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Writing Properly about Base64

Learn how to write professionally about Base64

When would I need to know how to write about Base64?

Base64 is a common format used by software across the world. While writing documentation describing Base64 behavior in your software, you may wonder how to properly write about Base64. There are frequent pitfalls and inconsistencies across websites, so it may not be clear which is the most professional way. Usually there is no one correct way, but some are more professional than others. These more professional ways are more effective and worth keeping in mind while writing.

When to to capitalize the first letter in "Base64"

Base64 refers to a specific format, which has a proper name, so the first letter is preferably capitalized in formal documents. However, lowercase is acceptable in casual settings.

We like to dress formal around here, so we keep Base64 neat and capitalized in case they're invited to a fancy party. Let us know if you are hosting one!

Origin of the Base64 format

Base64 is defined by RFC 4648 published in 2006, which obsoletes RFC 3548 published in 2003. These relatively recent RFCs were built upon multiple older RFCs. The first known RFC defining Base64 encoding is RFC 989 published in 1987. Despite being an old standard, Base64 has very strong usage in 2019 due to its stability and the widespread use of newer standards which depend on Base64.

These RFCs are your best resources if you need to cite evidence of particular Base64 behavior or need a deeper dive into how Base64 works.

Base64 is an encoding scheme, not an encryption or hashing scheme

Base64 is an encoding scheme, meaning that it converts one representation of data into another representation. It does not require additional data to be decoded back into its initial representation.

In contrast, encrypted data does require a separate key to decrypt the contents. The key is required for decryption. With encoding schemes such as Base64, no such key is required.

Hashing is similar to encryption, except it cannot be decrypted. It is a one-way method which cannot be reversed, with or without a key.

Base64 should not be used for security purposes in lieu of encryption or hashing. However, encrypted or hashed data is often transmitted after being encoded with Base64. This is acceptable since the data encoded by Base64 is already encrypted or hashed, so decoding from Base64 would not decrypt the data.

When referencing Base64, make sure to avoid describing it as an encryption or hashing scheme, since that is inaccurate. Base64 is an encoding scheme not intended for security purposes.

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