Long Codes Vs. Short Codes: the Legend of Application to Person Messaging

A walkthrough on when to equip a short code over a 10DLC

By Abbi Minessale, the coolest OG in the central time zone

The ever changing regulations in the telecom industry can be overwhelming, but at SignalWire we believe in being as transparent as possible so we’ve made it our mission to spill all the tea. When it comes down to deciding how to implement your messaging communications strategy, every use case falls under two major categories. Either your application is interacting with your users, or a human being is interacting with your users. Each category requires a different type of phone number. 10 Digit Long Codes are standard phone numbers while Short Codes are special 5-6 digit commercial grade numbers equipped with unlimited throughput.

So which kind of number do you need? That depends on your desired use case. Short Codes are best when an application is sending out the same SMS to many different people in any commercial grade capacity and Long Codes are better for small scale two way communication.

Think of it like this: when you’re playing the Legend of Zelda, Link starts out with a standard sword. This is like your 10 digit Long Code. This sword can do what you need it to do (send SMS) but only on a very small scale. You can text back and forth with customers, but it doesn’t have enough power to send out high-volume messaging to many different users. As your company grows, you’re going to need the Magical Sword (aka, your Short Code). This doubles your power and grants you unlimited throughput! Do-da-do-da-do-dalooo!!! Now you are able to reliably communicate with customers in an automated way that scales with you as your business grows. You’ll be saving Zelda in no time!

Let’s consider a few factors that will help us identify which type of number is best for your business.


In any use case that involves sending high-volume messaging, Short Codes are hands down the best solution because they were specifically designed for this. If you step outside of service providers’ strict guidelines of 1 text per second and no more than 5,000 messages a day, your number is going to be blocked or even suspended. Short Codes on the other hand have unlimited throughput and can send more messages faster and with significantly higher reliability.

There are many examples of common Short Code use cases. If your company wants to send out weekly coupons or updates to customers, Short Codes are a great option. You can also send notifications to your users, integrate 2FA security into your application, conduct polls, text to win sweepstakes, internal employee alerts, and more.


When it comes to commercial grade messaging, the industry standard is steadily moving towards Short Codes. Almost every big company is using them and they can be easily spotted in a variety of use cases. Restaurants display them on menus so that customers can reach out for coupons, TV ads post them on commercials and businesses like Walgreens use them to send pharmacy notifications. Keep an eye out and you’ll spot one in no time. Customers expect to see a short code when interacting with businesses and using one yourself will present your company in a more professional light. Short Codes also give you the freedom to choose your own number which can help your branding efforts. For example, you can choose meaningful numbers that translate to a certain word or fun digits that customers will associate with your business, like Twitter and 40404!


Short Codes are also more effective when it comes to users remembering who you are. As the name suggests, 10 Digit Long Codes have ten digits and are much more difficult to remember. 5 digit Short Codes on the other hand are easier to remember and removes the barrier to entry when customers type your number into their phones which increases the odds that users are going to interact with your company. Interacting with your business will be as easy as smashing the clay pots in Zelda’s castle!

Customer Service

If your customer service solution involves automation, Short Codes are going to be the right solution for you. They allow you to set up automated interactions between customers and your application, for example, sending out important updates or connecting them to proper documentation.

Long Codes on the other hand are meant for interpersonal communications and are better suited for call centers or internal networks. If you want your customer service representatives texting one on one with a customer, a Long Code would be an option because they allow you to use one consistent number for all channels to text, call, and fax from.

Ease of use

Short Codes take longer to set up because service providers require a thorough screening process to make sure that your company’s traffic is legit. While a long set up time can be frustrating, the wait is necessary because this process is what guarantees you infinite throughput. Once your service provider is familiar with your traffic, they are never going to mark your messages as spam and will never stop your messages from being sent. Leasing a Short Code can be a complicated process on your own, but SignalWire’s platform makes acquiring and connecting your Short Code as easy as possible with the help of our outstanding support team and easy to use APIs.

If your desired use case does not involve interaction between your application and its users, then a Long Code is a better option because setup is much quicker. The only catch is that you are going to need to monitor your traffic to make sure that it never gets high enough to make service providers suspicious that you are a bot, and if it is, it may be time to start looking into Short Codes.


Because of the extensive screening process, and because there are fewer numbers available, Short Codes cost more to own. These costs are constant throughout every provider and are priced at an industry standard. While nobody enjoys spending money, most people hate spam (including us) and we appreciate that this process keeps our channels clean. This pricing and these screening measures allow us as users to control what SMS content is allowed in our inboxes and prevents an overrun of unsolicited advertisements like we’ve seen with email and robocalling.

Even with the higher price point, at SignalWire we believe that communication is a right of the modern age. Our Short Code messaging offering remains the lowest you can find in the industry and will continue to be so.


US Outbound: $0.0030*
US Inbound: $0.0009*
Canada Outbound: $0.0045*
Canada Inbound: $0.0009*

* Please check our pricing page for up to date pricing. Short code lease rates, carrier activation & pass-through rates apply. Please contact our sales department (Phone: +1.650.382.0000) for more information. 


When looking to purchase a new number, your use case is what’s going to dictate what type of phone number you need. Any time your application is interacting directly with users, a Short Code is the best solution. If you need a multifunctional number dedicated to conversing with customers or employees one on one, a Long Code is a great option. And if you need to defeat the final boss? Then we hope for your sake you’ve got a fairy in a jar. 

If you are interested in trying should! Sign up at for $5 in free credit or reach out to to inquire about leasing or purchasing your own short code.