Part of the Computing fundamentals glossary:

LZW compression is the compression of a file into a smaller file using a table-based lookup algorithm invented by Abraham Lempel, Jacob Ziv, and Terry Welch. Two commonly-used file formats in which LZV compression is used are the GIF image format served from Web sites and the TIFF image format. LZW compression is also suitable for compressing text files.

A particular LZW compression algorithm takes each input sequence of bits of a given length (for example, 12 bits) and creates an entry in a table (sometimes called a "dictionary" or "codebook") for that particular bit pattern, consisting of the pattern itself and a shorter code. As input is read, any pattern that has been read before results in the substitution of the shorter code, effectively compressing the total amount of input to something smaller. Unlike earlier approaches, known as LZ77 and LZ78, the LZW algorithm does include the look-up table of codes as part of the compressed file. The decoding program that uncompresses the file is able to build the table itself by using the algorithm as it processes the encoded input.

This was last updated in April 2005
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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