Transform strings between plain text, base64 and base64 which is safe to use in URL's

Base64 is a group of similar binary-to-text encoding schemes that represent binary data in an ASCII string format by translating it into a radix-64 representation. The term Base64 originates from a specific MIME content transfer encoding. Each base64 digit represents exactly 6 bits of data.

The particular set of 64 characters chosen to represent the 64 place-values for the base varies between implementations. The general strategy is to choose 64 characters that are both members of a subset common to most encodings, and also printable. This combination leaves the data unlikely to be modified in transit through information systems, such as email, that 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 share this property but differ in the symbols chosen for the last two values; an example is UTF-7. The earliest instances of this type of encoding were created for dialup communication between systems running the same OS — e.g., uuencode for UNIX, BinHex for the TRS-80 (later adapted for the Macintosh) — and could therefore make more assumptions about what characters were safe to use. For instance, uuencode uses uppercase letters, digits, and many punctuation characters, but no lowercase

Base64 encoding can be helpful when fairly lengthy identifying information is used in an HTTP environment. For example, a database persistence framework for Java objects might use Base64 encoding to encode a relatively large unique id (generally 128-bit UUIDs) into a string for use as an HTTP parameter in HTTP forms or HTTP GET URLs. Also, many applications need to encode binary data in a way that is convenient for inclusion in URLs, including in hidden web form fields, and Base64 is a convenient encoding to render them in a compact way.

Using standard Base64 in URL requires encoding of '+', '/' and '=' characters into special percent-encoded hexadecimal sequences ('+' becomes '%2B', '/' becomes '%2F' and '=' becomes '%3D'), which makes the string unnecessarily longer. For this reason, modified Base64 for URL variants exist, where the '+' and '/' characters of standard Base64 are respectively replaced by '-' and '_', so that using URL encoders/decoders is no longer necessary and have no impact on the length of the encoded value, leaving the same encoded form intact for use in relational databases, web forms, and object identifiers in general.

Some variants allow or require omitting the padding '=' signs to avoid them being confused with field separators, or require that any such padding be percent-encoded. Some libraries will encode '=' to '.'.

Source: Wikipedia