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Difference between Encoding and Decoding?

What is the difference between Encoding and Decoding

For this to be explained, the writer must take information from research and thought and communicate the differences and meanings through this text.

The writer has to encode the message.

For this text to be understood, the writer made assumptions that the readers are able to use a digital format to read and interpret the text.

The reader has to decode the message.

This is the difference between encoding and decoding in its simplest form.


In any communication process, be it human-to-human, human-to-computer, or computer-to-computer, any message to be transmitted, is packaged by the sender and encoded into a format readable by the receiver.

Possibly, one of the first forms of encoding that we know of, are hieroglyphics; the Ancient Egyptian writing using pictures, instead of alphabetic words that we would easily understand.

These painstakingly drawn symbols were great for decorating the walls of temples but for conducting day to day business there was another script, known as hieratic. This was a handwriting in which the picture signs were abbreviated to the point of abstraction. [i]

The example with hieroglyphs shows that thousands of years later, the encoded message was not easily decoded by the readers, but modern man may not have been the intended reader.

A more recent example of basic encoding is Morse Code.

Invented in 1836, Morse Code was a method of communication, using a telegraph apparatus that transmitted pulses along electric currents.

The pulses were made up of a pattern using dots and dashes, which was a way of encoding the alphabet to use the letter, to form a message for transmission.

Perhaps more familiar to today’s generation, will be encoding in computing.

  1. Character encoding

With all content written online, the character encoding needs to be specified so the message is displayed clearly with the correct characters.  Characters are stored as bytes.

Just because one is writing content, may not necessarily mean it will be displayed correctly once transmitted, unless the encoding is specified.

The most common practice is to follow the UTF-8 encoding:

A character in UTF8 can be from 1 to 4 bytes long. UTF-8 can represent any character in the Unicode standard. UTF-8 is backwards compatible with ASCII. UTF-8 is the preferred encoding for e-mail and web pages.[ii]

  1. Analog-to-digital

Analog-to-digital encoding refers to the process of translating analog data into digital formats, such as video, audio or images.

Outdated communication methods used analog, which suffered from various interferences and quality impediments.  The advent of digital communication resolved these problems to deliver a high quality, robust method of communication.

There are four different techniques for analog/digital encoding, depending on the data conversion type:

  • Analog data to Analog signals
  • Analog data to Digital signals
  • Digital data to Analog signals
  • Digital data to Digital signals

Lastly, note that encoding is not the same concept as encryption, which is a separate process used to hide the message contents.


Knowing what encoding is allows easy understanding of Decoding, which is simply the reverse process.

Instead of packaging the message in a format to be sent, the message is received and the decoding process takes place to extract the data from the message format.

Using the Encoding example of Hieroglyphics, the decoding process took years of man effort to decipher and understand, although to date, not all hieroglyphs found are completely decoded in an understandable format.

With Morse Code, if the person received the message, they would have to know the code pattern to translate it to a clear message, therefore being able to decode the message.

In character decoding, if the UTF-8 encoding is specified for the content, the decoding process will display the message correctly.  If a different encoding format is used, and not supported or understood by the target, the decoding process will display unintended results.

Essentially, any process requiring analysis and interpretation, whether its verbal or non-verbal, is a decoding process.


All communication processes share three basic elements: The source (sender), a transmit medium (message channel) and the target (receiver).

Note a medium for transmitting messages could be wireless, radio, person, light, or sound, to name a few.

The source packages its message by encoding it from an abstract idea or unformatted message and transforms it into a format that can be transmitted along the message channel to the target.

The receiver then decodes the message so that is it understood before further action can take place.

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References :

[0][i] https://discoveringegypt.com/egyptian-hieroglyphic-writing/egyptian-hieroglyphic-alphabet/

[1][ii] https://www.w3schools.com/charsets/ref_html_utf8.asp



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