Forward Assist: Necessary or Not?

AR-15 on Military Vest and Gear

Today, many gun enthusiasts expect the AR-15 and similar rifles to come with forward assist.

Some feel the mechanism is essential for easy handling and firing. Others feel it’s a mere add-on they either don’t understand or will never use.

Whether you think the forward assist is necessary will ultimately depend on personal preference and how you plan to use your firearm.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, here’s everything you need to know.

A Historical Addition

Before the introduction of the AR-15, the U.S. military used self-loading rifles like the M1.

This type of rifle involved a reciprocating charging handle that the shooter could physically manipulate and beat into place to ensure complete bolt closure and prevent misfires.

A single spring determined whether the user could physically accomplish this task.

If the gun and ammunition were too dirty, the user would have to disassemble the rifle and clean it.

Of course, taking the time to complete this process could be the difference between life and death on the battlefield — something the U.S. Army didn’t want to risk.

In 1963, they convinced the Secretary of Defense to approve the M16A1 for jungle warfare. One year later, the Army deployed the model to Vietnam.

By 1969, the new firearm was the U.S. military’s standard service rifle because it was far more reliable than its predecessors.

AR-15 Rifle on Black Tactical Gear

Forward Assist and the AR-15

Eventually, engineers and gunsmiths began to include the forward assist mechanism on the AR-15 and other ArmaLite rifles.

However, the primary reason for this addition was still military application.

On the battlefield, military personnel may need to repeatedly fire their rifle without worrying about dirt and debris blocking the bolt and causing a misfire.

Some military drills even incorporate the forward assist every time soldiers charge their rifle, a practice that helps ensure its use becomes habitual.

These drills guarantee that the bolt always goes into the battery and never jams.

They can also help military personnel load rounds without giving away their position.

Instead of pulling the bolt back and releasing completely, they can ride the bolt forward and use the forward assist to quietly click the bolt into the battery.

Do You Need the Forward Assist?

There’s a lot of debate about whether a shooter needs the forward-assist feature.

After all, it’s not every day you need to silence loading your rifle or shoot 100 rounds a minute to defend yourself from enemy fire.

However, the average shooter may still prefer the look, feel and function of this optional feature.

AR-15 Upper Receiver with forward assist

Keeping the Forward Assist

For those looking to join the military, keeping the forward assist is a straightforward choice.

However, the average shooter can also benefit from this feature.

If the range is sandy or dusty, dirt can settle in the weapon and interfere with bolt operation.

While this buildup may not stop the gun from functioning, it may cause the bolt to become stuck in the chamber.

When this occurs, all you need to do is tap the forward assist button to finish the job.

If you’re planning to shoot a few hundred rounds a session, you may also benefit from a forward assist on your AR-15 or M16 rifle.

Instead of disassembling, cleaning and lubricating the firearm when it begins to lock up, you can use the forward assist to push the bolt through.

Then, you can spend your whole session sending bullets downrange without getting your hands dirty.

Foregoing the Forward Assist

Gun owners who have gone without a forward assist for years might believe forcing a round into the chamber is a bad idea.

In most cases, they’d be correct. If your bolt isn’t loading correctly, odds are there’s something wrong.

Maybe the chamber is filthy or you’ve put too many rounds in the magazine.

You might have also stripped a bullet from the case, causing a dangerous throat barrel obstruction.

In that case, using the forward assist may prove catastrophic.

Therefore, it might be safer to use a gun without the assistance mechanism, especially for beginning shooters.

Marksmen who forego the forward assist will have no choice but to unload and reload the chamber to clear it from any obstructions.

If this method doesn’t work, they’ll have to take the rifle apart and give it a thorough cleaning, which will ultimately help them know their firearm a little better.

AR-15 Magazine and .223 Ammunition

Go With Your Gut

Is forward assist necessary? Well, unless you’re in the military, the answer will depend on preference.

If your gun comes with one and you like its look and feel, keep it on there.

Otherwise, you can choose to take it off or pick a rifle that doesn’t include the mechanism.

Ultimately, it’s best to go with your gut and do what feels right to you. Your shooting game will likely be better for it.

