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January 8, 2002 Issue of Code Journal
(Back to Code Journal Archive)

Code Journal is a free, biweekly newsletter on programming and computer science provided jointly by and AI Horizon. There is also an archive of all past issues in both HTML and text formats.

This is the January 8th Issue, the first of them all! (If you want a pure text version, go to the text archive of Code Journal.)

CODE JOURNAL: Your Guide to Programming

January 8, 2002

In This Edition:
- Welcome to the Code Journal
- XOR Encryption
- Hashed Browns and Smiths (On a Table, Of Course)
- Questions and Answers
- Programming Challenge

Welcome to the Code Journal, a joint venture between and AI Horizon that aims to provide insightful articles on both C++ and algorithmic programming. Code Journal is helpware: in return for reading it, you are asked to help someone else out with their own programming problems. Good luck, and quick compiling.

C/C++ Programming by Alex Allain
XOR Encryption

This is my first article for Code Journal, so I should introduce myself. I am the webmaster and content editor for; I've been writing tutorials and book reviews for for over four years.

Exclusive-OR Encryption, while not a public-key system such as RSA, is almost unbreakable through brute force methods. It is susceptible to patterns, but this weakness can be avoided through first compressing the file (so as to remove patterns). Exclusive-OR Encrytion requires that both encryptor and decryptor have access to the encryption key, but the encryption algorithm, while extremely simple, is nearly unbreakable.

Exclusive-OR Encrytion works by using the boolean algebra function Exclusive-OR (XOR). XOR is a binary operator (meaning that it takes two arguments - similar to the addition sign, for example). By its name, Exclusive-OR, it is easy to infer (correctly, no less) that it will return true if one, and only one, of the two operators is true. The truth table is as follows:

A   B | A XOR B
T   T |   F
T   F |   T
F   T |   T
F   F |   F

(A truth table works like a multiplication or addition table: the top row is one list of possible inputs, the side column is one list of possible inputs. The intersection of the rows and columns contains the result of the operation when done performed with the inputs from each row and column.)

The idea behind Exclusive-OR Encryption is that it is impossible to reverse the operation without knowing the initial value of one of the two arguments. For example, if you XOR two variables of unknown values, you cannot tell from the output what the values of those variables are. For example, if you take the operation A XOR B, and it returns TRUE, you cannot know whether A is FALSE and B is TRUE, or whether B is FALSE and A is TRUE. Furthermore, even if it returns FALSE, you cannot be certain if both were TRUE or if both were FALSE.

If, however, you know either A or B it is entirely reversible, unlike Logical-AND and Logical-OR. For Exclusive-OR, if you perform the operation A XOR TRUE and it returns a value of TRUE you know A is FALSE, and if it returns FALSE, you know A is true. Exclusive-OR Encryption works on the principle that if you have the encrypted string and the encryption key you can always decrypt correctly. If you don't have the key, it is impossible to decrypt it without making entirely random keys and attempting each one of them until the decryption program's output is something akin to readable text. The longer you make the encryption key, the more difficult it becomes to break it.

The actual way Exclusive-OR Encryption is used is to take the key and encrypt a file by repeatedly applying the key to successive segments of the file and storing the output. The output will be the equivalent of an entirely random program, as the key is generated randomly. Once a second person has access to the key, that person is able to decrypt the files, but without it, decryption is almost impossible. For every bit added to the length of the key, you double the number of tries it will take to break the encryption through brute force.

C++ does not have a built-in Exclusive-OR function, however. It is necessary to write your own. Fortunately, it is not difficult. XOR is the equivalent of (A OR B) AND NOT(A AND B) (Try using the truth table's values to test this expression), so a function that will quickly act as an Exclusive-OR need only test that condition.
For example:

int XOR(int a, int b)
  return (A || B) && !(A && B);

Writing a program to encrypt a file using this scheme is relatively simple, and it is the programming challenge for you over the next two weeks. The winners will be selected based on efficiency, elegance, and rapidity of response. For the specific requirements take a look at the programming contest section of this email.

Algorithms and Programming by Eric Suh
Hashed Browns and Smiths (On a Table, Of Course)

Keyed Arrays vs. Indexed Arrays
One of the biggest drawbacks to a language like C++ is that there are no KEYED-ARRAYS. In a normal C++ array (also called an INDEXED ARRAY), the only way to access an element would be through its index number. To find element 50 of an array named "employees" you have to access it like this:


In a keyed-array, however, you would be able to associate each element with a "key," which can be anything from a name to a product model number. So, if you have a keyed-array of employee records, you could access the record of employee "John Brown" like this:

employees["Brown, John"];

One basic form of a keyed-array is called the HASH TABLE. In a hash table, a key is used to find an element instead of an index number. Since the hash table has to be coded using an indexed array, there has to be some way of transforming a key to an index number. That way is called the HASHING FUNCTION.

