While it’s somewhat baffling that some modern online tools go so tragically unnoticed by a lot of businesses these days, it’s no mystery why people overlook something like an online MD5 generator. Not only are a lot of people in the dark about what an MD5 even is, but they’re unaware of a whole set of aspects about files, of which MD5 codes are a part. It’s no small wonder then, that the usefulness of such a tool is often unacknowledged as well.
What exactly is an MD5? To fully understand this, we have to take a little time to understand how files work, which also unfortunately means a little remedial revisiting of how a computer itself works. However, it’s absolutely.
As most people are aware, a computer is powered by numerical operations. In the case of computers specifically, these are binary operations (expressed as ones and zeroes). These achieve cumulative effects by flipping various switches inside a CPU on and off, ones representing on, zeroes representing off. The proper sequences of on and off combinations perform more complex operations, logic and so on.
How does this work? It’s rather complicated and unimportant. What matters here is that all data is made of numbers, and all these numbers are binary. As a result, all files on a computer are made of the same binary information. What distinguishes one from the next is how the data is laid out, what the extension is and so on. No matter what, though, when files are broken down and examined closely, they’re literally all made of the same sequences of binary.
The fact that computer files are all made of these numerical sequences means a lot of really neat tricks can be performed to better manage speed, access and other such things. A prime example is compression.
There aren’t many people unfamiliar with at least one compressed file format, be it zip, rar or the mac-specific sit. These formats make files (or entire folders of files) smaller. This makes them take up less space, send across connections faster and provide a convenient monolithic wrapper for distributing large sets of files.
This comes at the cost of the files being illegible to their native readers until they’re decompressed, unless said reader knows how to work with compressed formats. Thankfully, this is increasingly the case.
These compression formats work by using an equation that can shorten sets of numbers inside the files, making the total data less voluminous. There are a number of mathematical formulae that work for this, and how they work on a technical level is not important here. For those whom are curious though, its closest relative would be “scientific notation”.
On top of making files smaller through mathematical tricks, the numerical nature of files also makes it a lot easier to encrypt them, thus making protection of data a lot easier to achieve. This encryption can be achieved by password protecting compressed files, or using more advanced encryption approaches that can literally take a century to brute force past.
There is a point to understanding all of this, and we’re coming to it rather quickly. These encryption and compression schemes can go wrong. Data can be missing, encryption can go wrong, any number of issues can come up. They’re rare if handled carefully but are important to be accounted for. Furthermore, files can be corrupted simply by packets being lost during a download or peer to peer transfer. While in most cases, the worst that can happen is severe annoyance as a file fails to read properly, it can actually result in damage being done.
Damaged files can damage databases, broken executables can cause damage to systems. Viruses like to hide as embedded code in files, as do worms and other malicious little vermin as well. As a result, there needs to be a way to know the basic shape a file should have, and check against it before anything hazardous may be unleashed by closely tinkering with it.
There are a number of mathematical schemes to accommodate this. The two oldest are CRC and CRC32. These are still often used. MD5 is another of these. This entire family of schemes are called “checksums” and sometimes colloquially “hashes”.
So, generating an MD5 hash for a file, before sending it or listing it, is a good way to make sure the file is properly intact on arrival, as the hash will come out very differently if even a couple bytes are out of place. This adds further antivirus protection to security measures, and prevents damaged data from going into places where it’d be hard to remove and its damage be undone.
Following this train of thought, it’s also a great way to spot tampered files. These tampered files are not necessarily always dangerous, but there are a lot of reasons why tight version control is important. It’s a great way to abate piracy of software, as any changed file will be obvious to a program. (A lot of piracy involves patching assistant files).
It’s a good way for games to lock out modifications not permitted, which puts a stop to cheaters and other grief-causing troublemakers. It’s also a good way to ensure that the proper files are sent to the proper versions of things, which makes automatic updates of multiple parallel versions of software much less risky a proposition.
Another big problem, when a lot of data is uploaded, generated or acquired, is an increasing problem of duplicate files. When it comes to text, it’s pretty easy to compare raw blocks of text and see if they’re equivalent. Any other format, this kind of abstract step by step analysis would cripple a system when every single upload or post would result in all files needing compared against one another. Hash systems like MD5 are so, so very useful for making this manageable.
