Constant-weight code

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In coding theory, a constant-weight code, also called an m of n code, is an error detection and correction code where all codewords share the same Hamming weight. The theory is closely connected to that of designs (such as t-designs and Steiner systems). Most of the work on this very vital field of discrete mathematics is concerned with binary constant-weight codes.

Binary constant-weight codes have several applications, including frequency hopping in GSM networks.[1] Most barcodes use a binary constant-weight code to simplify automatically setting the threshold. Most line codes use either a constant-weight code, or a nearly-constant-weight paired disparity code. In addition to use as error correction codes, the large space between code words can also be used in the design of asynchronous circuits such as delay insensitive circuits.

Constant-weight codes, like Berger codes, can detect all unidirectional errors.


The central problem regarding constant-weight codes is the following: what is the maximum number of codewords in a binary constant-weight code with length n, Hamming distance d, and weight w? This number is called A(n,d,w).

Apart from some trivial observations, it is generally impossible to compute these numbers in a straightforward way. Upper bounds are given by several important theorems such as the first and second Johnson bounds,[2] and better upper bounds can sometimes be found in other ways. Lower bounds are most often found by exhibiting specific codes, either with use of a variety of methods from discrete mathematics, or through heavy computer searching. A large table of such record-breaking codes was published in 1990,[3] and an extension to longer codes (but only for those values of d and w which are relevant for the GSM application) was published in 2006.[1]

1 of N codes[edit]

Main article: one-hot

A special case of constant weight codes are the one-of-N codes, that encode log_2 N bits in a code-word of N bits. The one-of-two code uses the code words 01 and 10 to encode the bits '0' and '1'. A one-of-four code can use the words 0001, 0010, 0100, 1000 in order to encode two bits 00, 01, 10, and 11. An example is dual rail encoding, and chain link [4] used in delay insensitive circuits. For these codes, n=N,~ d=2,~ w=1 and A(n, d, w) = n.

m of n codes[edit]

An m of n code is a separable error detection code with a code word length of n bits, where each code word contains exactly m instances of a "one." A single bit error will cause the code word to have either m + 1 or m – 1 "ones". An example m-of-n code is the 2 of 5 code used by the United States Postal Service.

The simplest implementation is to append a string of ones to the original data until it contains m ones, then append zeros to create a code of length n.


3 of 6 code
Original 3 data bits Appended bits
000 111
001 110
010 110
011 100
100 110
101 100
110 100
111 000

Some of the more notable uses of constant-weight codes include biphase mark code uses a 1 of 2 code; pulse-position modulation uses a 1 of n code; Code 39 uses a 3 of 9 code; 6b/8b encoding uses a 4 of 8 code; bi-quinary coded decimal code uses a 2 of 7 code, the Hadamard code, etc.


  1. ^ a b D. H. Smith, L. A. Hughes and S. Perkins (2006). "A New Table of Constant Weight Codes of Length Greater than 28". The Electronic Journal of Combinatorics 13.
  2. ^ See pp. 526–527 of F. J. MacWilliams and N. J. A. Sloane (1979). The Theory of Error-Correcting Codes. Amsterdam: North-Holland.
  3. ^ A. E. Brouwer, James B. Shearer, N. J. A. Sloane and Warren D. Smith (1990). "A New Table of Constant Weight Codes". IEEE Transactions of Information Theory 36.
  4. ^ W.J.Bainbridge, A.Bardsley, R.W.McGuffin. "System-on-Chip Design using Self-timed Networks-on-Chip". 

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