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RANDOM.ORG is a true random number service that generates randomness via atmospheric noise. This page contains frequently asked questions (and answers!) related to the service.
Excellent question! I suggest you either register for a RANDOM.ORG account or make a donation to Concern. In case you don't know them, Concern is a charity that helps poor people in the third world achieve self-sustainable improvements in their lifestyles. I recommend them because I agree with their mission statement (which they unfortunately removed as per January 2010, but it used to be here) and because they are pretty efficient compared to many of the other charities I have looked at. If you decide to make a donation to Concern because of RANDOM.ORG, it'd be great if you could tell me about it, since Concern don't automatically do that. (I suppose they have better things to do.) And it makes me so happy!
Not currently, no. Maybe I'll make it available as open source some day.
No. It's not just the software you'd need, but also three radios (or one, at any rate), which must be carefully adjusted to pick up atmospheric noise at the right volume. It's not completely trivial to set up.
RANDOM.ORG uses radio receivers to pick up atmospheric noise, which is then used to generate random numbers. The radios are tuned between stations. A possible attack on the generator is therefore to broadcast on the frequencies that the RANDOM.ORG radios use in order to affect the generator. However, radio frequency attacks of this type would be difficult for a variety of reasons. First, the frequencies that the radios use are not published, so an attacker would have to broadcast across all frequencies of all bands used for FM and AM broadcasting. Second, this is not an attack that can be launched from anywhere in the world, only reasonably close to the generator. RANDOM.ORG currently has radio receivers in several different countries, which would make it difficult to coordinate this type of attack. Third, if an attacker actually did succeed at broadcasting highly regular signals (e.g., perfect sine waves) at exactly the right frequencies from the right locations, then the RANDOM.ORG real-time statistics would pick up the drop in quality very rapidly. In particular, the Source Purity and Information Entropy tests would start failing dramatically, which would raise an alert.
Probably, depending on your value for X. I have run the service since 1998 with no real interruptions, and it is more popular than ever. I am not planning to sell it or shut it down, and I do have a succession plan in the works.
Yes. Perhaps you need more numbers than it's possible to get via the web forms, or perhaps you need them in a format that isn't supported. In those cases, I can set up a custom job for you to supply the numbers. I also act as an independent observer for drawings and competitions via the Third-Party Draw Service.
There is typically a charge associated with custom jobs. You can email me for further details.
RANDOM.ORG will send email to you when you register for a Premium Account or if you have forgotten your password. It can also email you if you use the Premium Generator or the Third-Party Draw Service. If you have problems receiving any of these emails, please check your spam filter configuration. It should be set to accept emails from firstname.lastname@example.org as well as Mads.Haahr@cs.tcd.ie. If you are still experiencing problems, let me know.
No. RANDOM.ORG does not feature any sponsored content at present.
Oddly enough, it is theoretically impossible to prove that a random number generator is really random. Rather, you analyse an increasing amount of numbers produced by a given generator, and depending on the results, your confidence in the generator increases (or decreases, as the case may be). This is explained in more detail on my Statistical Analysis page, which also contains two studies of the numbers generated by RANDOM.ORG, both of which concluded that the numbers are sound. In addition, the continually updated Real-Time Statistics page gives you an indication of the quality of the numbers produced over time.
The numbers produced by RANDOM.ORG have been evaluated by eCOGRA, which is is a non-profit regulatory body that acts as the independent standards authority of the online gaming industry. For a typical gambling site, eCOGRA will oversee many aspects of its operation, including financial aspects, such as payout percentages. RANDOM.ORG is not a gambling site, so in our case, eCOGRA only evaluated the quality of the random numbers. They found that RANDOM.ORG consistently produced random numbers across scaling intervals and issued a certificate with their conclusion: ecogra-2009-06-25.pdf (1 page, 52 Kb)
The numbers and software have also been evaluated by TST Global (part of Gaming Labs International) who in 2011 examined the generator for use in games hosted on Malta. TST's report stated that RANDOM.ORG ‘distributes numbers with sufficient non-predictability and fair distribution to particular outcomes’ and concluded that it ‘complies with the requirements of the applicable Technical Standard in the jurisdiction of Malta as regulated by The Lotteries and Gaming Authority (LGA).’