What do you think of a forward assist? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the Author:

Oscar Collins

Oscar Collins is the managing editor at Modded where he writes about gear, the outdoors, survivalism and more. Whether you're interested in ice fishing, building a rooftop tent or the best hiking trails, Oscar has you covered. Follow him on Twitter @TModded for frequent updates!
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (34)

  1. William,
    I’ve always been able to retract the bcg using the charging handle, clear and let the bolt slam home. Except the afore mentioned time when my FA broke into pieces and jammed the bcg in the receiver. Trip to the gunsmith. Any part can break, my rifle sat out opening, glad it was not a gunfight.

  2. I see a lot of comment that say the FA is not needed, that you should just disassemble the rifle if it wont go into battery. Has any one here tried to disassemble a AR platform while the bolt carrier is not in battery? I have and I cannot get it apart. The bolt bolt carrier needs to be fully forward to take the rifle apart. At least all the ones I fired while in the Army and since i got out have. If anyone knows how to get the rifle apart without the bolt carrier forward I would sure like to know.

  3. I served in both the Army and the Navy. I carried the M16A1, the M203, the M14, the M4 and even humped the M60 for a time. The FA was added for just what it was named for…assisting. I got into a habit of when I loaded a fresh magazine to always hit the forward assist to make sure the bolt was seated. It goes back to the old saying, “it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it”.

  4. I see a lot of people who never have had to use the forward assist. This also makes a point as to the weight of the assembly that is the forward assist. What is the weight difference in uppers with and without the forward assist mechanism? if the forward assit is not really helping, how much weight is saved without it?

  5. To Robert,

    You are correct to say that most are aware or know where the Forward Assist is located and what it looks like when searching for it.
    We tend to take it for granted or assume all know the subject matter and go from there and proceed with story.
    Your reminder helps us to remember the oversight.

    Now, for my opinion whether to use or not to use the FA.
    I believe the author answers his own question by foregoing the use of the FA. The article presents a good argument to not use such a feature and force a round into the chamber and chance a bad outcome.
    Another question to think about is why is this feature mainly, if not only, in the AR?
    We can agree that an obstruction in the chamber with the addition of a forced round leads to an increased amount of pressure built up.
    That added pressure may determine fault to ultimate fault, damages to useless, injury to maybe even death.
    What I mean is the original obstruction could have been a defect in the rifle by the manufacturers error. Engaging the FA, by your choice, further or now exceeding the rifles tolerance of pressure levels may be the factor of who is now at fault.

    Let’s say a rifle was purchased new and without the Forward Assist. it is about to be tested for function and reliability at the range. Magazine is full and slapped in to the magazine well. A round is chambered but it does not go into full battery. There is a slight opening at the ejection port.

    A. Do you fire?
    B. Do you eject that particular round and continue until one fully is chambered?
    C. Try another makers ammunition?
    D. Stop there and return the rifle where it was purchased?
    E. Somehow force to push that round until its chambered and fire that weapon?

    There’s more than one good answer and there’s more than one bad answer.
    I hope you chose B, C and D.
    I hope you did not choose A or E.

    A. is obvious but must be answered for those who are novices or just unaware. Never fire when the ejection port is not fully closed. There could be an obstruction or the tolerances of the cartridge do not meet with the rifles’ standards. If you are not sure how a firearm functions, do not fire it until you receive proper training.

    B. Yes, you may eject that round and try another. There may be other cartridges that will not fully engage and you may continue to eject until one does chamber. Or, render the entire lot# useless and send it to the manufacturer to complain of the several rounds not functioning.

    C. When testing any firearm for function and reliability, as one should, its a good idea to test with several different makers of ammo. You will learn which type and maker your rifle will prefer. Remember, your firearm determines what’s best for it and not by someone’s recommendation.

    D. You have every right to stop immediately when the first round from a box of ammo does not function, as it should.
    Its up to the manufacturer to decide how to handle your case. My advice is to test that entire box and all subsequent of the same lot# by chambering and ejecting, without firing, and test that the rounds perform that basic function.

    E. Of course, we don’t want to force any round into the chamber if not doing so by way of the firearms natural function. You may eject that round, secure it for later, look inside for obstructions or field strip it for a closer look inside. If clear, try the rest of the ammo in the mag.
    If a problem, call the store where the rifle was purchased for instructions. Sometimes its to be returned to the manufacturer or the store can handle it directly.