When a file is uploaded, its MD5 can be generated. A database can then be consulted, to see if said MD5 hash has already been stored from a previous upload. If it has, the file will be rejected. If it has not, it’s stored where it belongs, and then the MD5 hash is logged for future checks.
This means that duplicate files, while slightly possible with different sizes of the same image or different qualities of the same audio or video can still happen, is largely prevented rather easily and efficiently. There are also a lot of neat tools now taken for granted, that are possible thanks entirely to MD5 hashes or something similar.
Everyone loves using Google image search, and using an image as the search criteria. While Google does pride themselves in having some nifty optical recognition systems that can extend the functionality of this feature, the bulk of the work is based around CRC32 and MD5 hash checks. While the precise set of steps performed in this case aren’t spelled out by Google, there’s a pretty likely theory behind it.
A series of image sizes are generated rapidly based on this uploaded image, all of which then have MD5 hashes made from them. Google then does similar compares to that of duplicate prevention, to find literal matches. Beyond this, their optical recognition magic steps in for more abstract results.
As a result, though, a little added trick for SEO can be worked out, for anyone working with a lot of images, aiming to optimize their visibility in image searches. Implementing MD5 generation into any interface where the images are uploaded to the site, and them then being embedded in the site’s meta data, will make image search more likely to prioritize the image (and its parent site) in results.
This is unfortunately a lot less precise a science than traditional SEO and result rankings, but it’s likely to be refined more in the future, at which point MD5 or a descendant of it, will play an invaluable role in future SEO.
So far, we’ve looked at the more obvious ways such an “at a glance” summary of a file can be helpful. There’s also something to be said for data control done through MD5 logging as well. While most people would rightfully agree that any kind of strict access control through an internet connection is ethically wrong, there are exceptions to this rule.
Metered, public access Wi-Fi or other forms of internet connection often have locks on them to prevent certain sorts of websites being accessed. Most of the time, these are adult websites, steaming sites where bandwidth is concerned and of course piracy sites. There are legitimate reasons to prevent these materials from being permitted in many environments. Adult material shouldn’t really be available in a place where families might patronize. Piracy being permitted makes the business allowing it liable. Bandwidth can cost money. Any of these could let nasty things onto the network.
While domain-level blocks are the biggest, most effective way to stop these sorts of places from being accessed, there are always ways around this, such as proxies and other duplicitous strategies. This is where, in some cases, logging MD5 hashes of different bits of data, and then denying them throughput when requested, can go an extra step toward preventing nasty stuff getting in.
Similarly, businesses can prevent employees or guests from installing software they really don’t want on their computers, this way. Banning them by name doesn’t work, when people know how to rename things and be sneaky. Blocking them by CRC32 or MD5 is pretty hard to circumvent even for the more clever “nerd” among the employees.
So, MD5 is pretty darn useful, isn’t it? Why is an online MD5 generator so great though? Well, given how many uses this hash format has, standard, easily-accessed modules which can provide it, without local computing expenses, goes a long way to make the whole thing go much more smoothly. On top of this, it helps with trust, where trust is so key.
When the first party can show the second party the MD5 generator being used, and the second party can in turn verify that any mismatch is true MD5 hashes not matching, there’s never a question that something suspicious is actually going on with that file. While this may sound like a paranoid situation to be in, better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
Nowadays, data volumes are massive, and a lot of places generate gigabytes and terabytes of it a day. Some of it may be damaged, some of it may be poisoned, some of it may be redundant. Without the power of simple gist codes like MD5, all of this would be such a crapshoot to deal with. In fact, by now, the volume of data across the internet may have brought the entire thing to a grinding halt by this point, were it not for such math tricks.
Again, though, while a lot of tools being overlooked or misunderstood is a rather absurd thing, this one is understandable. Look how much of an understanding of how files and computers worked, and how many specific types of scenarios had to be looked at, to really make obvious the importance of this one.
Thankfully, there are enough technology people out there with a gift for gab and simplification of abstract concepts, to step in and make sure people understand why something like an online MD5 generator, is so important. Like any other security measure put into place online, the need for this isn’t going to go away. Different, more sophisticated types of hash may come along to one day replace MD5, but then again, CRC32 is positively ancient, and MD5’s presence didn’t make it disappear.