Hashing Functions
A hashing function can be just about anything. How the hashing function is actually coded depends on the situation, but generally the hashing function should return a value based on a key and the size of the array the hashing table is built on. Also, one important thing that is sometimes overlooked is that a hashing function has to return the same value every time it is given the same key!!! (This is really important...)

Let's say you wanted to organize a list of about 200 addresses by people's last names. A hash table would be ideal for this sort of thing, so that you can access the records with the people's last names as the keys.

First, we have to determine the size of the array we're using. Let's use a 260 element array so that there can be an average of about 10 element spaces per letter of the alphabet.

Now, we have to make a hashing function. First, let's create a relationship between letters and numbers:

A --> 0
B --> 1
C --> 2
D --> 3
and so on until Z --> 25.

The easiest way to organize the hash table would be based on the first letter of the last name.

Since we have 260 elements, we can multiply the first letter of the last name by 10. So, when a key like "Smith" is given, the key would be transformed to the index 180 (S is the 19 letter of the alphabet, so S --> 18, and 18 * 10 = 180).

Since we use a simple function to generate an index number quickly, and we use the fact that the index number can be used to access an element directly, a hash table's access time is quite small. A linked list of keys and elements wouldn't be nearly as fast, since you would have to search through every single key-element pair.

Collisions and Collision Handling
Problems, of course, arise when we have last names with the same first letter. So "Webster" and "Whitney" would correspond to the same index number, 22. A situation like this when two keys get sent to the same location in the array is called a COLLISION. If you're trying to insert an element, you might find that the space is already filled by a different one.

Of course, you might try to just make a huge array and thus make it almost impossible for collisions to happen, but then that defeats the purpose of using a hash table. One of the advantages of the hash table is that it is both fast AND small.

There are many algorithms to handle collisions, but I will cover only the simplest.

The simplest algorithm is called the LINEAR handling method. When you are adding an element, say "Whitney," and you find that another element is already there ("Webster," for instance) then you would just proceed to the next element space (the one after "Webster"). If that is filled, you go on to the next one, and so on, until you find an empty space to insert the new element (all those extra elements came in handy after all!!).

220 "White"   | <-- ### COLLISION ### : Gotta move on to the next.
221 "Webster" | <-- ### COLLISION ### : Next one.
222           | Ahhh, perfect. Insert Here.
223           |

Since we modified the insertion algorithm, we also have to change the function that finds the element. You have to have some way of verifying that you've found the element you want, and not some other element. The simplest way is to just compare keys. (Does this record have the last name "Whitney"? Does this one?) If the element you find is not one of them, just move on to the next element until you reach the one you want or you find an empty space (which means the element is not in the table).

Sounds simple, right? Well, it gets more complicated. What if you have so many collisions that you run off the end of the array?

If you're trying to insert "Zorba" and all the elements are filled because of the collision handling, then what? Look at the example:

258 "Whitney"   | <-- Nope, not Empty
259 "Zeno"      | Nope, not Empty
----------------  <-- Ummm, what now?

The easiest thing to do is to just wrap around to the beginning again. If there are still no empty spaces, then we have to issue an error, since there isn't enough space in the Hash table for all of the elements.

Now you're ready to implement your first hash table! Give it a try. It isn't too hard, but the end result is quite useful!!

Eric Suh is the webmaster of AI Horizon, a site devoted to Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science programming.
Contact him at

Questions and Answers on Programming
In future newsletters, we will answer several programming questions emailed to and AI Horizon.

If you have a question on programming, send it in to either or AI Horizon and your question may be answered here.

Code Challenge
Every issue, we will issue a programming challenge and ask people to submit their solutions within two weeks. A few of the best solutions will be published the next issue, along with a new challenge.

Write an Exclusive-OR encryption program. The program should take as input a filename that is then encrypted by the program. The program should ask the user to input an encryption key, which should be used to encrypt the file. The output of the program should go into a file with the same filename but a .ENC extension (for simplicity sake). All programs should run under DOS.

Send your solutions to as source code files, and you may find it published. Please include either your name or an identifying username so that we may attribute the solution to you in the next newsletter. If you wish, you may ask us to withhold your name.

Suggestions and comments on this newsletter should be sent to or

Eric Suh,
Alexander Allain,

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