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By submitting your email, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. But what exactly is a GIF, and how do you use them?

But the GIF format has a special feature—it can also be used to create animated images like the one below. CompuServe published the GIF format in , and it was last updated in It helped to define early GeoCities websites, MySpace pages, and email chains remember the dancing baby?

In fact, the GIF format may be more popular now than ever before. Honestly, GIF is a terribly outdated format. People have tried to replace the GIF format.

They always fail. They can have sound, they can use more than colors, and they use up less hard drive space than bulky old GIFs. Using GIFs is a bit like using emojis.

In fact, the keyboard on your phone probably has a GIF function built right in. But what if you want to save GIFs on your phone or computer?

Although there would be no point in encoding the file that way, something similar typically happens for bi-color images: the minimum symbol width is 2, even if only values 0 and 1 are used.

The code table initially contains codes that are one bit longer than the symbol size in order to accommodate the two special codes clr and end and codes for strings that are added during the process.

As the decoder builds its table it tracks these increases in code length and it is able to unpack incoming bytes accordingly.

This technique was introduced originally as a way to avoid patent infringement. Uncompressed GIF can also be a useful intermediate format for a graphics programmer because individual pixels are accessible for reading or painting.

This yields a simpler encoding a 1-to-1 correspondence between code values and palette codes but sacrifices all of the compression: each pixel in the image generates an output code indicating its color index.

When processing an uncompressed GIF, a standard GIF decoder will not be prevented from writing strings to its dictionary table, but the code width must never increase since that triggers a different packing of bits to bytes.

Because the decoder is always one step behind in maintaining the table, it does not generate a table entry upon receiving the first code from the encoder, but will generate one for each succeeding code.

The composite data stream is partitioned into sub-blocks that each carry from 1 to bytes. After the above codes are mapped to bytes, the uncompressed file differs from the compressed file thus:.

The trivial example of a large image of solid color demonstrates the variable-length LZW compression used in GIF files. The code values shown are packed into bytes which are then packed into blocks of up to bytes.

A block of image data begins with a byte that declares the number of bytes to follow. The last block of data for an image is marked by a zero block-length byte.

This allows a partial display of the image that can be recognized before the full image is painted. An interlaced image is divided from top to bottom into strips 8 pixels high, and the rows of the image are presented in the following order:.

The pixels within each line are not interlaced, but presented consecutively from left to right. As with non-interlaced images, there is no break between the data for one line and the data for the next.

The indicator that an image is interlaced is a bit set in the corresponding Image Descriptor block. Although GIF was not designed as an animation medium, its ability to store multiple images in one file naturally suggested using the format to store the frames of an animation sequence.

To facilitate displaying animations, the GIF89a spec added the Graphic Control Extension GCE , which allows the images frames in the file to be painted with time delays, forming a video clip.

Each frame in an animation GIF is introduced by its own GCE specifying the time delay to wait after the frame is drawn. Global information at the start of the file applies by default to all frames.

The data is stream-oriented, so the file offset of the start of each GCE depends on the length of preceding data.

Within each frame the LZW-coded image data is arranged in sub-blocks of up to bytes; the size of each sub-block is declared by the byte that precedes it.

By default, an animation displays the sequence of frames only once, stopping when the last frame is displayed. To enable an animation to loop, Netscape in the s used the Application Extension block intended to allow vendors to add application-specific information to the GIF file to implement the Netscape Application Block NAB.

Support for these repeating animations first appeared in Netscape Navigator version 2. The following example shows the structure of the animation file Rotating earth large.

The animation delay for each frame is specified in the GCE in hundredths of a second. Some economy of data is possible where a frame need only rewrite a portion of the pixels of the display, because the Image Descriptor can define a smaller rectangle to be rescanned instead of the whole image.

Browsers or other displays that do not support animated GIFs typically show only the first frame. The size and color quality of animated GIF files can vary significantly depending on the application used to create them.

Strategies for minimizing file size include using a common global color table for all frames rather than a complete local color table for each frame and minimizing the number of pixels covered in successive frames so that only the pixels that change from one frame to the next are included in the latter frame.

Simply packing a series of independent frame images into a composite animation tends to yield large file sizes.

Starting in early , the University of Ulm used animated GIF as live video streaming format to show a controllable model railroad. Metadata can be stored in GIF files as a comment block, a plain text block, or an application-specific application extension block.

Several graphics editors use unofficial application extension blocks to include the data used to generate the image, so that it can be recovered for further editing.

