I've known about a technique allowing to bootstrap arbitrary 16-bit x86 code from a subset of instructions representable as printable ASCII bytes since the early 1990s.
The first example of an ASCII executable I saw was a short text that could be prepended to a uuencoded file resulting in an MS-DOS .COM executable that would uudecode and probably run itself.
That one I couldn't find, but here's an example of a post reminiscing about x86 ASCII executables, with a few sample files to play with.
For example, an ASCII executable to convert .COM files to executable ASCII starts as follows:
T_OOWW3=XXWX5 2PY5w3P_-l.P-KD1Ep-OLPZ-pJP-pw40PQX5fsPu ASDWERT/Nide5Fe,xPQX-=.PQX-MQP-xx4_P5rjP5Z2P-jE,JP= 5O2,APQX5R8P-rJPPRX5iBP-x=PRX5TsP59DHHP5rIHP-w64ZP= 40-2APQX-MiP-trP5_WP-pBP51w,pPTYPZPZP__z1t3w.FNtKptDCZ LGcP4mCC558taMjL.4Hh0.44r5tNNAbs55p4VGsO5n_55LlC8zp_rk gS5_pOiq.AIkgWub7GwtcOI.C9xO7PC2aPf.stA2.yGQ5JGvMvc4O_
What is the history of this technique? Was it invented for the x86 instruction set or earlier? Which existing instruction set architectures are known to allow it?
Seeing how many people have misinterpreted the question, a clarification:
The main usage of this trick was to publish binaries on USENET for people (or send them by e-mail to people) who don't use Unix and access "the cyberspace" from an MS-DOS machine. They may have no idea what uudecode is. With an ASCII-only executable the instructions are: copy the message in its entirety to a file, delete all lines up to and including the
-- cut here -- line, rename the file to
whatever.com (for example,
uudecode.com) and run it.
In order for it to work, the file, which consists only of printable ASCII — bytes 10 (LF), 13 (CR), 32 to 126 (space to ~), and definitely no bytes with the high bit set (might not pass through e-mail/USENET), and no other control bytes, especially no ^Z — has to begin with a cleverly constructed sequence of machine commands that doesn't use any of the forbidden bytes yet manages to convert the rest of the text from ASCII to the binary intended to be executed.
Alternatively, using ASCII executables could be a way to enter machine code by typing it in more efficiently than hex.
So the question is, is it possible to have a similar converter for 8080/Z80, 6502, or another microcomputer platform, and if yes, has it been used and for what purposes, if not transmitting executables through e-mail?