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README.md

multibase

Self identifying base encodings

Multibase is a protocol for disambiguating the encoding of base-encoded (e.g., base32, base36, base64, base58, etc.) binary appearing in text.

When text is encoded as bytes, we can usually use a one-size-fits-all encoding (UTF-8) because we're always encoding to the same set of 256 bytes (+/- the NUL byte). When that doesn't work, usually for historical or performance reasons, we can usually infer the encoding from the context.

However, when bytes are encoded as text (using a base encoding), the base choice of base encoding is often restricted by the context. Worse, these restrictions can change based on where the data appears in the text. In some cases, we can only use [a-z0-9]. In others, we can use a larger set of characters but need a compact encoding. This has lead to a large set of "base encodings", one for every use-case. Unlike when encoding text to bytes, we can't just standardize around a single base encoding because there is no optimal encoding for all cases.

Unfortunately, it's not always clear what base encoding is used; that's where multibase comes in. It answers the question:

Given data d encoded into text s, what base is it encoded with?

Table of Contents

Format

The Format is:

<base-encoding-character><base-encoded-data>

Where <base-encoding-character> is used according to the multibase table.

Multibase Table

The current multibase table is here:

encoding,          code, description,                                              status
identity,          0x00, 8-bit binary (encoder and decoder keeps data unmodified), default
base2,             0,    binary (01010101),                                        candidate
base8,             7,    octal,                                                    draft
base10,            9,    decimal,                                                  draft
base16,            f,    hexadecimal,                                              default
base16upper,       F,    hexadecimal,                                              default
base32hex,         v,    rfc4648 case-insensitive - no padding - highest char,     candidate
base32hexupper,    V,    rfc4648 case-insensitive - no padding - highest char,     candidate
base32hexpad,      t,    rfc4648 case-insensitive - with padding,                  candidate
base32hexpadupper, T,    rfc4648 case-insensitive - with padding,                  candidate
base32,            b,    rfc4648 case-insensitive - no padding,                    default
base32upper,       B,    rfc4648 case-insensitive - no padding,                    default
base32pad,         c,    rfc4648 case-insensitive - with padding,                  candidate
base32padupper,    C,    rfc4648 case-insensitive - with padding,                  candidate
base32z,           h,    z-base-32 (used by Tahoe-LAFS),                           draft
base36,            k,    base36 [0-9a-z] case-insensitive - no padding,            draft
base36upper,       K,    base36 [0-9A-Z] case-insensitive - no padding,            draft
base58btc,         z,    base58 bitcoin,                                           default
base58flickr,      Z,    base58 flicker,                                           candidate
base64,            m,    rfc4648 no padding,                                       default
base64pad,         M,    rfc4648 with padding - MIME encoding,                     candidate
base64url,         u,    rfc4648 no padding,                                       default
base64urlpad,      U,    rfc4648 with padding,                                     default

NOTE: Multibase-prefixes are encoding agnostic. "z" is "z", not 0x7a ("z" encoded as ASCII/UTF-8). For example, in UTF-32, "z" would be [0x7a, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00].

Reserved

The following codes are reserved for backwards compatibility with existing systems.

  • 1 - Base58 encoded identity multihashes used by libp2p peer IDs.
  • Q - Base58 encoded sha2-256 multihashes used by libp2p/ipfs for peer IDs and CIDv0.

If you'd like to switch a project over to multibase and would also like to reserve a prefix for compatibility, please file an issue.

Status

Each multibase encoding has a status:

  • draft - these encodings have been proposed but are not widely implemented and may be removed.
  • candidate - these encodings are mature and widely implemented but may not be implemented by all implementations.
  • default - these encodings should be implemented by all implementations and are widely used.

Multibase By Example

Consider the following encodings of the same binary string:

4D756C74696261736520697320617765736F6D6521205C6F2F # base16 (hex)
JV2WY5DJMJQXGZJANFZSAYLXMVZW63LFEEQFY3ZP           # base32
3IY8QKL64VUGCX009XWUHKF6GBBTS3TVRXFRA5R            # base36
YAjKoNbau5KiqmHPmSxYCvn66dA1vLmwbt                 # base58
TXVsdGliYXNlIGlzIGF3ZXNvbWUhIFxvLw==               # base64

And consider the same encodings with their multibase prefix

F4D756C74696261736520697320617765736F6D6521205C6F2F # base16 F
BJV2WY5DJMJQXGZJANFZSAYLXMVZW63LFEEQFY3ZP           # base32 B
K3IY8QKL64VUGCX009XWUHKF6GBBTS3TVRXFRA5R            # base36 K
zYAjKoNbau5KiqmHPmSxYCvn66dA1vLmwbt                 # base58 z
MTXVsdGliYXNlIGlzIGF3ZXNvbWUhIFxvLw==               # base64 M

The base prefixes used are: F, B, K, z, M.

FAQ

Is this a real problem?

Yes. If i give you "1214314321432165" is that decimal? or hex? or something else? See also:

Why the strange selection of codes / characters?

The code values are selected such that they are included in the alphabets of the base they represent. For example, f is the base code for base16 (hex), because f is in hex's 16 character alphabet. Note that the alphabets can be encoded in ASCII or UTF8. We have not found a case needing something else.

Don't we have to agree on a table of base encodings?

Yes, but we already have to agree on base encodings, so this is not hard. The table even leaves some room for custom encodings.

Implementations:

Disclaimers

Warning: obviously multibase changes the first character depending on the encoding. Do not expect the value to be exactly the same. Remove the multibase prefix before using the value.

Contribute

Contributions welcome. Please check out the issues.

Check out our contributing document for more information on how we work, and about contributing in general. Please be aware that all interactions related to multiformats are subject to the IPFS Code of Conduct.

Small note: If editing the README, please conform to the standard-readme specification.

License

This repository is only for documents. All of these are licensed under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license © 2016 Protocol Labs Inc. Any code is under a MIT © 2016 Protocol Labs Inc.

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Self identifying base encodings

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