All Hail, ASCII, King of Data

I fell in love with ASCII 40 odd years ago and I’m still in love with her today. It’s been a great relationship. ASCII’s been good to me and I’ve tried to honor and respect her. Not many people know that ASCII was birthed in the 1960s when Bell Labs had a need for a standard way to send text. They reorganized telegraphic codes, sorted them, and worked with the American Standards Association (ASA) to form ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange). As computers were developed in the 1960s, ASCII became THE standard for sending information.

You may not believe this but ASCII is really powerful (and kind of sexy). It’s the only data format that can be universally decoded by any computer on the planet. Not so much anymore, but in the old days, every software guy (and they were all guys) had two things: an ASCII chart on his wall and a slide rule on his hip.

The ASCII chart listed every ASCII code from 0 to 127: what each code was in octal, decimal, and in ASCII. A lot of those codes were seared into my brain. I know I’ll never forget that 32 decimal is 40 octal, 20 hexadecimal and represents the SPACE character. Or that a new line is 0A hex while 0D hexadecimal is the carriage return control code. (This probably explains my lack of dates back in the days when I was a software engineer.)

Biggest ASCII Chart Around

I am not embarrassed to tell you that I had a massive ASCII chart (size does matter), an ASCII mouse pad, and several ASCII tables that fit in my shirt pocket. I could take them with me on a night out. And no, I didn’t wear a pocket protector – I went commando. Young and foolish; I was willing to take risks in those days.

And now, after all these years, my love still burns strong. And maybe twenty years ago, ASCII became even more important in my life with the birth of XML. After all, XML, the eXtensible Markup Language, is a way of transferring computer data from one place to another and is built solely with ASCII codes. Every XML element starts and ends with the angled bracket ASCII codes. Even numeric data is coded in ASCII. A valve pressure is encoded as a long series of ASCII codes such as:


ASCII truly is the king of data on the factory floor (and in the Enterprise) and always will be. Want to know how I know? Every key you touch on your keyboard emits two, three, four or sometimes more ASCII codes. ASCII will never be replaced in computer keyboards.

Even the One Percent

And it’s not just us old fuddy duddies that like ASCII. In fact, if you promise not to tell, I’ll share a secret with you. There’s a certain little car maker that you all know very well that makes an incredibly expensive car using the most automated, carefully planned and orchestrated manufacturing process in the world. Built by the smartest, most highly paid guys to ever walk a manufacturing floor. And guess what? They came to us to buy one of our ASCII gateways. They, like everyone else, needed to move ASCII data around the factory floor.

Like those car guys, you can get a slew of different ASCII gateways from RTA. We have ASCII gateways that move RF data, barcodes, scale data, and other ASCII data into PLCs. We have ASCII to Modbus, ASCII to EtherNet/IP, and ASCII to ProfiNet IO.

When you have to move ASCII, and I know you will at some point, you’ll need to visit the industrial networking gateway page to get the product that will help you get there.