Saturday, June 25, 2011

Alice and Bob

"The names Alice and Bob are commonly used placeholder names for archetypal characters in fields such as cryptography and physics. The names are used for convenience; for example, "Alice sends a message to Bob encrypted with his public key" is easier to follow than "Party A sends a message to Party B encrypted by Party B's public key." Following the alphabet, the specific names have evolved into common parlance within these fields—helping technical topics to be explained in a more understandable fashion.

In cryptography and computer security, there are a number of widely used names for the participants in discussions and presentations about various protocols. The names are conventional, somewhat self-suggestive, sometimes humorous, and effectively act as metasyntactic variables.

In typical implementations of these protocols, it is understood that the actions attributed to characters such as Alice or Bob need not always be carried out by human parties directly, but also by a trusted automated agent (such as a computer program) on their behalf. Despite the advantage of Alice and Bob's distinct genders in reducing ambiguity, there has been little tendency to introduce inanimate parties so they could be referred by neuter pronouns."

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