All of these methods technically require the metadata to be broken into sub-blocks so that applications can navigate the metadata block without knowing its internal structure.

Rather than break the data into formal sub-blocks, the extension block terminates with a "magic trailer" that routes any application treating the data as sub-blocks to a final 0 byte that terminates the sub-block chain.

In and , Jacob Ziv and Abraham Lempel published a pair of papers on a new class of lossless data-compression algorithms, now collectively referred to as LZ77 and LZ Welch filed a patent application for the LZW method in June Patent 4,, from John S.

Hoerning, U. Patent 4,, from Klaus E. At the time, CompuServe was not aware of the patent. The subsequent agreement was announced on 24 December Following this announcement, there was widespread condemnation of CompuServe and Unisys, and many software developers threatened to stop using GIF.

The PNG format see below was developed in as an intended replacement. For instance the libungif library, based on Eric S. Raymond 's giflib, allows creation of GIFs that followed the data format but avoided the compression features, thus avoiding use of the Unisys LZW patent.

Dobb's article described another alternative to LZW compression, based on square roots. PNG is more suitable than GIF in instances where true-color imaging and alpha transparency are required.

Versions 6 and earlier do not support alpha channel transparency without using Microsoft-specific HTML extensions.

For identical 8-bit or lower image data, PNG files are typically smaller than the equivalent GIFs, due to the more efficient compression techniques used in PNG encoding.

Videos resolve many issues that GIFs present through common usage on the web. They include drastically smaller file sizes , the ability to surpass the 8-bit color restriction, and better frame-handling and compression through codecs.

Virtually universal support for the GIF format in web browsers and a lack of official support for video in the HTML standard caused GIF to rise to prominence for the purpose of displaying short video-like files on the web.

MNG reached version 1. APNG is supported by most browsers as of Older decoders will simply render the first frame of the animation. Embedded Adobe Flash objects and MPEGs are used on some websites to display simple video, but require the use of an additional browser plugin.

WebM and WebP are in development and are supported by some web browsers. This gives the appearance of a GIF, but with the size and speed advantages of compressed video.

HEIF stores more information and produces higher-quality animated images at a small fraction of an equivalent GIF's size. VP9 only supports alpha compositing with chroma subsampling [63] in the YUV A pixel format, which may be unsuitable for GIFs that combine transparency with rasterised vector graphics with fine color details.

In April , 4chan added support for silent WebM videos that are under 3 MB in size and 2 min in length, [64] [65] and in October , Imgur started converting any GIF files uploaded to the site to video and giving the link to the HTML player the appearance of an actual file with a.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Bitmap image file format family. For other uses, see GIF disambiguation. An animated GIF of a rotating globe.

Further information: Unisys and LZW patent enforcement. See also: hard and soft g and Description and prescription. Internet portal Animation portal.

Retrieved 13 October Retrieved 6 March December Retrieved 14 September O'Reilly Media. Encyclopedia of Multimedia.

Retrieved 29 May Retrieved 19 September OxfordWords blog. Oxford American Dictionaries. Retrieved 1 May Now that's what I call an omnishambles".

Books blog. The Guardian. BBC News. Retrieved 22 May Retrieved 19 August The Economist. Retrieved 4 January Houghton Mifflin Company. Retrieved 15 April The Cambridge Dictionary of American English.

Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 19 February Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Retrieved 6 June Oxford Dictionaries Online.

Oxford University Press. Retrieved 7 October The New York Times. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 4 December Retrieved February 25, March Chin; D.

Iverson; O. Campesato; P. Trani New York: Apress. Retrieved 11 March Archived from the original on 16 March Retrieved 23 March Archived from the original on 22 February Retrieved 26 May How to match the animation rate of gif files accross [ sic ] browsers".

Developer's Blog. Archived from the original on 1 February Retrieved 15 June Archived from the original on 18 April Retrieved 7 January Web Scripting Secret Weapons.

Que Publishing. Retrieved 30 November Retrieved 16 August GIF patent dead at 20".

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In fact, the keyboard on your phone probably has a GIF function built right in. But what if you want to save GIFs on your phone or computer?

It may even let you add text and effects if you feel so inclined. We suggest using a GIF-making website to avoid any headaches or disappointment.

You could lose track of your GIF forever! Getting up to speed on internet culture? The Best Tech Newsletter Anywhere. Join , subscribers and get a daily digest of news, comics, trivia, reviews, and more.

