Cyclic Redundancy Checking (CRC)

Error detection is an important part of communication systems when there is a chance of data getting corrupted. Whether it’s a piece of stored code or a data transmission, you can add a piece of redundant information to validate the data and protect it against corruption. Cyclic redundancy checking is a robust error-checking algorithm, which is commonly used to detect errors either in data transmission or data storage. In this multipart article we explain a few basic principles.

Modulo two arithmetic is simple single-bit binary arithmetic with all carries or borrows ignored. Each digit is considered independently. This article talks about how modulo two addition is equivalent to modulo two subtraction, and can be performed using an exclusive OR operation followed by a brief on Polynomial division where remainder forms the CRC checksum.
For example, we can add two binary numbers X and Y as follows:

10101001 (X) + 00111010 (Y) = 10010011 (Z)

From this example the modulo two addition is equivalent to an exclusive OR operation. What is less obvious is that modulo two subtraction gives the same results as an addition.
From the previous example let’s add X and Z:

10101001 (X) + 10010011 (Z) = 00111010 (Y)

In our previous example we have seen how X + Y = Z therefore Y = Z – X, but the example above shows that Z+X = Y also, hence modulo two addition is equivalent to modulo two subtraction, and can be performed using an exclusive OR operation.

In integer division dividing A by B will result in a quotient Q, and a remainder R. Polynomial division is similar except that when A and B are polynomials, the remainder is a polynomial, whose degree is less than B.

The key point here is that any change to the polynomial A causes a change to the remainder R. This behavior forms the basis of the cyclic redundancy checking.
If we consider a polynomial, whose coefficients are zeros and ones (modulo two), this polynomial can be easily represented by its coefficients as binary powers of two.

In terms of cyclic redundancy calculations, the polynomial A would be the binary message string or data and polynomial B would be the generator polynomial. The remainder R would be the cyclic redundancy checksum. If the data changed or became corrupt, then a different remainder would be calculated.

Although the algorithm for cyclic redundancy calculations looks complicated, it only involves shifting and exclusive OR operations. Using modulo two arithmetic, division is just a shift operation and subtraction is an exclusive OR operation.

Cyclic redundancy calculations can therefore be efficiently implemented in hardware, using a shift register modified with XOR gates. The shift register should have the same number of bits as the degree of the generator polynomial and an XOR gate at each bit, where the generator polynomial coefficient is one.

Augmentation is a technique used to produce a null CRC result, while preserving both the original data and the CRC checksum. In communication systems using cyclic redundancy checking, it would be desirable to obtain a null CRC result for each transmission, as the simplified verification will help to speed up the data handling.

Traditionally, a null CRC result is generated by adding the cyclic redundancy checksum to the data, and calculating the CRC on the new data. While this simplifies the verification, it has the unfortunate side effect of changing the data. Any node receiving the data+CRC result will be able to verify that no corruption has occurred, but will be unable to extract the original data, because the checksum is not known. This can be overcome by transmitting the checksum along with the modified data, but any data-handling advantage gained in the verification process is offset by the additional steps needed to recover the original data.


Augmentation allows the data to be transmitted along with its checksum, and still obtain a null CRC result. As explained before when obtain a null CRC result, the data changes, when the checksum is added. Augmentation avoids this by shifting the data left or augmenting it with a number of zeros, equivalent to the degree of the generator polynomial. When the CRC result for the shifted data is added, both the original data and the checksum are preserved.

In this example, our generator polynomial (x3 + x2 + 1 or 1101) is of degree 3, so the data (0xD6B5) is shifted to the left by three places or augmented by three zeros.

0xD6B5 = 1101011010110101 becomes 0x6B5A8 = 1101011010110101000.

Note that the original data is still present within the augmented data.
0x6B5A8 = 1101011010110101000
Data = D6B5 Augmentation = 000

Calculating the CRC result for the augmented data (0x6B5A8) using our generator polynomial (1101), gives a remainder of 101 (degree 2). If we add this to the augmented data, we get:

0x6B5A8 + 0b101 = 1101011010110101000 + 101
= 1101011010110101101
= 0x6B5AD

As discussed before, calculating the cyclic redundancy checksum for 0x6B5AD will result in a null checksum, simplifying the verification. What is less apparent is that the original data is still preserved intact.

0x6B5AD = 1101011010110101101
Data = D6B5 CRC = 101

The degree of the remainder or cyclic redundancy checksum is always less than the degree of the generator polynomial. By augmenting the data with a number of zeros equivalent to the degree of the generator polynomial, we ensure that the addition of the checksum does not affect the augmented data.

In any communications system using cyclic redundancy checking, the same generator polynomial will be used by both transmitting and receiving nodes to generate checksums and verify data. As the receiving node knows the degree of the generator polynomial, it is a simple task for it to verify the transmission by calculating the checksum and testing for zero, and then extract the data by discarding the last three bits.

Thus augmentation preserves the data, while allowing a null cyclic redundancy checksum for faster verification and data handling.

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