Techniques using Reed-Solomon (RS) codes to recover lost packets in digital video/audio broadcasting and packet switched network communications are reviewed. Usually, different RS codes and their corresponding encoders/decoders are designed and utilized to meet different requirements for different systems and applications. We incorporate these techniques into a variable RS code and present encoding and decoding algorithms suitable for the variable RS code. A mother RS code can be used to produce a variety of RS codes and the same encoder/decoder can be used for all the derivative codes, with adding/detecting zeros, removing some parity symbols and adding erasures. A VLSI implementation for erasure decoding of the variable RS code is described and the achievable performance is quantitatively analyzed. A typical example shows that the signal processing speed is up to 2.5 Gbits/second and the processing delay is less than one millisecond, when integrating the decoder on a single chip. Therefore, the proposed algorithm and the encoder/decoder can universally be utilized for different applications with various requirements, such as transmission data rate, packet length, packet loss protection capacity, as well as layered protection and adaptive redundancy protection in DVB/DAB, Internet and mobile Internet communications.