Code (cryptography)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In cryptography, a code is a method used to transform a message into an obscured form, preventing those who do not possess special information, or key, required to apply the transform from understanding what is actually transmitted. The usual method is to use a codebook with a list of common phrases or words matched with a codeword. Encoded messages are sometimes termed codetext, while the original message is usually referred to as plaintext.

Terms like code and in code are often used to refer to any form of encryption. However, there is an important distinction between codes and ciphers in technical work; it is, essentially, the scope of the transformation involved. Codes operate at the level of meaning; that is, words or phrases are converted into something else. Ciphers work at the level of individual letters, or small groups of letters, or even, in modern ciphers, with individual bits. While a code might transform "change" into "CVGDK" or "cocktail lounge", a cipher transforms elements below the semantic level, i.e., below the level of meaning. The "a" in "attack" might be converted to "Q", the first "t" to "f", the second "t" to "3", and so on. Ciphers are more convenient than codes in some situations, there being no need for a codebook, with its inherently limited number of valid messages, and the possibility of fast automatic operation on computers.

Codes were long believed to be more secure than ciphers, since (if the compiler of the codebook did a good job) there is no pattern of transformation which can be discovered, whereas ciphers use a consistent transformation, which can potentially be identified and reversed (except in the case of the one-time pad).

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