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Simulation of the WW2 Japanese PURPLE cipher machine.

Project description


Brian Neal <>

February 17, 2013
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MIT License (see LICENSE.txt)


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Purple is a Python library and command-line utility for simulating the PURPLE Machine, a cipher machine used by the Japanese Foreign Office before and during the Second World War. PURPLE was the code name given to the machine by U.S. cryptanalysts. The Japanese called the machine 97-shiki ōbun inji-ki (System 97 Printing Machine for European Characters), and Angōki B-kata (Type B Cipher Machine). The machine was used for secure diplomatic communications and was implemented as an electromechanical stepping-switch device.

This project is a Python 3 library and command-line utility for encrypting and decrypting text by simulating the operation of an actual PURPLE machine.

If you are brand new to the Purple cipher machine, please skip down to the references section and familiarize yourself with the device. This will help you understand the terminology used in the documentation, below.


Purple was written in Python 3, specifically 3.3.2, and has no other external dependencies.


Purple is available on the Python Package Index (PyPI). There are a number of ways to install to Purple, detailed below. The author recommends you install into a virtualenv. Setting up a virtualenv is not hard, but describing it is out of scope for this document. Please see the virtualenv documentation for more information.

You can install it using pip:

$ pip install purple                # install
$ pip install --upgrade purple      # upgrade

You can also visit the the Purple Bitbucket page and download an archive file of the latest code. Alternatively, if you use Mercurial, you can clone the repository with the following command:

$ hg clone

If you did not use pip (you downloaded or cloned the code yourself), you can install with:

$ cd where-you-extracted-purple
$ python install

To run the unit tests:

$ cd where-you-extracted-purple
$ python -m unittest discover

Initial Settings Syntax

In order to exchange messages, each message recipient must use the same initial machine settings. For the Purple machine, these settings are the initial switch positions for the “sixes” and three “twenties” stepping switches, the switch motion order (which twenties switch is the fast switch, which is the middle switch, and which is the slow switch), and finally the plugboard alphabet mapping.

The Purple simulation uses the following syntax in both its command-line application and library code.

For the switches, we borrow the notation used by U.S. cryptanalysts, for example:


Here the first number before leading dash, 9, indicates the starting position of the sixes switch. The next three numbers are the starting positions for the three twenties switches numbered 1, 2, and 3. Each switch position is a number from 1 through 25, inclusive. Finally, after the last dash are two digits which indicate the switch stepping motion. The first number, in this case 2, indicates that the twenties switch #2 is the fast switch. The second number, 3, indicates twenties switch #3 is the middle switch. Thus the slow switch, which is never listed, is in this case twenties switch #1. When using this syntax, do not insert space characters.

The plugboard alphabet setting describes how the input typewriters are wired to the plugboard. We represent this setting as a string of the 26 uppercase alphabet letters where the first six letters are the wiring to the sixes switch, and the remaining 20 are wired to the first stage of the twenties switches. For example:


For the alphabet setting to be valid, do not insert spaces, and ensure all 26 letters are used exactly once.

Command-line Usage

To get help on the command-line Purple utility, execute the purple command with the --help option:

$ purple --help
usage: purple [-h] [-e] [-d] [-f] [-s SWITCHES] [-a ALPHABET] [-t TEXT]
              [-i FILE] [-g N] [-w N]

PURPLE cipher machine simulator

optional arguments:
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -e, --encrypt         perform an encrypt operation
  -d, --decrypt         perform a decrypt operation
  -f, --filter          filter plaintext and provide useful substitutions
  -s SWITCHES, --switches SWITCHES
                        switch settings, e.g. 9-1,24,6-23
  -a ALPHABET, --alphabet ALPHABET
                        plugboard wiring string, 26-letters; e.g.
  -t TEXT, --text TEXT  input text to encrypt/decrypt
  -i FILE, --input FILE
                        file to read input text from, - for stdin
  -g N, --group N       if non-zero, group output in N-letter groups [default:
  -w N, --width N       wrap output text to N letters; a value of 0 means do
                        not wrap [default: 70]

Supply either -e or -d, but not both, to perform either an encrypt or decrypt.
If the -s option is not supplied, the value of the environment variable
PURPLE97_SWITCHES will be used. If the -a option is not supplied, the value of
the environment variable PURPLE97_ALPHABET will be used. Input text is
supplied either by the -t or by the -f options, but not both.

