It is a challenge to classify protein-coding or non-coding transcripts, especially those re-constructed from high-throughput sequencing data of poorly annotated species. This study developed and evaluated a powerful signature tool, Coding-Non-Coding Index (CNCI), by profiling adjoining nucleotide triplets to effectively distinguish protein-coding and non-coding sequences independent of known annotations. CNCI is effective for classifying incomplete transcripts and sense-antisense pairs. The implementation of CNCI offered highly accurate classification of transcripts assembled from whole-transcriptome sequencing data in a cross-species manner, that demonstrated gene evolutionary divergence between vertebrates, and invertebrates, or between plants, and provided a long non-coding RNA catalog of orangutan. CNCI software is available at http://www.bioinfo.org/software/cnci.