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Skip to content. How-To Geek is where you turn when you want experts to explain technology. As a noun , the word GIF is found in the newer editions of many dictionaries.

The press's lexicographers voted it their word of the year , saying that GIFs have evolved into "a tool with serious applications including research and journalism".

Steve Wilhite says that the intended pronunciation deliberately echoes the American peanut butter brand Jif , and CompuServe employees would often say "Choosy developers choose GIF", spoofing this brand's television commercials.

The American Heritage Dictionary [15] cites both, indicating "jif" as the primary pronunciation, while Cambridge Dictionary of American English [16] offers only the hard-"G" pronunciation.

The disagreement over the pronunciation led to heated Internet debate. On the occasion of receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Webby Award ceremony, Wilhite rejected the hard-"G" pronunciation, [12] [21] [22] and his speech led to 17, posts on Twitter and 50 news articles.

In February , The J. Smucker Company , the owners of the Jif peanut butter brand, partnered with animated image database and search engine Giphy to release a limited-edition "Jif vs.

Conceptually, a GIF file describes a fixed-sized graphical area the "logical screen" populated with zero or more "images".

Many GIF files have a single image that fills the entire logical screen. Others divide the logical screen into separate sub-images.

The images may also function as animation frames in an animated GIF file, but again these need not fill the entire logical screen. GIF files start with a fixed-length header "GIF87a" or "GIF89a" giving the version, followed by a fixed-length Logical Screen Descriptor giving the pixel dimensions and other characteristics of the logical screen.

The screen descriptor may also specify the presence and size of a Global Color Table, which follows next if present. An image starts with a fixed-length Image Descriptor, which may specify the presence and size of a Local Color Table which follows next if present.

The image data follows: one byte giving the bit width of the unencoded symbols which must be at least 2 bits wide, even for bi-color images , followed by a linked list of sub-blocks containing the LZW-encoded data.

Extension blocks blocks that "extend" the 87a definition via a mechanism already defined in the 87a spec consist of the sentinel, an additional byte specifying the type of extension, and a linked list of sub-blocks with the extension data.

Extension blocks that modify an image like the Graphic Control Extension that specifies the optional animation delay time and optional transparent background color must immediately precede the segment with the image they refer to.

The linked lists used by the image data and the extension blocks consist of series of sub-blocks, each sub-block beginning with a byte giving the number of subsequent data bytes in the sub-block 1 to The series of sub-blocks is terminated by an empty sub-block a 0 byte.

This structure allows the file to be parsed even if not all parts are understood. A GIF marked 87a may contain extension blocks; the intent is that a decoder can read and display the file without the features covered in extensions it does not understand.

The full detail of the file format is covered in the GIF specification. GIF is palette-based: the colors used in an image a frame in the file have their RGB values defined in a palette table that can hold up to entries, and the data for the image refer to the colors by their indices 0— in the palette table.

The color definitions in the palette can be drawn from a color space of millions of shades 2 24 shades, 8 bits for each primary , but the maximum number of colors a frame can use is This limitation seemed reasonable when GIF was developed because few people could afford the hardware to display more colors simultaneously.

Simple graphics, line drawings, cartoons, and grey-scale photographs typically need fewer than colors. Each frame can designate one index as a "transparent background color": any pixel assigned this index takes on the color of the pixel in the same position from the background, which may have been determined by a previous frame of animation.

Many techniques, collectively called dithering , have been developed to approximate a wider range of colors with a small color palette by using pixels of two or more colors to approximate in-between colors.

These techniques sacrifice spatial resolution to approximate deeper color resolution. This is often not an ideal solution for GIF images, both because the loss of spatial resolution typically makes an image look fuzzy on the screen, and because the dithering patterns often interfere with the compressibility of the image data, working against GIF's main purpose.

In the early days of graphical web browsers [ when? When bit color became the norm palettes could instead be populated with the optimum colors for individual images.

A small color table may suffice for small images, and keeping the color table small allows the file to be downloaded faster. Both the 87a and 89a specifications allow color tables of 2 n colors for any n from 1 through 8.

Most graphics applications will read and display GIF images with any of these table sizes; but some do not support all sizes when creating images.

Tables of 2, 16, and colors are widely supported. Although GIF is almost never used for true color images, it is possible to do so.

Alternatively, the GIF89a specification introduced the idea of a "transparent" color where each image block can include its own palette of visible colors plus one transparent color.

A complete image can be created by layering image blocks with the visible portion of each layer showing through the transparent portions of the layers above.

