Base64 is a generic term for a number of similar encoding schemes that encode binary data by treating it numerically and translating it into a base 64 representation. The Base64 term originates from a specific MIME content transfer encoding. Base64 encoding schemes are commonly used when there is a need to encode binary data that needs be stored and transferred over media that are designed to deal with textual data. This is to ensure that the data remains intact without modification during transport. Base64 is used commonly in a number of applications including email via MIME, and storing complex data in XML.
The particular choice of characters to make up the 64 characters required for base varies between implementations. The general rule is to choose a set of 64 characters that is both part of a subset common to most encodings, and also printable. This combination leaves the data unlikely to be modified in transit through systems, such as email, which were traditionally not 8-bit clean. For example, MIME's Base64 implementation uses A-Z, a-z, and 0-9 for the first 62 values. Other variations, usually derived from Base64, share this property but differ in the symbols chosen for the last two values; an example is UTF-7.