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FAQ / ARCHIVE MANAGEMENT > LOSSY AND LOSSLESS COMPRESSION ALGORITHMS
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Lossy and lossless compression



LOSSY AND LOSSLESS DATA COMPRESSION DEFINITION

MORE INFORMATION ABOUT FILE COMPRESSION TYPES

file compression algorithms



What is file compression, types


File compression
is the process of creating a smaller output from a larger input, in order to sparing storage space, or saving bandwidth to share the data, or reduce the input to a suitable size for a media of distribution (CD, DVD, mail attachment size limit...).
Data compression can be defined lossy or lossless, in terms of reversibility of the compression process due loss (or preservation) of original information in the process.


Lossless compression definition, file archiving


Lossless compression uses statistical models to map the input to a smaller output eliminating redundancy in the data.
In this way the output carry exactly all the information featured by the input in less bytes, and can be expanded when needed to a 1:1 copy of the original data, which is a fundamental property for storing some types of data - i.e. a software, a database.

For this reason lossless compression algorithms are used for archive file formats used in general purpose archive manager utilities, like 7Z, RAR, and ZIP, where an exact and reversible image of the original data must be saved.

Some graphic file fomats (notably, PNG files and deflated TIFF) uses lossless compression, which usually results in less compression but no image quality degradation after multiple cycles of modification and saving of the picture, making this kind of image format suitable as intermediate save files for image editing tools.


Lossy compression


Lossy compression, instead, works identifying unnecessary or less relevant information (not just redundant data) and removing it.

In this way data compression is improved but at the cost of making lossy compression a non reversible process - as it comes at the cost of losing part of the information.

Lossy compression is consequently not suitable for general purpose file archiving (as in example losing a single byte of an executable file would make it not working), but  it works very well when loss of less relevant information is acceptable, as for multimedia files compression - in example for MP3 losing audio information below the audibility threshold, or losing not visible details in JPEG images, or both in compressed video formats.

So, information loss is destructive for the ability of 1:1 reversal of the algorithm (the information is permanently lost), but it is not prejudicial for the ability of end users to receive meaningful information - intelligible audio, clear picture or video.

Most common lossy compression algorithms are consequently usually fine tuned for the specific pattern of a multimedia data type.

Due the lossy nature of those compression schemes, however, usually professional editing work is performed on non compressed data (i.e. WAV audio, or TIFF images) or data compressed in a lossless way (i.e. FLAC audio, or PNG images) every time it is feasible so saving the work in progress multiple times does not result in losing bits of the information each time, with progressive degradation of quality - usually reserving use of lossy compression to final step for creating a reasonably sized output to distribute for media consumption.
More information about file compression types

External online resources: lossless compressionoptimize data compression and lossy compressionoptimize picture compression definitions on Wikipedia.

Topics and serach suggestions: what is data compression, file compression definition, lossless compression, lossy compression, data encoding algorithms, ZIP, RAR, 7Z, MP3, FLAC, WAV, JPEG, PNG, TIFF, file archive, lossy vs lossless comparison, how to compress files.


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