To render a full-color image as a GIF, the original image must be broken down into smaller regions having no more than or different colors.

Each of these regions is then stored as a separate image block with its own local palette and when the image blocks are displayed together either by tiling or by layering partially transparent image blocks the complete, full-color image appears.

For example, breaking an image into tiles of 16 by 16 pixels pixels in total ensures that no tile has more than the local palette limit of colors, although larger tiles may be used and similar colors merged resulting in some loss of color information.

Since each image block can have its own local color table, a GIF file having many image blocks can be very large, limiting the usefulness of full-color GIFs.

Many rendering programs interpret tiles or layers as animation frames and display them in sequence as an endless animation [27] with most web browsers automatically displaying the frames with a delay time of 0.

Microsoft Paint saves a small black-and-white image as the following GIF file. Paint does not make optimal use of GIF; due to the unnecessarily large color table storing a full colors instead of the used 2 and symbol width, this GIF file is not an efficient representation of the pixel image illustrated enlarged above.

Although the Graphic Control Extension block declares color index 16 hexadecimal 10 to be transparent, that index is not used in the image.

The only color indexes appearing in the image data are decimal 40 and , which the Global Color Table maps to black and white, respectively. Note that the hex numbers in the following tables are in little-endian byte order, as the format specification prescribes.

The image pixel data, scanned horizontally from top left, are converted by LZW encoding to codes that are then mapped into bytes for storing in the file.

The pixel codes typically don't match the 8-bit size of the bytes, so the codes are packed into bytes by a "little-Endian" scheme: the least significant bit of the first code is stored in the least significant bit of the first byte, higher order bits of the code into higher order bits of the byte, spilling over into the low order bits of the next byte as necessary.

Each subsequent code is stored starting at the least significant bit not already used. This byte stream is stored in the file as a series of "sub-blocks".

Each sub-block has a maximum length bytes and is prefixed with a byte indicating the number of data bytes in the sub-block.

The series of sub-blocks is terminated by an empty sub-block a single 0 byte, indicating a sub-block with 0 data bytes. A slight compression is evident: pixel colors defined initially by 15 bytes are exactly represented by 12 code bytes including control codes.

The encoding process that produces the 9-bit codes is shown below. A local string accumulates pixel color numbers from the palette, with no output action as long as the local string can be found in a code table.

There is special treatment of the first two pixels that arrive before the table grows from its initial size by additions of strings. After each output code, the local string is initialized to the latest pixel color that could not be included in the output code.

For clarity the table is shown above as being built of strings of increasing length. That scheme can function but the table consumes an unpredictable amount of memory.

Memory can be saved in practice by noting that each new string to be stored consists of a previously stored string augmented by one character.

It is economical to store at each address only two words: an existing address and one character. The LZW algorithm requires a search of the table for each pixel.

A linear search through up to addresses would make the coding slow. In practice the codes can be stored in order of numerical value; this allows each search to be done by a SAR Successive Approximation Register, as used in some ADCs , with only 12 magnitude comparisons.

For this efficiency an extra table is needed to convert between codes and actual memory addresses; the extra table upkeeping is needed only when a new code is stored which happens at much less than pixel rate.

Decoding begins by mapping the stored bytes back to 9-bit codes. These are decoded to recover the pixel colors as shown below. A table identical to the one used in the encoder is built by adding strings by this rule:.

Shorter code lengths can be used for palettes smaller than the colors in the example. If the palette is only 64 colors so color indexes are 6 bits wide , the symbols can range from 0 to 63, and the symbol width can be taken to be 6 bits, with codes starting at 7 bits.

In fact, the symbol width need not match the palette size: as long as the values decoded are always less than the number of colors in the palette, the symbols can be any width from 2 to 8, and the palette size any power of 2 from 2 to For example, if only the first four colors values 0 to 3 of the palette are used, the symbols can be taken to be 2 bits wide with codes starting at 3 bits.

Conversely, the symbol width could be set at 8, even if only values 0 and 1 are used; these data would only require a two-color table.

Although there would be no point in encoding the file that way, something similar typically happens for bi-color images: the minimum symbol width is 2, even if only values 0 and 1 are used.

The code table initially contains codes that are one bit longer than the symbol size in order to accommodate the two special codes clr and end and codes for strings that are added during the process.

As the decoder builds its table it tracks these increases in code length and it is able to unpack incoming bytes accordingly. This technique was introduced originally as a way to avoid patent infringement.

