exercism fetch go simple-cipher

Simple Cipher

Implement a simple shift cipher like Caesar and a more secure substitution cipher.

Step 1

"If he had anything confidential to say, he wrote it in cipher, that is, by so changing the order of the letters of the alphabet, that not a word could be made out. If anyone wishes to decipher these, and get at their meaning, he must substitute the fourth letter of the alphabet, namely D, for A, and so with the others." —Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar

Ciphers are very straight-forward algorithms that allow us to render text less readable while still allowing easy deciphering. They are vulnerable to many forms of cryptoanalysis, but we are lucky that generally our little sisters are not cryptoanalysts.

The Caesar Cipher was used for some messages from Julius Caesar that were sent afield. Now Caesar knew that the cipher wasn't very good, but he had one ally in that respect: almost nobody could read well. So even being a couple letters off was sufficient so that people couldn't recognize the few words that they did know.

Your task is to create a simple shift cipher like the Caesar Cipher. This image is a great example of the Caesar Cipher:

Caesar Cipher

For example:

Giving "iamapandabear" as input to the encode function returns the cipher "ldpdsdqgdehdu". Obscure enough to keep our message secret in transit.

When "ldpdsdqgdehdu" is put into the decode function it would return the original "iamapandabear" letting your friend read your original message.

Initially you will implement a Caesar Cipher with a fixed shift distance of 3 (namely D, for A).

Step 2

Fixed distance Shift Ciphers are no fun though when your kid sister figures it out. Try amending the code to allow us to specify a shift distance.

You will implement a more generic Shift Cipher with a flexible shift distance.

Step 3

With only 26 true possible shift values, your kid sister will figure this out too. Next lets define a more complex cipher using a string as key value: a Vigenère cipher.

Here's an example:

Given the key "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa", encoding the string "iamapandabear" would return the original "iamapandabear".

Given the key "ddddddddddddddddd", encoding our string "iamapandabear" would return the obscured "ldpdsdqgdehdu"

In the example above, we've set a = 0 for all the key values, with a shift distance of 0. So when the plaintext is added to the key, we end up with the same message coming out. So "aaaa" is not an ideal key. But if we set the key to "dddd", we would get the same thing as the Shift Cipher with all shift distances set to 4.

These keys are not much of an improvement over the fixed distance Shift Cipher. However, we can put many different lengths into the key if we use strings with different characters:

Given the key "adadadadad", encoding the string "iamapandabear" would return the obscured "idmdpdngaeedr".

Each character in the key is used to shift the corresponding character by index. If the key is shorter than the text, repeat the key as needed.


Shift ciphers work by making the text slightly odd, but are vulnerable to frequency analysis. Substitution ciphers help that, but are still very vulnerable when the key is short or if spaces are preserved. You'll see one solution to this problem in the exercise "crypto-square".

If you want to go farther in this field, the questions begin to be about how we can exchange keys in a secure way. Take a look at Diffie-Hellman on Wikipedia for one of the first implementations of this scheme.


The definition of the Cipher interface is located in cipher.go.

Your implementations should conform to the Cipher interface.

type Cipher interface {
    Encode(string) string
    Decode(string) string

It is expected that Encode will ignore all values in the string that are not A-Za-z, they will not be represented in the output. The output will be also normalized to lowercase.

The functions used to obtain the ciphers are:

func NewCaesar() Cipher { }

func NewShift(distance int) Cipher { }

func NewVigenere(key string) Cipher { }

Argument for NewShift must be in the range 1 to 25 or -1 to -25. Zero is disallowed. For invalid arguments NewShift returns nil.

Argument for NewVigenere must consist of lower case letters a-z only. Values consisting entirely of the letter 'a' are disallowed. For invalid arguments NewVigenere returns nil.

Running the tests

To run the tests run the command go test from within the exercise directory.

If the test suite contains benchmarks, you can run these with the -bench flag:

go test -bench .

Keep in mind that each reviewer will run benchmarks on a different machine, with different specs, so the results from these benchmark tests may vary.

Further information

For more detailed information about the Go track, including how to get help if you're having trouble, please visit the exercism.io Go language page.


Substitution Cipher at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Substitution_cipher

Submitting Incomplete Solutions

It's possible to submit an incomplete solution so you can see how others have completed the exercise.