Hamming code

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In telecommunication, a Hamming code is a linear error-correcting code named after its inventor, Richard Hamming. Hamming codes can detect up to two simultaneous bit errors, and correct single-bit errors; thus, reliable communication is possible when the Hamming distance between the transmitted and received bit patterns is less than or equal to one. By contrast, the simple parity code cannot correct errors, and can only detect an odd number of errors.

In mathematical terms, Hamming codes are a class of binary linear codes. For each integer m \ge 2 there is a code with m parity bits and 2mm − 1 data bits. The parity-check matrix of a Hamming code is constructed by listing all columns of length m that are pairwise independent. Hamming codes are an example of perfect codes, codes that exactly match the theoretical upper bound on the number of distinct code words for a given number of bits and ability to correct errors.

Because of the simplicity of Hamming codes, they are widely used in computer memory (RAM). In particular, a single-error-correcting and double-error-detecting variant commonly referred to as SECDED.



Hamming worked at Bell Labs in the 1940s on the Bell Model V computer, an electromechanical relay-based machine with cycle times in seconds. Input was fed in on punched cards, which would invariably have read errors. During weekdays, special code would find errors and flash lights so the operators could correct the problem. During after-hours periods and on weekends, when there were no operators, the machine simply moved on to the next job.

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