Uncompressed GIF can also be a useful intermediate format for a graphics programmer because individual pixels are accessible for reading or painting.

This yields a simpler encoding a 1-to-1 correspondence between code values and palette codes but sacrifices all of the compression: each pixel in the image generates an output code indicating its color index.

When processing an uncompressed GIF, a standard GIF decoder will not be prevented from writing strings to its dictionary table, but the code width must never increase since that triggers a different packing of bits to bytes.

Because the decoder is always one step behind in maintaining the table, it does not generate a table entry upon receiving the first code from the encoder, but will generate one for each succeeding code.

The composite data stream is partitioned into sub-blocks that each carry from 1 to bytes. After the above codes are mapped to bytes, the uncompressed file differs from the compressed file thus:.

The trivial example of a large image of solid color demonstrates the variable-length LZW compression used in GIF files.

The code values shown are packed into bytes which are then packed into blocks of up to bytes. A block of image data begins with a byte that declares the number of bytes to follow.

The last block of data for an image is marked by a zero block-length byte. This allows a partial display of the image that can be recognized before the full image is painted.

An interlaced image is divided from top to bottom into strips 8 pixels high, and the rows of the image are presented in the following order:. The pixels within each line are not interlaced, but presented consecutively from left to right.

As with non-interlaced images, there is no break between the data for one line and the data for the next.

The indicator that an image is interlaced is a bit set in the corresponding Image Descriptor block. Although GIF was not designed as an animation medium, its ability to store multiple images in one file naturally suggested using the format to store the frames of an animation sequence.

To facilitate displaying animations, the GIF89a spec added the Graphic Control Extension GCE , which allows the images frames in the file to be painted with time delays, forming a video clip.

Each frame in an animation GIF is introduced by its own GCE specifying the time delay to wait after the frame is drawn.

Global information at the start of the file applies by default to all frames. The data is stream-oriented, so the file offset of the start of each GCE depends on the length of preceding data.

Within each frame the LZW-coded image data is arranged in sub-blocks of up to bytes; the size of each sub-block is declared by the byte that precedes it.

By default, an animation displays the sequence of frames only once, stopping when the last frame is displayed. To enable an animation to loop, Netscape in the s used the Application Extension block intended to allow vendors to add application-specific information to the GIF file to implement the Netscape Application Block NAB.

Support for these repeating animations first appeared in Netscape Navigator version 2. The following example shows the structure of the animation file Rotating earth large.

The animation delay for each frame is specified in the GCE in hundredths of a second. Some economy of data is possible where a frame need only rewrite a portion of the pixels of the display, because the Image Descriptor can define a smaller rectangle to be rescanned instead of the whole image.

Browsers or other displays that do not support animated GIFs typically show only the first frame. The size and color quality of animated GIF files can vary significantly depending on the application used to create them.

Strategies for minimizing file size include using a common global color table for all frames rather than a complete local color table for each frame and minimizing the number of pixels covered in successive frames so that only the pixels that change from one frame to the next are included in the latter frame.

Simply packing a series of independent frame images into a composite animation tends to yield large file sizes.

Starting in early , the University of Ulm used animated GIF as live video streaming format to show a controllable model railroad.

Metadata can be stored in GIF files as a comment block, a plain text block, or an application-specific application extension block.

Several graphics editors use unofficial application extension blocks to include the data used to generate the image, so that it can be recovered for further editing.

All of these methods technically require the metadata to be broken into sub-blocks so that applications can navigate the metadata block without knowing its internal structure.

Rather than break the data into formal sub-blocks, the extension block terminates with a "magic trailer" that routes any application treating the data as sub-blocks to a final 0 byte that terminates the sub-block chain.

In and , Jacob Ziv and Abraham Lempel published a pair of papers on a new class of lossless data-compression algorithms, now collectively referred to as LZ77 and LZ Welch filed a patent application for the LZW method in June Patent 4,, from John S.

Hoerning, U. Patent 4,, from Klaus E. At the time, CompuServe was not aware of the patent. The subsequent agreement was announced on 24 December Following this announcement, there was widespread condemnation of CompuServe and Unisys, and many software developers threatened to stop using GIF.

The PNG format see below was developed in as an intended replacement. For instance the libungif library, based on Eric S. Raymond 's giflib, allows creation of GIFs that followed the data format but avoided the compression features, thus avoiding use of the Unisys LZW patent.

Dobb's article described another alternative to LZW compression, based on square roots. PNG is more suitable than GIF in instances where true-color imaging and alpha transparency are required.

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