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\newcommand{\insquar}[1]{\left[#1\right]}             %\insquar{x+y}  is [x+y]
\newcommand{\inangle}[1]{\left\langle#1\right\rangle} %\inangle{A}    is <A>
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\newcommand{\super}[2]{#1^{\inparen{#2}}}             %\super{G}{i-1} is G^{(i-1)}
\newcommand{\setdef}[2]{\inbrace{{#1}\ : \ {#2}}}
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\lecture{13: Codes: An Introduction}{CS681}{Piyush P Kurur}{Ramprasad Saptharishi}


Over the next few lectures we shall be looking at codes, linear codes
in particular. In this class we shall look at the motivation and a
glimpse at error detection. The details shall be done in the lectures
to come. 


Suppose you have two parties Alice and Bob who wish to communicate
over a channel which could potentially be unreliable. What we mean by
unreliable is that some parts of the message could be corrupt or
changed. We want to make sure that the recepient can detect such
corruption if any, or sometimes even recover the message from the

We can assume that the channel sends allows sending some strings over
a fixed finite alphabet (a finite field, or bits, or the english
alphabet etc). The two questions we need to address here is detection
and correction. 

\subsection{Block Codes}

What if Alice needs to send a message, in say english, and the channel
has a different alphabet, say binary strings. Then we need some way of
converting strings of one alphabet into another. This is achieved by
looking at blocks of code. 

In the example of english to binary, we could look at ascii
codes. Each letter would correspond to a {\em block} of letters in the

Of course, not all blocks of bits could correspond to meaningful
sentences or messages. A block code is in general just a subset of
strings. To formally define it:

Let $\Sigma$ be the fixed finite alphabet for the channel of
communication. A block code $\mathcal{C}$ of length $n$ over this
communication is a subset of $\Sigma^n.$

Elements of $\mathcal{C}$ are called code words. 

For any two strings $x$ and $y$ of the same length, the hamming
distance is defined as the number of indices that $x$ and $y$ differ
d(x,y) = \abs{\setdef{i}{x_i \neq y_i}}

The distance of a code $\mathcal{C}$ is the minimum distance between
its codewords. That is,
d(\mathcal{C}) = \min_{x\neq y}d(x,y)

In a sense, the distance of a code is a measure of how much one needs
to change to alter one code to another. For example, if the distance
of a code was say $5$, then it means that there are two strings (messages) $x$
and $y$ that differ at just $5$ places. Now suppose $x$ was sent
through the channel and those $5$ bits were changed due to the noise
in the channel, then Bob would receive the message $y$ from Alice
while she had sent $x.$ And since $y$ was also a message, Bob could
completely misinterpret Alice's message. 

We would like codes to have large distance so that it takes a lot of
corruption to actually alter one codeword into another. From this, we
have a simple observation.

Let $d$ be the distance of a code $\mathcal{C}.$ Then the code is
$d-1$-detectable, or if the channel corrupts atmost $d-1$ letters of
the message, then the other party can detect that the code word has
been corrupted. 
As we remarked earlier, since the distance is $d$, it takes atleast
$d$ corruptions to change one code word into another. Therefore, on
any code word $x$, something less than $d$ corruptions cannot change
it to another codeword. Therefore, if the string Bob received was a
codeword, then he knows for sure that Alice had sent that string for

Therefore, if the channel changed atmost $t$ bits, any code with
distance atleast $t+1$ would allow error detection. But of course, if
Bob received ``I hobe you'', he knows that the message was corrupted
but he has no way of determining whether the message was ``I love
you'' or ``I hate you''. In order to correct $t$ errors, you need a
more than just a distance of $t+1.$

If $\mathcal{C}$ is a code of distance atleast $2t+1$, then any
message that is corrupt by atmost $t$ bits can be recovered. Or in
other words, the code is $t$-correctable. 

Suppose Alice had sent some codeword $x$ and let us say this was
altered through the channel and Bob received it as $y.$ Given that
atmost $t$ bits were altered, we want to show that Bob can infact
recover the message. 

Since Bob knew that atmost $t$ bits are corrupted, he looks at all
codewords at a hamming distance of atmost $t$ from $y.$\footnote{can
be thought of as putting a ball of radius $t$ around $y$} Now clearly
$x$ is a codeword that is present at a hamming distance at most $t$
from $y.$ If $x$ was the only such code word, then Bob knows for sure
that the message Alice sent has to be $x.$

But it must be the case that $x$ is the only such codeword. Suppose
not, say there was some other codeword $x'\neq x$ at a distance atmost $t$
from $y.$ Now since $x$ and $y$ differ at most $t$ places and $y$ and
$x'$ at atmost $t$, by the triangle inequality $x$ and $x'$ differ at
atmost $2t$ places. But this contradicts the assumption that the
distance of the code is atleast $2t+1.$\\

Or in other words, if you want to move from one codeword to another
through corruption, you need to corrupt $2t+1$ bits atleast. And
therefore if you corrupt just $t$ place, you are definitely closer to
where you started from than any other codeword. 

But of course, it does not make sense to look at all code words of
distances less than $t$ from $y$ to decode. Even besides that, how do
we even figure out if a given word is a code word or not. So two
important properties that we would want the code to have is efficient
detection of codewords and effecient decoding. 

\section{Linear Codes}

Recall that a block code $\mathcal{C}$ is an arbitrary subset of
$\Sigma^n.$ These codes could have no structure underlying them
and that inherently makes detecting if a string is a codeword
hard. Hence comes the idea for linear codes. 

