a text-editing application uses binary sequences to represent each of 116 different characters. what is the minimum number of bits needed to assign a unique bit sequence to each of the possible characters?


In the world of digital communication, every character and symbol needs to be encoded into a format that computers can understand. To represent these characters, binary sequences are commonly used. But the question arises, how many bits are required to assign a unique bit sequence to each of the 116 different characters? This article delves into the fascinating world of binary encoding and explores the minimum number of bits needed for this task.

Understanding Binary Encoding

Binary encoding is the representation of characters and symbols using a sequence of bits, typically consisting of 0s and 1s. In the most basic form, a single binary digit (or “bit”) can represent two unique states, usually 0 and 1. To represent a wider range of characters, a combination of bits is employed.

The Number of Bits Required

The minimum number of bits required to represent a specific number of unique characters can be determined using basic mathematics. The formula to calculate this is:

N = log2(S)


  • N is the number of bits needed.
  • S is the number of unique characters to be represented.

In this case, we want to represent 116 different characters, so the formula would look like this:

N = log2(116)

Calculating this, we find that:

N ≈ 6.88

In the real world, you can’t use a fraction of a bit; you must always round up to the nearest whole number. Therefore, we would need at least 7 bits to represent 116 different characters using binary encoding.

Character Encoding and ASCII

In practice, binary encoding is commonly employed in character encoding schemes. One of the most well-known character encoding schemes is the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII). ASCII uses 7 bits to represent 128 different characters, including the English alphabet, numbers, punctuation marks, and control characters.

To represent characters outside the ASCII character set or to include additional symbols, 8-bit encoding schemes like Extended ASCII are used, which can represent 256 different characters. For most modern applications, the Unicode standard is employed, which uses variable-length encoding, with 8, 16, or 32 bits per character, allowing it to represent an extensive range of characters from various languages and scripts.

Efficiency and Trade-offs

While 7 bits are the theoretical minimum needed to represent 116 characters, it’s important to consider practical requirements and trade-offs. Using 7 bits might be less efficient compared to using 8 bits because most computer systems operate with bytes (8 bits) as the smallest addressable unit of memory.

Using 8 bits might result in some unused combinations, but it simplifies data handling and processing. This is why many character encoding schemes, even when they could theoretically use fewer bits, opt for 8 bits to maintain compatibility with existing systems and ease of implementation.


In a text-editing application, the minimum number of bits needed to assign a unique bit sequence to each of the possible 116 characters is 7 bits. However, in practice, character encoding schemes like ASCII and Unicode often use 8 or more bits for practicality and compatibility with computer systems. Understanding the trade-offs between efficiency and compatibility is crucial in the design of encoding schemes for text and characters in digital communication.

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