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What is a Checksum Algorithm?

By Troy Holmes
Updated May 17, 2024
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Computer data is typically stored in binary files, which are located on a computer file system. When data is saved onto a computer, it is converted into a binary format. This conversion process requires validation of a file's size to ensure the entire file was saved properly. A checksum algorithm is a mathematical function that checks files for corruption before they are saved.

Most business software applications allow users to create and save data files. This includes many Microsoft Office® products. When a Word® document file is saved to a computer, the word document is converted into a binary file. This conversion process requires a checksum algorithm to verify it worked properly. If this function detects and error the program prompts the user with an error message.

Many users share data files between computers by using emails. When a file is shared in an email, it is typically sent as an attachment. This attachment process uses a checksum algorithm to verify successful file transmission. The email system will notify the user if an error is returned from the algorithm. This file transmission device ensures a file is sent without errors.

Hashing algorithms are mathematical programs that convert data into a binary numerical value. This is similar to the checksum algorithm. The primary purpose of the algorithm is to assign a numerical value to a file. The value is based on the size of content within the file. This value is used as an error-checking device during the binary conversion process.

Data entry is another area where the checksum algorithm can be used. This function provides data validation on specific data. This process will ensure the proper format and data types were entered into specific input fields on a screen. As an example, the checksum algorithm can be used to validate a Social Security number.

A checksum error is the error that occurs when a checksum function fails. This typically happens when a comparable file size value is different then expected. A checksum is typically used for data validation, storage, and file transmission purposes.

When a computer is turned on, a checksum function is performed. This function compares the basic input-output system (BIOS) values of the booted computer to previously saved values. If the numbers are different, a warning message is presented to the user identifying a change in configuration. This is an example of a checksum error.

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