Most recently, our service was evaluated by by Gaming Labs International who in 2012 examined the generator for use in lottery games in the UK. Their report concluded that it ‘distributes numbers with sufficient non-predictability, fair distribution and lack of bias to particular outcomes’ and that it ‘complies with the requirements of the applicable Technical Standard in the UK Remote Gambling jurisdiction, as regulated by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC).’ Further details are available upon request.
Additionally, RANDOM.ORG is specifically accredited to generate randomness for use in games regulated by the following:
Certification documents for specific jurisdictions are available upon request.
For any form that allows the numbers to be formatted in multiple columns, the numbers are generated on a per-row basis, not per-column. Hence, if you want to read them in the order they were generated, you should read them across. Since they're random numbers, it doesn't really matter whether you do it one way or the other, but you should pick one of the two ways and read that way consistently.
Yes, since April 2007 you can access the server via https://www.random.org/
I should probably note that while fetching the numbers via secure HTTP would protect them from being observed while in transit, anyone genuinely concerned with security should not trust anyone else (including RANDOM.ORG) to generate their cryptographic keys.
Currently, there isn't a lot you can do, except email me and tell me this is a problem for you (see also question 1.6). For some of the forms, the limit is there because it requires time to generate random numbers and the server is pretty busy. For other forms, the restriction is related to the available memory in my server. I'm thinking about making a premium service that will allow bigger intervals for a small fee. If you think this is a great idea, let me know, and I may do it sooner than I will otherwise.
If you can do your own programming, you may be able to use the pregenerated files. They contain large amounts of pregenerated raw random data that you can download and use as you please. However, you will probably need to process the files for your specific purpose; hence the need for programming skills.
Some of the forms allow you to choose between three different types of randomization. If you're not sure what to choose, you almost certainly want to ‘generate your own personal randomization right now,’ which is the first (and default) option. In this mode, your numbers (or strings or whatever) will be generated based on true randomness created especially for you and which will be discarded immediately after it has been used. There is no way to predict what these numbers will be, and there is no way to recreate the same numbers later. This is the standard way of using a true random number generator.
The other two modes allow you to select a pregenerated randomization, which means that your numbers or strings will be based on randomness generated by RANDOM.ORG some time in the past. These modes allows you to replay a given sequence of numbers at a later stage, and allows multiple parties in different locations to get the same numbers in a predictable fashion. These modes effectively turn RANDOM.ORG into a pseudo-random number generator.
Currently, the generators support only the discrete uniform distribution. The only exception is the Gaussian Generator, which supports the Gaussian distribution (also known as the normal distribution). No other distributions are currently supported. If you would like to see other distributions, email me the details and I may choose to include them in the future.
Sometimes people email me to say that they feel the Die Roller produces too many repeated numbers (e.g., that it is hard to roll five dice without getting two or more identical rolls) or that the Coin Flipper produces too many heads or tails when used with several coins. Such concerns are great illustrations of how difficult it is for humans to deal with randomness. Our brains are so good at finding patterns that we tend to see them even where they aren't. (This is why statistical tests are useful and why the Real-Time Statistics for RANDOM.ORG's numbers are published online.)
So let's do the math for an example where we're rolling five dice. Intuitively, you may expect that the five rolls should come up different a lot of the time. (At least this is what people often mention in emails.) So what's the chance of all the five rolls being different? The first die is trivial. Any of the six possible values is fine (none will result in duplicates), giving a probability of 6⁄6 = 1. After you've rolled the first die, the chance of the second coming up different from the first is 5⁄6, because there is now one less value you haven't seen before. The third is 4⁄6, and so on. Hence the total probability of all your five rolls turning out different is:
6⁄6 × 5⁄6 × 4⁄6 × 3⁄6 × 2⁄6 ≈ 9.26%
Hence, if you roll five dice repeatedly, you should expect over 90% of the rolls to contain duplicates. If you roll six dice, you can multiply the value above by a further 1⁄6 and you'll get approximately 1.54%. Hence, if you roll six dice repeatedly, you can expect to get six different values only about once in every 65 rolls. The following table shows the probabilities:
|Number of Dice Rolled||Chance of Duplicates|
For a great little introduction to calculating probabilities, check out John Walker's Introduction to Probability and Statistics.
