What is the Difference Between ASCII and EBCDIC?

CPW

The American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII), also known as ANSI X3.4, and the Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code (EBCDIC) are computer character encoding sets. Although there are a number of variants of ASCII, all of them are essentially the same, and the encoding system is often praised by computer scientists for its simplicity and adaptability. EBCDIC is considered an anachronism in the computer world as it was designed for the now superannuated punch cards. ASCII, on the other hand, was developed in the 1960s and is very much designed for use in the world of modern computing.

The ASCII coding system is known for its adaptability and simplicity.
The ASCII coding system is known for its adaptability and simplicity.

Both ASCII and EBCDIC are based on the Baudot code — a 19th century alternative Morse code — but they were designed for different purposes and to different ends. Essentially a seven-bit code, ASCII allows the eighth most significant bit (MSB) for error checking, but most contemporary computer systems use the codes above 128 for extended character sets. Whereas this is a character encoding set common on a number of different computer systems, EBCDIC is a character set particular to IBM mainframes.

EBCDIC uses the quota of available eight bits and therefore forgoes parity checking, but it has a greater range of control characters. However, the advantages of this character encoding set are limited to this fuller scope of control characters and EBCDIC’s suitability to its use on punch cards. It also includes the American cent character (¢) that ASCII omits, although it usually leaves out these other characters: [ ] \ { } ^ ~ and ¦.

Some of the characters missing from EBCDIC and found in ASCII are in the UUencoding range, with the consequence that Internet attachment mail is often corrupted. Moreover, there are many variants of EBCDIC and among these variants there exist types that are incompatible with each other. This problem is exacerbated because documentation of this character set is hard to obtain from IBM, in contrast to ASCII, which is well documented and widely available.

There are pieces of software that allow users to convert between the two sets. It appears only a matter of time before ASCII’s status of de facto encoding system becomes the de jure one among computer users, however.

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Discussion Comments

anon991867

What are the differences between ASCII, EBCDIC and Unicode?

NathanG

ASCII has plenty of legitimate applications even today, but one of them is definitely not art in my opinion. I still remember the early days of email when people would end their email messages with cheesy ASCII art signatures.

OK, the first few times it was cute but after awhile it became annoying. It would be like typing with all caps—a no-no in the Internet world.

However, if you fancy yourself a connoisseur of ASCII art, there are still some places online where you can find an archive of the best ASCII art ever made.

nony

@David09 - ASCII is the American standard, but Unicode is the new international standard. Unicode is like an extended ASCII table, except it has even more characters than that. All of our software projects use Unicode because we ship our software overseas.

How does Unicode help? Without getting bogged down in the technical details too much, suffice it to say that it provides more characters, many more characters. This becomes important when you have a software product that must be translated in, say, Chinese—and you’re dealing with potentially thousands of character sets that you must render on the screen.

David09

The ASCII table was one of the first character sets that I learned as a programmer. With it I had the numerical value of every character, digit and special character in the computer, including the special codes for quotation marks, new lines and carriage returns.

It has been immensely helpful in knowing these codes for some of my algorithms, especially the string manipulation routines which must often parse out and delimit string values or convert them from one case to another.

anon114469

Was very helpful. hope I found the source too.

anon78898

Thanks for the info. it was very helpful.

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