    If all are in agreement to not force any round into any firearm, why is it okay to force a round with the Forward Assist in the AR?
    Although firearms are tested with proof ammo which is ammunition loaded at a much higher level of pressure. Its to test the durability of a firearm when purposely firing at high pressures and withstand it for the protection of consumers. A cartridge loaded with double the amount of gunpowder will certainly defeat the firearm causing damage the weapon and injury to the shooter. Firearms are made to withstand certain levels of higher pressures but not at that level.

    This subject is about the AR and the usual chambering is the .223 Remington or the 5.56×45 NATO.
    And there is a significant difference between the two cartridges.
    Please know your rifles chamber as it is very important.
    The following passage is from Hornady as I find it to be clear and concise of the difference between the 2 rounds.


    “What is the difference between 5.56 NATO and 223 Rem ammunition?

    Differences between the two are small but can have a large impact on performance, safety and weapon function.

    The first difference is the higher pressure level of the 5.56 NATO cartridge which runs at approximately 58,000 psi. A 223 Remington is loaded to approximately 55,000 psi.

    The second and most important difference between the two is the fact that a 5.56 NATO chamber has a .125” longer throat. This allows approximately one more grain of powder to be loaded into a 5.56 NATO cartridge; this is what gives it higher performance than its 223 Remington cousin.

    The biggest problem with these differences is when firing a 5.56 NATO cartridge in a rifle chambered for 223 Rem. Due to the longer throat that the NATO chamber employs this combination will cause a 223 chambered weapon to run at approximately 65,000 psi or more. This is 10,000 psi higher than the 223’s normal functioning pressure of 55,000 psi. This is NOT safe and will cause primers to back out, or worse, cause harm to the operator, the rifle, or both.

    The reverse of this is firing a 223 Rem cartridge in a 5.56 NATO chambered rifle. Due to the throat difference between the two chambers a 223 Rem cartridge may not work optimally in a 5.56 NATO chambered weapon. The cause of this is the lack of pressure built by a 223 Rem cartridge fired from a 5.56 NATO chamber. The 223’s 55,000 psi will not be attained and therefore velocity and performance are hurt. Problems start occurring when this combination is fired out of a 5.56 NATO chambered rifle with a 14.5” (or shorter) barrel. The lower powder charge of the 223 round coupled with the pressure drop that occurs when it is fired in a the 5.56 NATO chamber will cause the rifle to cycle improperly. NATO chambered rifles with barrels longer than 14.5” should function properly when firing 223 Rem ammunition.”


    I must also make it clear to all, there is no standard for manufacturers to build an AR at a certain level to handle an excess amount of pressure. Not for an AR or any firearm as a matter of fact.
    SAAMI and CIP are the two governing entities for the standardization of ammunition tolerances. There are none for firearms. Only the chambering’s dimensions are in the pages of each cartridge are included in the reference books for SAAMI and CIP.

    In my conclusion I must encourage all to read the owners manual of all firearms you possess.
    Usually, the information is repetitive. But its worth the effort and time especially when you come across a statement that surprises us.
    An example is to use jacketed ammunition or the warranty becomes voided if lead exposed projectiles are used instead.
    Another is do not use high velocity ammunition. And I don’t mean +P or ++P ammunition. The warning was from a manufacturer of a .22LR Pistol which should be able to handle standard velocity and high velocity ammo. I figured they could only engineer the composition of the pistol to withstand standard pressure levels but not of the higher from HV .22LR ammunition.
    These are examples to why it is important to read the manuals.

  6. I served in Vietnam and had several incidents where I absolutely needed the forward assist to make the weapon able to function. I have needed it several times in civilian use . I would not own an AR without an assist. Kinda of like a parachute, you may only need it once but if you do not have it you will never need it again. Weapons are mechanical tool and subject to Murphy’s law. At the range one has the luxury to take it apart and clear it but in a critical situation the assist just might save your bacon as it has mine.

