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GIF (Graphics Interchange Format)

The GIF (pronounced DJIF by many, including its designer; pronounced GIF with a hard G by many others) stands for Graphics Interchange Format and is one of the two most common file formats for graphic images on the World Wide Web. The other is the JPEG.

On the Web and elsewhere on the Internet (for example, bulletin board services), the GIF has become a de facto standard form of image. The LZW compression algorithm used in the GIF format is owned by Unisys, and companies that make products that exploit the algorithm (including the GIF format) need to license its use from Unisys. In practice, Unisys has not required users of GIF images to obtain a license, although their licensing statement indicates that it is a requirement. Unisys says that getting a license from them does not necessarily involve a fee.

The GIF uses the 2D raster data type and is encoded in binary. There are two versions of the format, 87a and GIF89a. Version 89a (July, 1989) allows for the possibility of an animated GIF, which is a short sequence of images within a single GIF file. A GIF89a can also be specified for interlaced GIF presentation.

A patent-free replacement for the GIF, the Portable Network Graphics (PNG) format, has been developed by an Internet committee and major browsers support it or soon will. Meanwhile, many GIF downloaders and Web site builders on the Web continue to be ignorant of or indifferent to the requirement to get a license from Unisys for the use of their algorithm.

This was last updated in February 2006

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