One of the goals I have with this blog is to build up a collection of public domain C libraries for various cryptographic functions. Already I have MD5 and SHA1, the next obvious one is SHA2. Once again I have made an example program and compiled for x64 on OSX and Windows that calculates SHA256 and SHA512 hashes of a string from the command line. – Full source code and Windows and OSX x64 binaries.

SHA1 became a replacement for MD5 as MD5 had weaknesses. Unfortunately SHA1 also has weaknesses, but it took longer before they came apparent. SHA2 was designed to replace SHA1 and was created in 2001. Unfortunately SHA2 was designed by committee, and as often is the case when designing a replacement the end result is far more complicated than required to fix the original problem.

MD5 produces 128 bit hashes. SHA1 produces 160 bit hashes. It would seem logical SHA2 would be an algorithm that produced a fixed hash length, most likely 256 bit. Instead SHA2 is a set of functions producing six different hashes, with four different sizes.

SHA256 is the name given to a SHA2 function that produces a 256 bit hash. Like MD5 and SHA1 this function uses 32 bit operations and works well on a 32 bit processor. The same algorithm is used but with 64 bit operations instead of 32 bit. This is SHA512. It produces a 512 bit hash. There are a few other differences such as the number of rounds and the initial values.

In my opinion if SHA2 had to have more than one hash size it should have stopped here with two functions, a 256 bit one and a 512 bit one. Besides if you need a smaller size you can simply truncate the final output of the hash to a smaller size. However the SHA2 committee decided that two additional sizes were required, 224 bit and 384 bit. Rather than just truncating the output of the larger hashes, they also changed the initial values used in the hash calculations. So SHA224 is a truncated version of SHA256 but with different initial values and the same goes with SHA384 being a truncated version of SHA512. The different initial values don’t add anything to the strength of the hashes, they just make it impossible to create a SHA224 hash from a SHA256 hash, you have to perform the entire calculation again.

To me the 224 and 384 variations are worthless. If you have an application that absolutely needs 384 bits then use a SHA512 and truncate the result to 384 bits. Having a different official standard doesn’t offer anything useful. So now there are four SHA2 functions: SHA224, SHA256, SHA384, and SHA512. Unfortunately it gets worse, there are actually two more.

Because SHA512 works on 64 bit values, it is more efficient than SHA256 on a 64 bit processor as it works through the data in larger chunks at a time. However on a 32 bit processor the code takes about four times as long. When SHA2 was invented 64bit processors were not common place in desktop computers, however now they are standard. On a 64 bit processor a SHA512 calculation is faster than a SHA256 because of the higher data throughput. In 2012 two more functions were added to the SHA2 family: SHA-512/224 and SHA-512/256. Both these functions use the SHA-512 function, but again with different initial values, and the final output truncated to 224 or 256 bits.

As of this writing all SHA2 functions are considered secure, and not broken.

As I personally only like SHA256 and SHA512, I will ignore the other four variations and not add them to my hash library. I have written SHA256 and SHA512 as independent modules. You can take either one without requiring the other.

The functions are defined with the same prototypes as MD5 and SHA1 for easy compatibility. Once again I have produce string to hash programs. In this case two programs: Sha256String and Sha512String which can be used to verify the hash functions. – Source code and binaries.

This is free and unencumbered software released into the public domain.


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