  7. Hey Robert;
    The FA (forward assist) is the ‘plunger’ on the right side just behind the ejection port. If you examine the side of the bolt carrier by looking through the ejection port you will notice it has ‘teeth or gears’ on the side. The FA engages those teeth to force the carrier forward into battery when the chamber gets dirty.
    Much like a defensive firearm, its something most of us get and never need. But if you need it, it’s too late to get it

  8. I retired from the Army in 2010, having served as a scout, infantryman and armor officer. In all those years including in combat, except in basic when we had to, I NEVER used the FA. And while I certainly understand the “would rather have and not need it than need it and not have it” mindset, the OCD in me just can’t stand having something that is 99.999999% unnecessary, plus I like the cleaner, slick look of not having an FA. Thus none of the many ARs I now own have one and I’ll never buy an AR that does have one… ever.

  9. Robert,
    It’s the spring-loaded button in triangular housing on the right rear of a standard M16/AR upper receiver. In the event that the bolt carrier doesn’t fully reseat into the chamber after a shot, palming this button will push it forward manually, hence the name.

    Dust and dirt accumulation, heat expansion from firing lots of shots in a short time, a fatigued buffer spring–there’s several reasons why a bolt carrier may fail to reseat. But in a combat situation, you don’t have the luxury of taking your gun back to the bench. The FA allows you to “shoot through” the unsolved problem.

  10. Back in the day we trained to shoot both righty and lefty, I don’t ever recall being hit by hot brass but then we didn’t train on a crowded range. I used the forward assist(FA) regularly because that is the way we were taught. It was a habit that was ingrained by training but I honestly don’t know if it was ever actually needed unless we needed to quietly chamber a round. I have had ARs with and without FA since I retired and have noticed no problems except that I occasionally tapped a nonexistent FA.

  11. Being left handed,but more importantly:LEFT EYED,I MUST shoot from left shoulder.I also because of re-attached left retina,MUST have 14.5″length of pull.I once had the scope of a 338WinMag bounce into my glasses[despite a secure cheek weld]…other woes:glaucoma negates red and brown spectrums.All the red dot and red laser systems are useless to me.Wonder what the ejection and length of pull are on AK?

  12. It seems to me that in today’s rifles, with better powders and quality control on ammo, that the forward assist is unnecessary. With the single exception of quietly loading a round it has no real purpose. If a round does not chamber, it is far wiser to find out why that to force the action into battery.

    That brings me to a small point of annoyance with the author of this article. It is incorrect to say that the forward assist is used to force the bolt into “the battery”. The term is simply “battery”. The forward assist is used to force the weapon into battery. Battery in this context is a condition not a place or a thing.

  13. RALPHIE BOY – I shot left handed at Fort Lost in the Woods, Misery in the Summer of 1972. I was issued a small plastic deflector about halfway through Basic. It didn’t always stay in place, but since I never really had a problem with the flying brass, I wouldn’t stop to replace it.

  14. Response to two comments.

    1. US Army M16’s were the M16A1’s with forward assist. The USAF had original M16’s, under Armalite patents even though Colt was making them. Mine actually said “AR15” on the lower which I thought strange until I later did research. So unless the Army guy got a really early version he had an A1 and not the original M16.

    2. I remember the button up collar trick, and did it all the time after the first hot brass from the shooter to the left went down my fatigues neck opening.

    The USAF actually had a plastic “deflector” that you could attach to the “carry handle” and hung down the right side aft of the ejection port that knocked the ejected brass forward and away from the shooter on the right, and out of the face of the “lefties,” as a “fix” for the problem. Later, the military contracts added that forged deflector wedge on the upper receiver, aft of the ejection port, that performed the same function.

    The ejector/extractor position on a firearm pretty much dictate where your ejected brass is going to go. You couldn’t change those positions on the M16 as the brass has to exit the ejection port, so the “wedge” was the only practicable solution short of a full design change.

  15. I have looked for a FA on other rifles and haven’t found one. The M16 is the only rifle I know of that has a built hammer, that may occasionally need to be used, to get the gun to fire. In my opinion this is a poor selling point. That said, my S&W MP has one and it’s just there.

  16. M3RK – There must’ve been refinements (added a deflector ?) to AR’s since, but when I went thru Army BT in ’70, the lefties had to button the top button of their blouse or the hot, spent case would eject right down their shirtfront. They still would bounce off their necks and leave burns. Felt so sorry for them, ’cause the M16 was the sweetest little shooter this old PA deer hunter had ever used.

