing and it is meaningless. For example, am embedded video on a web page may fail to play because of an encoding error.

Encoding errors can also cause glitches, such as skips in a CD, garbled sections of text, or other problems. In these cases the error does not render the content completely unusable. It may pose an obstacle to someone who wishes to access the data nonetheless.

Due to the risks of encoding errors, people usually make sure that the original data is backed up before proceeding with an encoding project. This ensures that if an error does occur, the data is not irreparably lost.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Charred - I can’t say I know too much about XML encoding. The only encoding error I get is when I try to burn some video files to DVD. Sometimes I will get an error message that states something like there was an error during movie encoding.

Usually this has to do with the type of codec I have installed on my computer, and the format that I am transferring to. The codec is the specific algorithm for whatever format I am exporting to.

If I am transferring to a format that I don’t have installed on my computer, like MPEG-4 for example, then I get the error. To fix it I usually have to download the MPEG-4 codec from the Internet and try the export process once again.


@hamje32 - Yeah, I rarely get download errors anymore. I usually get other types of errors nowadays. For example, I manage a website that is driven by a database on the back end.

Sometimes I will get an XML encoding error. This is when the database is creating a document that uses non standard characters, like Chinese characters for example.

These aren’t typical characters found on the English keyboard, so you have to use a special command to render them properly on the document.

If you don’t, the browser doesn’t know how to display them properly and you get an XML encoding error.


I remember in the early days of dial-up Internet connections. I would download files over the Internet and as the file would download, I’d get an updated status reflecting the bit error rate.

These were fragments of the data that not been decoded properly. During the download, however, the download software would try to correct these bit errors.

If it didn’t get all the data, it would go back and try to retrieve the missing data again. In other words, it was stop and go, stop and go, until all the data had been accurately downloaded.

I have high speed Internet now and I think the same error checking takes place, but I don’t get the messages like I used to.

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