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Understanding Hashing: A Beginner’s Guide

Have you ever wondered how passwords are securely stored and retrieved by websites and applications? Or how digital signatures work to ensure data integrity? The answer lies in a complex process called hashing. But what exactly is hashing, and how does it work? Fear not, fellow beginner! In this guide, we’ll break down the concept of hashing into easy-to-understand terms so that even those with no prior technical knowledge can grasp the basics. So grab your thinking caps and let’s dive into the world of hashing!

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What is Hashing?

Hashing is a process of taking a given input and mapping it to an output value using a mathematical function. The output value is typically shorter than the input value, making it more efficient to store and search for data. Hashing can be used for various purposes, such as encryption, data compression, and data indexing.

Why is Hashing Important?

Hashing is a process of converting a given key into another value. A hash function is used to generate the new value according to a mathematical algorithm. The resulting value is known as a hash code or simply, a hash.

A good hash function should have the following properties:

  • It should be easy to compute the hash value for any given key.
  • It should be impossible to derive the original key from the hash value.
  • Different keys should produce different hash values.
  • The same key should always produce the same hash value.

Hash functions are used in many areas of computer science, but perhaps the most common use is in hashing data structures such as hashes and hash tables. When data is stored in a hashtable, the keys are first hashed and then used to index into an array of slots, where the associated values are stored. Hash functions are also used in cryptography and password storage.

Types of Hashing Algorithms

There are a few different types of hashing algorithms, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. The most common type is the md5 algorithm, which is used in a wide variety of applications. However, there are also other types of hashing algorithms such as sha256, whirlpool, and tiger.

How Does a Hashing Algorithm Work?

A hashing algorithm is a mathematical function that converts a digital file of any size into a fixed-length code. This conversion is one-way, meaning that it is not possible to reverse the process and reconstruct the original file from the hash code.

The purpose of a hashing algorithm is to enable information security and data integrity by ensuring that files cannot be tampered with or corrupted without changing the hash code. Hash codes are also used for indexing data in databases and verifying the authenticity of digital signatures.

There are several different types of hashing algorithms, but they all share some common features. First, each algorithm produces a unique hash code for each input file. Second, even a small change to the input file will produce a completely different hash code. It is computationally infeasible to generate two different files with the same hash code.

To understand how a hashing algorithm works, let’s look at an example using the SHA-1 algorithm. This algorithm takes an input file of any size and produces a 160-bit (20-byte) hash code. The steps involved in generating this hash code are as follows:

Pros and Cons of Different Hash Algorithms

There are a few different types of hash algorithms, each with its own set of pros and cons. Here is a rundown of the most popular algorithms:


MD5 is a widely used hashing algorithm that produces a 128-bit hash value. It is fast and effective but has some security weaknesses that make it unsuitable for use in certain applications.


SHA-1 is another popular hashing algorithm that produces a 160-bit hash value. It is more secure than MD5 but is also slower and less efficient.


SHA-2 is a family of algorithms that includes SHA-256 and SHA-512. These algorithms produce 256-bit and 512-bit hash values, respectively. They are more secure than SHA-1, but can be slower on some systems.


SHA-3 is the latest standard for cryptographic hashing, released in 2015. It includes a family of algorithms that offer different security and performance tradeoffs. The most popular algorithm in this family is Keccak, which produces a 256-bit hash value.

Examples of How Hashing is Used

Hashing is used in a variety of ways, both in the real world and in computer science. Here are some examples:

  • In the physical world, hashing is used to mark trails so that hikers can follow them. The markings are usually made with spray paint or flags, and they indicate where the trail goes and how to get back to the starting point.
  • In computer science, hashing is used to store data in a way that is efficient and easy to access. Hashing algorithms are used to create hash tables, which are used to store key-value pairs. When you want to access a piece of data, you provide the key, and the hash table returns the corresponding value. Hash tables are used extensively in programming languages like Python and Java.
  • Hashing is also used for security purposes. For example, many websites use hashing algorithms to store passwords in a secure way. That way, even if a hacker gets access to the database of passwords, they wouldn’t be able to read them because they would only see a bunch of random characters (the hashes).

Security Implications of Hashing

When it comes to digital security, hashing is an important process that helps to protect data and ensure its integrity. Hashing is a one-way mathematical function that converts an input of any size into a fixed output. This output is known as a hash value or simply a hash. In order for hashing to be effective, it must be impossible to reverse the process and determine the original input from the hash value. Additionally, even a small change to the input should result in a completely different output hash.

The main purpose of hashing is to verify the authenticity and integrity of data. For example, when you download a file from the internet, the file’s hash value can be used to check that the file has not been altered in any way during transit. If the file’s hash value does not match the expected value, then this indicates that the file has been tampered with and should not be trusted.

Similarly, hashes can be used to verify passwords. When you create an account on a website, your password is usually stored as ahash rather than in plain text. This means that even if someone manages to gain access to the website’s database, they will not be able to see your password as it will appear as just a random string of characters. If they try to login using one of these stolen hashes, their attempt will fail as the system will calculate a different hash for their inputted password which will not match the stored hash.


Hashing is a powerful tool for data encryption and authentication, with applications in many areas. By understanding the concept of hashing and its benefits, you can make more informed decisions when it comes to protecting your data. We hope this article has given you a better understanding of what hashing is and how it works. Now that you know the basics, why not give it a try yourself?

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Reza Siavashi
Reza Siavashi is a seasoned marketing professional with over seven years of experience, specializing in social media marketing, digital advertising, content strategy, and marketing analytics. He holds an MBA in Commercial Management and is known for his creative and forward-thinking approach. Reza is passionate about ethical marketing and social responsibility, and is currently exploring opportunities that align with these values.

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