  17. Dear author
    I know you and most other people have a lot more experience than I.
    Did you intent to exclude beginners in the art of firearms in your article?
    If not then you should have at least written one sentence that actually explained what part of the firearm is the forward assist, perhaps a sample picture.
    After reading your article twice I am still without knowledge of whether or not my F1 FDR has the function in question.

  18. IMHO – Other than military it is totally unnecessary, most of my AR’s are “slicks” – no FA. I’d rather clear a jam than force it into battery. As for the lefty, it’s the deflector not the FA that’ll help keep those casings out of your face.

  19. I also have years of experience with M16 and AR15 rifles, starting in March 1979 with the USAF 81st Security Police Squadron, including a year as one of the squadron armorers.

    In the past 40+ years, I’ve never needed the forward bolt assist to keep any rifle running. However, I appreciate the presence of such a tool, should I ever need it. Same goes for extra ammumition, food and water, a rain suit, etc.

  20. I landed in Viet Nam October 12, 1967 and left June 14, 1969 and spent that time with D Co 2nd Bn 7th Cavalry 1st Cavalry Dv (Airmobile). Every M-16 I had during that time had a forward assist. I don’t recall ever seeing one that didn’t. All my current AR’s have one, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  21. Viet Nam 69-70, I did use the forward, as that was the SOP. Back home in the world I bought an Colt SP1 AR15 without the assist, never had a malfunction or needed the FA. I’ve owned several ARs over the years, and have used the FA several times, most of the time it was not needed. I own a gun shop and tell my customers the function of the forward assist in case it is ever needed. Most shooters never use it, ‘BUT, it’s like a 4×4 truck, you may not use it often, but it’s sure is nice to have when you do need it. I’ll keep mine.

  22. As a retired Marine, smacking the forward assist was a matter of habit. Until last year when the assist on my Grendel upper failed to retract and jammed me up tight with the next round partially chambered. Assist had to be disassembled to clear and replaced to correct.

  23. I am also left handed and have been firing AR platform rifles for decades. The deflector nub does it’s job, and is still present on uppers without the forward assist.
    While rare, I have needed to use the forward assist both in combat and at the range. During rifle qualifications in Basic Training for example, one does not have the option of disassembling & cleaning their weapon if a stoppage occurs. Hence the SPORTS acronym-
    Slap up on the magazine
    Pull the charging handle
    Observe the ejection of the old
    round & feeding of the new
    Release the charging handle
    Tap the forward assist
    Squeeze the trigger

  24. I am a lefty and was USMC infantry in the late 90s. I was issued an M16 A2 and also an M249 SAW. I never had any issues with brass hitting me in the face from my own weapons. The times I did get hit with hot brass were from other Marines firing on my left. Nothing like hot brass going down your neck burning your back lol.

  25. I’m another lefty … I load up .. I charge up … I let it rip potato chip … just a badge of honor … Just my own humble thoughts … if you’re getting hit by ejecting rounds … you may want to correct your stance in holding the firearm. …. Been shooting for years !!! … never had a fear .. never been hit in the face

  26. Forward assist or not? It’s too late for me…I went through basic training at Ft. Sill, OK in 1983 and I was taught “SPORTS.”
    If my M16A1 has a stoppage, it’s a no-brainer:

    S) slap upwards on the bottom of your magazine THREE TIMES
    P) pull back the charging handle
    O) observe the chamber to see if there is, indeed, a stoppage, double-feed, etc.
    R) release your charging handle if the chamber looks clear
    S) shoot at your enemy KILL HIM

    I don’t know what I’d do without a forward assist and I blame the US Army for it’s good training!
    Close to forty years after basic and the first thing that came to mind when I saw the word, “stoppage” was “SPORTS.”

    PS: As a side note for LEFTY, all I can say is I saw a whole LOT of people at the rifle range with small, circular burns on their cheeks after shooting the M16A1 without that add-on brass deflector. The M16A2 and later models after have the built in deflector that protrudes from just behind the ejection port…thus, solving the problem for you, LEFTY.

  27. Thank you. Is an awesome rifle the Ar15 is being used by the army. I used to be in the army and I really love those kinds of rifle

  28. I shot an AR15 sans that deflector knob and go brass in my face[happily not in my eye!].With the deflector knob no problem.That said,I wish I was in a state where ARs are legal and get a left side ejecting AR.Gotta get out of NYState!!I wonder about the ejection pattern of AKs?

