ASCII is an acronym for American Standard Code for Information Interchange, a 7-bit code that represents the most basic letters of the Roman alphabet, numbers, and other characters used in computing.
Computers don’t know the alphabet. In fact, the only commands a computer truly understands are 1 and 0. That’s right! Just two numbers. So how are computers able to do such amazing, complicated operations when they only understand two numbers? A series of those two numbers can be combined to create complex statements, using binary code.
Since most people aren’t as good at understanding long strings of 1s and 0s as a computer, ASCII characters were created to allow us to communicate with computers. When we type ASCII characters from the keyboard (which looks like words to us), the computer interprets them as binary so they can be read, manipulated, stored and retrieved. When we combine these ASCII characters into files, we refer to them as text files.
Frequently Asked Questions
I don’t use text files, do I still use ASCII?
Whether you’re using a text file, a Word document, HTML, or any other type of file that contains text, there is some type of character set underlying that file, which is interpreted by your computer. It may not always be ASCII. ASCII contains a limited number of primarily English letters, numbers, and special characters, so newer character sets have been created to provide a more robust set of options. However, most of our current character sets are based on ASCII and still include the original ASCII characters. So, chances are, you’re still using ASCII every day.
How many characters are available in ASCII?
ASCII is a 7-bit code, which provides for 128 possible letters, numbers, or characters. To understand why this is, you need to know a little bit more about how binary works. For each bit, a code can either have a value of 1 or 0. So a 1-bit code can only have 2 possible outcomes: 1 or 0. A 2-bit code can have 4 outcomes: the first spot can be a 1 or 0, as can the second spot. 2×2=4. Each additional bit doubles your number of possible combinations. So 7-bits provides 2x2x2x2x2x2x2 possible combinations…or 128.
Does ASCII include international letters?
ASCII is a 7-bit code, so it has a maximum of 128 possible characters (see above). While that’s enough for most English letters, numbers, punctuations, and many special characters, there are far too many letters and characters used throughout to world for ASCII to capture them all. That is why newer, larger character sets have been developed which include those characters that are not included in ASCII.
Does ASCII have anything to do with font?
ASCII simply sets a binary value to commonly used characters, such letters and numbers. The way those letters and numbers appear on your screen or in print is not based on ASCII, but rather on the font files you have installed.