No. Benford's Law describes an over-representation of lower values (in particular ‘1’) for the leading digit in many real-life data sets. Benford's Law can be observed for numbers that are distributed logarithmically, which is the case for many numbers that humans deal with, but not for the true random numbers generated by RANDOM.ORG. Like a die, RANDOM.ORG generates numbers that are uniformly distributed (see question 2.7). For that reason, there is no over-representation of leading digits in the lower ranges. If you are not convinced, try rolling a normal six-sided die many times and write down the results. You won't observe Benford's Law on the values you get.
The different web pages on RANDOM.ORG produce randomness in various different forms, such as coin flips, dice rolls and integers in configurable intervals. These web pages use a raw random bit stream as their source and scale it to suit their particular purpose. Different scaling algorithms are used, depending on the web page in question. For an introduction to scaling algorithms, please see this article by Doctor Jacques.
Many people are using RANDOM.ORG for this purpose. Since March 2007, there is the Third-Party Draw Service, which is especially intended for holding drawings and which will keep records of the outcome. The records serve as evidence that the drawing was conducted fairly, in case someone should question it later on. See the Guide to Random Drawings and section 5 of this FAQ for further details.
If you have no budget but a group of entrants who trust you, then you can use the Sequence Generator. In this case, RANDOM.ORG will not store a record of the result, so your entrants cannot verify the result. Let us assume you have sold or given out sequentially numbered lottery tickets, e.g., numbered 1-250 (if not, see the next question). Then do the following:
People who ask this question often want to use the service for picking people for drug screening or as winners for lotteries or drawings. Since January 2007, there is the List Randomizer, which will probably do what you want.
You can use this technique with any type of data, not only names, but also employee numbers, etc. It will work with up to 10,000 entries, which is the maximum sequence length that the Sequence Generator allows.
Not directly, but you can use David Goodrich's draw straws application, which uses numbers from RANDOM.ORG.
People who ask this question are usually using the Lottery Quick Pick or the Keno Quick Pick. The short answer is that RANDOM.ORG won't give you a better chance of getting a winning combination, but if you do happen to win, you are likely to get slightly better winnings than if you weren't using a quick picker.
Now for the long answer. There are really two different parts to winning a great lottery prize. First, there is the chance of getting a winning combination on your ticket, and then there is the value that this ticket will have. If many others played the same combination as you, you will have to share the pot with them, which will result in a smaller payout for you. (Sharing is great in many aspects of life, but in lotteries, these are the facts.) So in answering this question, let's deal with (1) getting a winning combination and (2) estimating the size of the prize one at a time.
With regard to getting a winning combination, a good few of the people who email me seem to believe that it is possible to predict the outcome of lotteries (or at least to improve your odds) by using a particular strategy. These strategies are typically based on analysis of past winning numbers and are often implemented as ‘lottery winning software.’
Unfortunately, I don't believe there is any strategy or software that will help you improve your odds. Such strategies are based on the idea that numbers or patterns that have come up in the past are less likely to appear in the future. However, for any properly operated lottery, the numbers are picked in a fashion that is statistically independent, which means that a number or a combination that has been picked in the past isn't less likely to occur next week. The belief that this is the case is an example of the Gambler's Fallacy. A simple way to think about it is that the machine that picks the winning numbers has no memory of what happened in previous drawings. The only way to improve your odds is to buy more tickets, but this gets very expensive very quickly and is more likely to make you poor than rich. So, like any other other properly constructed quick pick, RANDOM.ORG's Lottery Quick Pick will not give you any special advantages for obtaining a winning ticket.
