Encoding and Decoding seem like similar words, but they are opposites. They do share a relationship, and one is as necessary as the other when it comes to dealing with the transfer of information in computers and beyond. Any type of information can be encoded or decoded by a variety of means.

Encoding: Encoding takes information and transforms it into something else. This can be as simple as encoding a written message into a coded form. This makes the message hard to decipher for others. Computers use encoding when handling various files. If a CD track is ripped into an MP3, the program used to do this is encoding that track into a file that the computer or MP3 player can use. Any time information is rearranged or morphed into a coded form, it is being encoded.

Decoding: Decoding is taking information and returning it to its original form. That MP3 track that you ripped is decoded by your computer or MP3 player into music that you can hear. By using a code sheet or other pattern, a coded message can be decoded or understood. Whenever a computer program takes a file such as an image, text document, song or video and presents it to you in a way that you can understand, that file has been decoded by the program that you used to open it.

Encoding and Decoding: Think of encoding and decoding as opposing lanes on a highway. You are at one end and send your information down the encoding lane. When it arrives at its destination, you no longer can read or understand it. The vehicle that brings it back to you down the other lane is the decoder. It drives the information back towards you so that you can once again understand it. This is what a computer program does.

Remembering the Difference: The word "code" can mean a secret set of information. The prefixes "en" and "de" provide an easy way to differentiate the terminology. "En" means "inside" or "inwards." Encoding means to send information "inside" a code. "De" means "remove" or "reduce." Decoding means to remove the information from its code.

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