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How to Learn Binary Code

Trent Fowler - October 06, 2022

Binary code is an important part of how we communicate with computers. It is the bedrock of all coding languages today. However, learning binary code is not an important step to becoming a developer. In fact, all programming languages have been developed to simplify the communication process, eliminating the need to write or read binary code.

A good analogy to coding in binary before becoming a developer yourself is like learning the composition of a road before learning how to drive. Most drivers do not need to know how the roads are built in order to be good drivers. However, professional drivers or drivers with an engineering background, for example, may find this knowledge useful.

An example of someone who would want to learn binary code is a computer enthusiast looking to code in binary for fun or a person trying to achieve a unique task like building a new programming language from the ground up.

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What Is Binary Code?

A laptop that shows coding in binary.
It is important to learn binary code as it provides a deep understanding of computers and how they work.

Binary code is a system where information is conveyed using binary digits, also known as a base-two system. This is also what modern computers and machines use to talk to each other in machine language, which consists entirely of 1s and 0s.

Binary language is often taught as a part of computer science fundamentals but it’s more of an introduction to how computers work. People almost never actually write binary. Instead, they code in a high-level or low-level programming language which is structured closer to natural languages and easier to comprehend.

This is how binary code works: Humans use programming languages to write efficient code which later gets translated into binary digits that modern computers understand.

How to Read Binary Code

Reading binary code is pretty straightforward. All of your computer’s memory is stored in binary, organized into bytes. Each byte is typically a sequence of eight bits and each bit is either a 1 or a 0. These combinations of 1s and 0s are a binary numbering system that represents higher concepts like letters and numbers. For example, here are two words written in binary:

01001000 01100001 01110000 01110000 01111001 (Happy)

01000011 01101111 01100100 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100001 (Coding!)

Each of these combinations of eight 1s and 0s ‘bytes’ represents a decimal number, which in turn represents an American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) code for each letter and character. If you were to read the same words in decimal, it would look like this:

72(H) 97(a) 112(p) 112(p) 121(y) = (Happy)

67(C) 111(o) 100(d) 105(i) 110(n) 103(g) 33(!) = (Coding!)

Computers use the ASCII system to turn these numbers into letters for ‘Happy’ and ‘Coding!’. This is how you read binary code. In this example, ‘Happy’ is equal to five bytes and each byte represents one letter of the word. Similarly, ‘Coding!’ is broken into seven bytes. As you can see, binary code is not efficient code and can be challenging for humans to read or write.

Why Learn to Code in Binary?

Question marks spray painted on trees
Before embarking on a mission like learning to code in binary, it’s important to be clear on your motivations for doing so.

There is almost no programming career that’ll require you to learn binary. One wonders, then, why learn binary at all? Some people learn binary code for fun, intellectual accomplishment, or extremely specific programming tasks.

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While it isn’t important to learn binary code and it will probably not contribute to your career advancement, you may find intellectual satisfaction in the process. Some people see learning binary code as solving a challenging puzzle.

The only time binary would be useful to your career is if you are working in a very specific field. For example, you should learn binary code if you are programming hardware-level processors or onboard microcontrollers.

How to Learn Code in Binary: Step-by-Step

Learning to code in binary is not an easy feat. There are more depths to learning binary code than shown in this article but if you really want to know how to learn binary code, here are some steps to get you started.

1. Learn how to interpret a binary numbering system

The first step to coding in binary is to understand the binary numbering systems. This is important so you can turn sets of 1s and 0s into a decimal numbering system which you may be more familiar with.

2.  Learn ASCII

ASCII is a standardized system to convert numbers into characters. If you are learning to code in binary, it is important to memorize the ASCII table to know how to represent characters in binary.

3. Learn how to read file header information

Header information tells you what is stored in a file and tells you how the data in that file should be interpreted. This is important for understanding the next step.

4. Learn how to read other data types

Binary code doesn’t always represent ASCII letters. All of the information on your computer is stored in binary code. These include images, audio, basic functions, operating systems, and other data. So, it’s important to learn how to interpret other types of data beyond text.

Best Resources for Learning to Code in Binary

A climber stands at the top of a mountain overlooking a scenic view
Climbing the peaks of binary is a significant accomplishment

There are a lot of binary code classes that you can take to help ease your learning journey. Udemy, for example, offers a two-hour lesson called Binary: The Foundation of All Computing that you can take for $25. You can also opt for free online binary coding courses and short binary tutorials like the one offered by CodeConquest.

If you’re wanting a nice introduction that comes highly rated, here are some books on binary code you can check out: Understanding Binary Numbers by Erik Sakk, Binary, Octal and Hexadecimal for Programming & Computer Science by Sunil Tanna, or Advanced Binary by Sunil Tanna. There are also many short introductory videos on Youtube if you’re just looking for an overview.

Learning to Code in Binary FAQ

How long does it take to learn binary code?

How long it takes to learn binary code depends on several factors like your skill level, capacity, and motivation. Binary code is written in 1s and 0s which can make coding even the simplest words a tedious process. To help speed up learning, you can take advantage of binary code classes, online courses, or tutorials.

Is binary code hard to learn?

Yes, binary code is hard to learn because it is not an efficient way of coding. It uses a base-two numbering system comprising only 1s and 0s. While it is possible to learn binary code, you can easily accomplish the same tasks and communicate with modern computers using any other programming language.

Can you teach yourself binary for free?

Yes, you can teach yourself binary for free by using resources such as Youtube videos or online tutorials. Free Binary Tutorial by CodeConquest, for example, lays out the basics of binary and potential applications of binary in an easy-to-understand manner. However, if you are looking to master binary, programs that are more in-depth and guided are highly recommended.

What jobs use binary?

Most jobs in tech do not require knowledge of binary unless you are working in a specific area that demands you to program in machine code. Examples include programming hardware-level processors or onboard microcontrollers. However, it is always a good idea to explore the basics of binary so you can form a better understanding of how computers work.

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Trent Fowler

About the author: Trent Fowler is a data scientist and writer with an interest in machine learning, blockchain technologies, and futurism.

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