However, if you play the lottery on a regular basis, using a quick picker is likely to give you a small advantage over the players who don't use one. For all properly operated lotteries, all the possible combinations are equally likely to be drawn as the winning one. In reality, however, people often behave intuitively rather than rationally, so all the possible numbers are not equally popular with the players. Many people play their own birthdays or those of family members, which means that 1-31 and especially 1-12 (which of course can be a day as well as a month) are overplayed compared to other numbers. In addition, most people when filling in coupons by hand opt for combinations that visually ‘look’ random on the coupon, leading them to avoid straight lines, perfect squares and other combinations that, when the boxes are checked on the coupon, result in geometric shapes that seem ‘too regular’ to the human eye, but in reality have exactly the same chance of becoming the winning combination as any other combination. How often have you ever played all the corner numbers on a lottery coupon?
By playing unpopular numbers or combinations, you can increase your expected payout, because you would (on average) share the pot with fewer other winners. You aren't any more likely to obtain a winning ticket, but in case you do, you're likely to win a bigger share. However, it should be noted that lottery odds are still not good, and that most lotteries give much poorer payouts (50% of revenues is not atypical) than many other types of gambling.
Thanks to Dag Oystein Johansen for some of the thoughts on lotteries!
I have not personally experimented with playing the stock market using numbers from RANDOM.ORG, and as as disclaimer I should say that I don't have a very deep understanding of market behaviour. However, if Prof. Malkiel's thesis is correct, then I fail to see how RANDOM.ORG could be helpful in predicting stock movements. Certainly, true random numbers can be used to simulate a fictive stock market, but being based on randomness, the simulation will yield different results every time you run it, and each result is as likely to be as useful a predictor as the next one.
One use of RANDOM.ORG that people have mentioned in relation to the stock market is if you need to make trades that are independent of market trends. As noted in my introduction to randomness, it is surprisingly difficult for humans to behave randomly, so if you need make trades that are certain not to be affected by your (conscious or unconscious) knowledge of the market, then RANDOM.ORG may be helpful.
Some people who ask this question believe that the stock market is affected by (and/or affects) a type of human global consciousness. I have not seen any evidence to support this type of theory, but if it interests you see section 8 of this FAQ.
The easiest way to do this is to use the List Randomizer as follows:
This will work with up to 10,000 items, which is the maximum number of items that the List Randomizer supports. If you have more items, you will need a subscription to the Premium Generator and should use the procedure described in question 3.7.
In this case, you will need a subscription to the Premium Generator. Then use the following procedure:
This procedure will allow you to pick up to 10,000 items from a list of up to 1,000,000,000. (Actually, the list can be up to 2,000,000,001 items long but then you need to assign negative numbers to some of them, which can be a bit messy.)
Yes. Not being an Excel macro wizard myself, I'm not sure this is the easiest way, but it should work.
If someone wishes to donate a macro to do the job, email it to me and I'll put it here.
Generating true random numbers takes time. The RANDOM.ORG setup uses an array of radios that pick up atmospheric noise. Each radio generates approximately 3,000 bits per second. The random bits produced by the radios are used as the raw material for all the different generators you see on RANDOM.ORG. Each time you use one of the generators, you spend some bits. By enforcing a limit on the number of bits you can use per day, the quota system prevents any one person from hogging all the numbers. (Believe me, this was a big problem before I implemented the quota system.)
A bit is a value that can be either 0 or 1. On RANDOM.ORG, a bit is the basic unit of randomness. The generator essentially generates one long string of one 0s and 1s. Every time you request some numbers, flip some coins or use one of the other services, you use some of these bits. Exactly how many depends on which of the services you are using. For example, flipping a single coin with the Coin Flipper uses exactly one bit. If the bit is 0, your coin comes up reverse (typically tails) and if it's 1, the coin comes up obverse (typically heads).
The other RANDOM.ORG services (such as the Integer Generator and the String Generator) require different amounts of bits, depending on how many numbers or strings you request. You can always check your quota to see how many bits you have left of your allowance. (See question 4.1 about why there is an allowance in the first place.)