  29. Lefty? Have you ever shot an ar as a southpaw? Just out of curiosity. I know dozens and dozens. Heck. Maybe even 100’s of lefties that use the ar 15 regularly that have never take a round to the face from an ar. Not saying it’s not possible. But. With the deflector should be a not issue unless your gas system or buffer system is all wrong. Cases should be ejecting forward of a left handed shooter. Around the 2 o’clock area.

  30. The USAF was the first service to adopt the M16 and it did not have the Forward Assist. My experience with the M16 began in Jan 1971 with one tour at DaNang with the 366th SPS in ’71-72. The USAF was the first service to adopt the M16 and it did not have the Forward Assist: Gen LeMay saw a demo of it and got them ordered immediately.

    Previous Battle Rifles, the M1 Garand and M14 were as, if not more, reliable than the original M16. They had to pry the M14’s out of the Marines hands to issue the “Made by Mattel” rifle. But in Nam we needed the kind of firepower on our side to match the full auto, but controllable fire, of the AK47. The M16 provided controllable auto fire (USAF taught 3 round burst via trigger control) and more rounds per pound carried. The USAF M16 had a different buffer, a faster rate of fire, and by the time I left USAF service in 1975 our standard rifles still did not have forward assist.

    The Army was field issued M16’s on the USAF pattern to the troops in Nam; minimal training and often no cleaning kits. There was a problem with the powder in the M193 rounds at the time, and the bore and chamber were NOT chromed. This combined to cause corroded chambers and excessive fouling which naturally led to stoppages; inadequate cleaning and lubrication was also identified as a factor. Changes came with a new powder in the rounds, chromed chambers (some had chromed bolt carriers as well), and chromed bores. Lastly, they changed the Army buffer to slow the rate of fire, and added the bolt assist: This became the M16A1 and the standard rifle for the Army and Marines: The USAF kept the M16 original configuration.

    First, because the USAF thinking was WHY are you forcing a cartridge into a chamber that isn’t readily taking one? The USAF view was to clear that round and rechamber a new round: forcing the first in could make a more serious stoppage. SO, if we had one that wouldn’t go forward into battery, we’d eject the round and feed another. We’d go as far as to slam the butt of the rifle (they had rubber butt plates back then) on the ground which would loosen or even eject the round.

    Second, the USAF were replacing underpowered, WW2 era M2 Carbines so the M16 was a vast improvement for us in every way. In addition, at close ranges (under 100 yard) the 55gr high velocity bullet made more severe wounds that the 7.62 NATO rounds of the M14. Dr. Fackler, of the US Army Wound Ballistics Lab, did a comparison study on wound damage from both the M16 and AK47. What he found was that the 55gr on impact yawed inside the body and broke apart at the cannelure with multiple fragments going different directions inside the subject: This turned the round into a virtual soft point.

    I have been shooting M16 and AR15’s since Vietnam in both military, police and personal settings and have NEVER had to use the forward assist. But that is my experience your mileage may vary. If I get a stoppage I clear that round, rechamber and continue: tap, rack and go.

  31. Not a fan, but it being there does not impede me in any way. I think the scenario where:

    “Instead of disassembling, cleaning and lubricating the firearm when it begins to lock up, you can use the forward assist to push the bolt through.
    Then, you can spend your whole session sending bullets downrange without getting your hands dirty.”

    So if your rifle is locking up because it is dirty, it will more than likely continue to lock up. I would rather take the time to field clean it quickly then having to keep hitting the forward assist. Not to mention how many rounds of crap ammo are you running through in a session to get it to start locking up in the first place? Also if it is my rifle, a quick turn of the Superlative Arms gas block will increase pressure to help close bolt.

    My typical range day for that rifle is an old 300rd battle pack of South African ammo bought back in the day. I load 10 mags, so no waiting around. I don’t remember ever using the forward assist.

    I am working on my next upper assembly now. Have on order a BCM Mk2 upper. That actually moves the forward control towards the muzzle end a bit. By doing that it clears area around charging handle. Plus for some reason if I do ever need, it is there.

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