Since our alphabet is finite, we shall assume that the alphabet is
infact a finite field $\F_q.$ Now our space is $\F_q^n$ which is
infact a vector space over $\F_q$ of dimension $n.$ Instead of looking
at arbitrary subsets of this space, linear codes restrict themselves
to subspaces of $\F_q^n.$

A $\insquar{n,k,d}_q$ linear code $\mathcal{C}$ such that $\mathcal{C}$
is a $k$-dimensional subspace of $\F_q^n$ and has distance $d.$

That is, if $x,y \in \mathcal{C}$ then so is $\alpha x + \beta y$ for
all $\alpha,\beta \in \F_q.$  

To intuitively understand the parameters, we would be encoding
messages of length $k$ with codes of length $n$ so that it can
error-correct up to $d/2$ errors. Thus we want $k$ to be as close to
$n$ as possible and also try to make $d$ large. It is not possible to
arbitrarily increase both but we want some reasonable values. 

To see an example of a linear code, consider our field to be $\F_2.$
Then if $\mathcal{C} = \inbrace{(0,0,0),(1,1,1)}$ then this is a
$\insquar{3,1,3}_2$ linear code. 

The weight of any string $x$ is the number of indices of $x$ that have
a $1$ in it. 
wt(x) = \abs{\setdef{i}{x_i=1}}

Then we have the following easy observation. 

If $\mathcal{C}$ is a linear code, then
d(\mathcal{C}) = \min_{x\neq 0} wt(x)
By definition, $d(\mathcal{C}) = d(x,y)$ but $d(x,y) = wt(x-y).$ Note
that since we are looking at a linear code, $x,y\in \mathcal{C}$ also
tells us that $x-y\in \mathcal{C}.$ Therefore, for every $x\neq y$ we
have a corresponding $0\neq z = x-y$ that is a codeword whose weight
is exactly the distance between $x$ and $y.$


Suppose we have a linear code $\mathcal{C}$ and given a string $x$ we
want to check if this is in the code or not. Since we know that our
code is a subspace of $\F_q^n$, we can represent $\mathcal{C}$ using a
basis. Let us say we are looking at $[n,k,\_]_q$ codes and our basis
be $\inbrace{b_1, b_2, \cdots, b_k}$ where each $b_i \in \F_q^n.$

The idea is that we want to construct a matrix $H$ such that $Hx
= \bar{0}$ if and only if $x\in \mathcal{C}.$ Thus, in terms of
tranformations, we want a linear map $H$ such that the kernel of this
map is precisely (nothing more, nothing less) $\mathcal{C}.$ The
question is, how do we find such a matrix?\\

We first find a transformation that achieves what we want and then try
and figure out what the matrix of the transformation should look
like. We have a basis $\inbrace{b_1,b_2,\cdots, b_k}$ for our
code. Let us extend this first to a basis $\inbrace{b_1, b_2, \cdots,
b_n}$ of $\F_q^n.$ 

Thus, every vector $v\in \F_q^n$ can be written as a unique linear
combination of $b_i$s. We do the obvious transformation: map all $b_i$
where $i\leq k$ to $0$ and the rest of the basis elements to identity.
v & = & \alpha_1 b_1 + \alpha_2 b_2 +  \cdots  +\alpha_k b_k
+ \alpha_{k+1}b_{k+1} + \cdots + \alpha_n b_n\\
Hv & = & \alpha_{k+1}b_{k+1} + \cdots + \alpha_n b_n

Now a vector $v$ will be in the kernel of $H$ if and only if all
$\alpha_i$ where $i>k$ is zero. Then $v$ has to be a linear
combination of just the basis elements of $\mathcal{C}$ and therefore
must itself be a codeword. \\

Now comes the question of how to compute the matrix of transformation
of $H.$ Suppose it turns out that that the basis we chose was actually
the standard basis $\inbrace{e_1,e_2, \cdots, e_n}.$ Then what can we
say about the matrix $H$? Then clearly, it should map all vector
$(\alpha_1, \alpha_2, \cdots, \alpha_n)$ to $(0,0,\cdots,
0,\alpha_{k+1},\cdots, \alpha_n).$ And this matrix is just 
\hat{H} = 
0 & 0 \\
0 & I
}_{n\times n}
where the $I$ is the identity matrix of order $n-k.$ But it's unlikely
that we start with such a nice basis. The good news is that we can
easily move from one basis to another. We just want a way to send each
$b_i$ to $e_i$ so that we can then use the transformation $\hat{H}$ to
send it to $0$ if $i\leq k$ and keep it non-zero otherwise. Instead of
sending $b_i$ to $e_i$, the other direction is easy to compute. 

What if we ask for a matrix $B$ such that $Be_i = b_i$? This is easy
because $Be_i$ is just the $i$-th column of the matrix $B.$ Thus the
matrix is just $\insquar{b_1 b_2 \cdots b_n}$ where each $b_i$ is now
expanded as a column vector; just place each basis element side by
side as a column vector and that is the transformation. Now that we
have a matrix $B$ that sends $e_i$ to $b_i$, how do we get a matrix
that sends $b_i$ to $e_i$? Take $B^{-1}$!

Now look at $\hat{H}B^{-1}$ as a transformation. $\hat{H}B^{-1}b_i
= \hat{H}e_i$ which is $0$ if $i\leq k$ and $e_i$ otherwise. Thus this
matrix $\hat{H}B^{-1}$ is the matrix we were after: a matrix whose
kernel is precisely the code $\mathcal{C}.$