If you need to generate many numbers or strings, it is useful to know how many random bits it is going to require. The number of bits needed affects how fast you will be able to generate the numbers (or strings) if you are using the free daily allowance of bits. If you want to purchase an extra allowance, the number of bits required helps you estimate how large an extra allowance you need.
It is a little tricky to calculate the exact number of bits required for generating numbers and strings, because the number of bits varies with the size of the interval for numbers and for the length of strings, etc. In addition, the bit cost can vary between requests due to the scaling algorithms used.
For these reasons, the best way to estimate bit cost for your requests is simply to try it out by first checking your quota, then requesting a sizeable chunk of numbers or strings (e.g., 1,000) with the parameters you need, then check your quota again immediately afterwards. The difference in your quota level before and after will tell you how many bits were required for your request. You can then use that number to calculate the average bit cost per number or string, and then estimate the total number of bits you need in order to generate all the numbers or strings that you want.
The Third-Party Draw Service is for professional operators of raffles, sweepstakes, promotional giveaways and other lottery type services. In a similar fashion to a certified official, RANDOM.ORG acts as an unbiased third party who conducts the drawings in a manner that is guaranteed to be fair and truly random. It has been operating since 2007 and is being used by bloggers [example], charities [example] and by PR and Media companies [example] for promotional campaigns and competitions. It is the most reputable and convenient solution for holding random drawings online.
There is a per-drawing cost, which depends on the number of entrants. The Price Calculator will tell you exactly how much. A drawing can have multiple winners (1st, 2nd, etc.), which does not affect the cost.
To use the service, you must create a RANDOM.ORG Premium Account with at least $4.95 worth of prepaid credit. The prepaid credit is used to pay for your drawings. There is no maintenance fee for use of the Third-Party Draw Service, only the cost of the drawings.
It is also possible to arrange a flat-fee per-month subscription for unlimited use of the Third-Party Draw Service. This model is favoured by PR and Media companies that hold many and/or large drawings. For details, please inquire.
When you hold a drawing, you can choose to make the permanent record private, public or entrant-accessible. You can also hold test drawings.
Private drawings are only visible to someone who holds the username and password associated with the owner account. This is useful if you expect your drawing to be audited but do not necessarily want everybody to be able to view the details.
Public drawings have records where the full details are visible to anyone who visits the RANDOM.ORG web site. This is useful if you want anyone to be able to verify that the drawing was conducted as you promised, but you need to be aware that the entrant identifiers will be displayed publicly and that there may be privacy concerns. Please see question 5.4 for further details.
Entrant-accessible drawings have records in which the full details of entrants and winners are only visible to the owner, but where entrants who know their identifiers can query the record to see if they were entered and whether they were picked as winners.
Test drawings allow you to familiarize yourself with the service. They don't generate records and don't cost anything. Feel free to hold as many test drawings as you like.
When you hold a public drawing, the full lists of winners and entrants will appear on the drawing's record. This means they will be visible to anyone and that they will be indexed by search engines. For this reason, you should be careful about what you use for entrant identifiers in public drawings. It is generally fine to use anonymous identifiers (such as ticket numbers or internal database identifiers), but you should avoid using identifiers that your entrants don't want to see published on the web, such as full names or email addresses. If you wish to use people's email addresses, you should choose a private or entrant-accessible drawing instead. Please see question 5.3 for further details.
The record of a given drawing persists for at least five years from the time at which the drawing was completed.
The Third-Party Draw Service currently supports up to 2,000,000 entrants and 4,000 winners in a single drawing, but more can be accommodated on request.
RANDOM.ORG will never use the email addresses that you upload for anything else than allowing people to verify their participation in your drawings. We respect your entrants' privacy and disapprove of spam as much as you do.
When you use entrants' email addresses to hold drawings, please make sure your drawings are entrant-accessible or private. This ensures the email addresses will not appear on the records of your drawings.
No. It is not possible to modify the record of a completed drawing.
Yes. If you specify the same entrant identifier multiple times, then that entrant will have as many winning chances as their identifier was listed. And if your drawing is entrant-accessible, then the drawing's record will tell each of your entrants exactly how many chances he or she had. To make sure you really want to give your entrants multiple chances, the Third-Party Draw Service will give you a warning when you upload such an entrant list, but you can proceed past the warning if that is really your intention.
