The registry maintained by CAS is an authoritative collection of disclosed chemical substance information. It identifies more than 182 million unique organic and inorganic substances and 68 million protein and DNA sequences, plus additional information about each substance. It is updated with around 15,000 additional new substances daily. A collection of almost 500 thousand CAS registry numbers are made available under a CC-BY-NC license at ACS Commons Chemistry.
Historically, chemicals have been identified by a wide variety of synonyms. Frequently these are arcane and constructed according to regional naming conventions relating to chemical formulae, structures or origins. Well-known chemicals may additionally be known via multiple generic, historical, commercial, and/or (black)-market names.
CAS Registry Numbers (CAS RN) are simple and regular, convenient for database searches. They offer a reliable, common and international link to every specific substance across the various nomenclatures and disciplines used by branches of science, industry, and regulatory bodies. Almost all molecule databases today allow searching by CAS Registry Number.
A CAS Registry Number has no inherent meaning, but is assigned in sequential, increasing order when the substance is identified by CAS scientists for inclusion in the CAS REGISTRY database.
A CAS RN is separated by hyphens into three parts, the first consisting from two up to seven digits, the second consisting of two digits, and the third consisting of a single digit serving as a check digit. This format gives CAS a maximum capacity of 1,000,000,000 unique numbers.
The check digit is found by taking the last digit times 1, the preceding digit times 2, the preceding digit times 3 etc., adding all these up and computing the sum modulo 10. For example, the CAS number of water is 7732-18-5: the checksum 5 is calculated as (8×1 + 1×2 + 2×3 + 3×4 + 7×5 + 7×6) = 105; 105 mod 10 = 5.
Different phases do not receive different CAS RNs (liquid water and ice both have 7732-18-5), but different crystal structures do (carbon in general is 7440-44-0, graphite is 7782-42-5 and diamond is 7782-40-3)
Commonly encountered mixtures of known or unknown composition may receive a CAS RN; examples are Leishman stain (12627-53-1) and mustard oil (8007-40-7).
Some metals are discerned by their oxidation state, e.g. the element chromium has 7440-47-3, the trivalent Cr(III) has 16065-83-1 and the hexavalent Cr(VI) ion has 18540-29-9.
Occasionally whole classes of molecules receive a single CAS RN: the class of enzymes known as alcohol dehydrogenases has 9031-72-5.