The purple command operates in two modes, either encrypt (specified with -e or --encrypt) or decrypt (-d or --decrypt). Input text can be specified on the command-line with the -t or --text option, or a read from a file (-i or --input).

The -s (or --switches) and -a (or --alphabet) settings determine the initial machine settings. They use the syntax described above in the Initial Settings Syntax section.

If you are going to be working with the same initial switch settings and plugboard alphabet over many command invocations it may be more convenient to specify them as environment variables instead of repeatedly using the command-line arguments. The examples below assume these statements have been executed:

$ export PURPLE97_SWITCHES=9-1,24,6-23

If you do not specify initial settings, the purple machine will attempt to read them from these two environment variables. Failing that, purple will use the following initial settings:

  • default switch settings: 1-1,1,1-12


When encrypting text, the purple machine only accepts the letters A-Z, but also allows for “garble” letters to be indicated by using the - (dash) character. This means all punctuation and spaces must be either be omitted or input via some other convention. The -f or --filter flag, when present, relaxes these restrictions a bit. When this flag is on, all lowercase letters will be converted to uppercase, digits will be converted to words (e.g. 5 becomes FIVE), and all other characters will be ignored.

A simple encrypt example using the -f flag is given below:

$ purple --encrypt -t "The PURPLE machine is now online" -f

By default purple prints the output in 5-letter groups. This can be disabled or customized with the --group and --width options.

To decrypt this message:

$ purple --decrypt -t "OGIVT SIAAH MWMHT VIBYY JUOJF UE"

Note that spaces are ignored on input. Again the output is produced in 5-letter groups and wrapped at 70 letters per line. Here is the output again with grouping disabled:

$ purple -d -t "OGIVT SIAAH MWMHT VIBYY JUOJF UE" -g 0

You can use file redirection to capture output in a file:

$ purple -e -t "The PURPLE machine is now online" -f > secret.txt
$ purple -d -i secret.txt

Library Usage

To use Purple from within Python code you must first construct a Purple97 object, which represents a single PURPLE cipher machine. The constructor is given below:

class Purple97(switches_pos=None, fast_switch=1, middle_switch=2,

The switches_pos argument, when not None, must be a 4-tuple or list of 4 integers that describe the initial switch positions. Element 0 is the sixes initial position, and the remaining elements are the initial positions of the three twenties switches. These values must be in the range 0-24, inclusive. If None then switch positions of all zeroes is assumed.

The fast_switch argument indicates which twenties switch (numbered 1-3) is the fast switch. Likewise, middle_switch indicates which switch is the middle switch. The slow switch is inferred. It is an error to give the fast_switch and middle_switch arguments the same value.

The alphabet argument is the plugboard alphabet mapping. It is expected to be a 26-letter uppercase string. If None, a mapping of AEIOUYBCDFGHJKLMNPQRSTVWXZ is assumed.

For convenience, another constructor is provided that allows you to specify initial settings in the syntax described above:

classmethod Purple97.from_key_sheet(switches, alphabet=None)

Here switches is a string in the syntax described above, e.g. '9-1,24,6-23'.

The alphabet argument is as described in the first constructor.

Once constructed, you can use the Purple97 object to perform encrypt and decrypt operations. For example:

from purple.machine import Purple97

purple = Purple97.from_key_sheet(

ciphertext = purple.encrypt('THEPURPLEMACHINEISONLINE')

purple = Purple97([8, 0, 23, 5], fast_switch=2, middle_switch=3,

plaintext = purple.decrypt(ciphertext)

For more information, please review the docstrings in the code.


To report a bug or suggest a feature, please use the issue tracker at the Purple Bitbucket page. You can also email the author using the address at the top of this file.


  1. PURPLE Revealed: Simulation and Computer-aided Cryptanalysis of Angooki Taipu B, by Wes Freeman, Geoff Sullivan, and Frode Weierud. This paper was published in Cryptologia, Volume 27, Issue 1, January, 2003, pp. 1-43.

  2. Frode Weierud’s CryptoCellar page: The PURPLE Machine

  3. Wikipedia Article: PURPLE Machine

The paper in reference 1 is also available here:

This simulator would not have been possible without Frode Weierud’s CryptoCellar page and the detailed explanations and analysis found in reference 1. The author is also deeply grateful for email discussions with Frode Weierud and Geoff Sullivan who provided me with plaintext, advice, and encouragement.

The Purple simulator’s operation was checked against the simulator found in reference 2.

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