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A checksum is a small-sized
Checksum functions are related to
The simplest checksum algorithm is the so-called
With this checksum, any transmission error which flips a single bit of the message, or an odd number of bits, will be detected as an incorrect checksum. However, an error which affects two bits will not be detected if those bits lie at the same position in two distinct words. Also swapping of two or more words will not be detected. If the affected bits are independently chosen at random, the probability of a two-bit error being undetected is 1/n.
A variant of the previous algorithm is to add all the "words" as unsigned binary numbers, discarding any overflow bits, and append the
The simple checksums described above fail to detect some common errors which affect many bits at once, such as changing the order of data words, or inserting or deleting words with all bits set to zero. The checksum algorithms most used in practice, such as
A message that is m bits long can be viewed as a corner of the m-dimensional hypercube. The effect of a checksum algorithm that yields an n-bit checksum is to map each m-bit message to a corner of a larger hypercube, with dimension . The 2m+n corners of this hypercube represent all possible received messages. The valid received messages (those that have the correct checksum) comprise a smaller set, with only 2m corners.
A single-bit transmission error then corresponds to a displacement from a valid corner (the correct message and checksum) to one of the m adjacent corners. An error which affects k bits moves the message to a corner which is k steps removed from its correct corner. The goal of a good checksum algorithm is to spread the valid corners as far from each other as possible, so as to increase the likelihood "typical" transmission errors will end up in an invalid corner.