Important note: If you have multiple winners in your drawing, then the Third-Party Draw Service does not prevent entrants with multiple chances from winning multiple times. For example, if someone has two chances in your drawing and is picked as 1st winner, then that entrant will still have one chance left to be picked as 2nd or 3rd winner, etc. If you wish to prevent an entrant with multiple chances from winning more than once, then you must hold a separate drawing for each winner. A future release of the Third-Party Draw Service will allow entrants with multiple chances to be eliminated from your drawing once they have been picked as winner once.
Yes, you can use any text strings or numbers as entrant identifiers. (See also Q5.12 about phone numbers.) In particular, customer numbers, user nicknames and ticket numbers (as in numbered tickets sold in a raffle) are all popular options. However, there are a couple of things you should be aware of:
The Third-Party Draw Service will work fine with phone numbers instead of email addresses, and your drawing will cost the same regardless. The only concern is that all phone numbers must be formatted exactly the same way (even down to the use of spaces, brackets, etc.) and that entrants who wish to verify their participation must enter them in that way.
If you are in the USA, a good way of formatting a phone number in a way that doesn't cause confusion is not to use brackets or spaces, but simply use dashes to separate the groups of digits, e.g., 123-456-7890. (You can also use dots, such as in 123.456.7890, but dashes are a little more common.) Don't forget to tell your entrants how you write their phone numbers.
Not currently. I don't really consider it research as such, more like a useful piece of engineering. See question 6.3 for how to cite RANDOM.ORG.
You are certainly welcome to do so, and you don't need my express permission to do either. Since I haven't yet documented RANDOM.ORG in a scientific publication, I suggest you cite the web site.
No. Occasionally, people send me datasets of observations they have made from playing online poker, roulette or other games and ask for help to show that the results are so unlikely that there must be something wrong with the gambling site. At other times, I'm asked to help exploit the perceived anomalies to break the site's bank.
If the gambling site you use is legitimate, it will be regulated by the government in the jurisdiction where it resides, such as the Gambling Commission in the UK or the Gambling Supervision Commission on the Isle of Man. One role of such regulators is to ensure that the random numbers used are of good quality. The exact requirements vary between jurisdictions, but unless there are serious flaws in the gambling site's software, I don't think you'll have much luck predicting the numbers.
Probably not. The numbers generated by RANDOM.ORG are buffered, which means that they are actually generated before you request them. I understand that this precludes their use in those parapsychological experiments that attempt to measure whether it is possible for individuals to affect otherwise random events.
People who ask this question have usually read about the Global Consciousness (GC) Project. The GC people collect data generated by true random number generators and analyse it for anomalities occuring at the same time as events affecting large groups of people, such as major earthquakes, Lady Diana's funeral or the 9/11 attacks. Seemingly, the GC results show strange anomalies in data generated around the time of the attacks. This has lead people to ask me if I have noticed any change in the numbers generated by RANDOM.ORG on that day.
The short answer to this question is really no. However, I should qualify to say I don't think it's meaningful to compare, and that a comparison doesn't say anything (either way) about the GC results, simply because the software I'm using is not intended to be used for the type of experiment the GC people are doing. First, I don't keep the numbers around for later; they're discarded as soon as they've been served to clients. Second, the generator doesn't produce a constant stream of numbers (like I presume the GC project's generators do) but works in a kind of start-and-stop mode, depending on whether the numbers are needed or not. For this reason, there are sometimes periods of time where the generator is not producing numbers.
In short, no. Like for 9/11 (see question 8.2), I haven't analysed the logs thoroughly with this in mind, and the generator isn't at all geared towards this type of experiment.
Yes. No. Maybe. Well, I hope not, because if the universe is deterministic, then all this randomness business is really a bit pointless. Hard determinism also seems to preclude the idea of free will, which is a somewhat unsettling idea. Wikipedia has a good article on the subject of determinism and there is also my own essay about randomness.