Base64 is a group of similar binary-to-text encoding schemes that represent binary data in an ASCII string format by translating it into a radix-64 representation. The term Base64 originates from a specific MIME content transfer encoding.
Each base64 digit represents exactly 6 bits of data.
The particular choice of characters to make up the 64 characters required for base varies between implementations. The general rule is to choose a set of 64 characters that is both part of a subset common to most encodings, and also printable. This combination leaves the data unlikely to be modified in transit through systems, such as email, which were traditionally not 8-bit clean. For example, MIME's Base64 implementation uses A-Z, a-z, and 0-9 for the first 62 values. Other variations, usually derived from Base64, share this property but differ in the symbols chosen for the last two values; an example is UTF-7.
The earliest instances of this type of encoding were created for dialup communication between systems running the same OS — e.g., uuencode for UNIX, BinHex for the TRS-80 (later adapted for the Macintosh) — and could therefore make more assumptions about what characters were safe to use. For instance, uuencode uses uppercase letters, digits, and many punctuation characters, but no lowercase.
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