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The postal codes used in the United Kingdom are known as postcodes. They are alphanumeric and were introduced by the Royal Mail over a 15-year period from October 1959 to 1974. A full postcode is known as a "postcode unit" and usually corresponds to a limited number of addresses or a single large delivery point. Postcode units consist of between five and seven characters, separated into two parts by a space; there are approximately 1.8 million postcode units.
The first part of the postcode unit is known as a "postcode district", or outward code, and usually corresponds to all or part of a post town. Postcode districts with the same one or two character prefixes are grouped into 124 postcode areas. Postcodes have been adopted for a wide range of purposes in addition to aiding the automating sorting of the mail; and are used to calculate insurance premiums, designate destinations in route planning software and are used as the lowest level of aggregation in census enumeration.
Postcode data are stored, maintained and periodically updated in the Postcode Address File database, along with the full address data for around 27.5 million delivery points. An earlier system of postal districts was implemented in London and other large cities from 1857. In London this system was refined in 1917 to include numbered subdivisions, extending to the other cities in 1934. These earlier districts were later incorporated into the national postcode system.