Lossless data compression is a class of data compression algorithms that allows the exact original data to be reconstructed from the compressed data. The term lossless is in contrast to lossy data compression, which only allows an approximation of the original data to be reconstructed, in exchange for better compression rates.
Lossless data compression is used in many applications. For example, it is used in the popular ZIP file format and in the Unix tool gzip. It is also often used as a component within lossy data compression technologies.
Lossless compression is used when it is important that the original and the decompressed data be identical, or when no assumption can be made on whether certain deviation is uncritical. Typical examples are executable programs and source code. Some image file formats, like PNG or GIF, use only lossless compression, while others like TIFF and MNG may use either lossless or lossy methods.
Lossless compression techniques
Most lossless compression programs do two things in sequence: the first step generates a statistical model for the input data, and the second step uses this model to map input data to bit sequences in such a way that "probable" (e.g. frequently encountered) data will produce shorter output than "improbable" data.
The primary encoding algorithms used to produce bit sequences are Huffman coding (also used by DEFLATE) and arithmetic coding. Arithmetic coding achieves compression rates close to the best possible for a particular statistical model, which is given by the information entropy, whereas Huffman compression is simpler and faster but produces poor results for models that deal with symbol probabilities close to 1.
There are two primary ways of constructing statistical models: in a static model, the data is analyzed and a model is constructed, then this model is stored with the compressed data. This approach is simple and modular, but has the disadvantage that the model itself can be expensive to store, and also that it forces a single model to be used for all data being compressed, and so performs poorly on files containing heterogeneous data. Adaptive models dynamically update the model as the data is compressed. Both the encoder and decoder begin with a trivial model, yielding poor compression of initial data, but as they learn more about the data performance improves. Most popular types of compression used in practice now use adaptive coders.
Lossless compression methods may be categorized according to the type of data they are designed to compress. While, in principle, any general-purpose lossless compression algorithm (general-purpose meaning that they can compress any bitstring) can be used on any type of data, many are unable to achieve significant compression on data that is not of the form for which they were designed to compress. Many of the lossless compression techniques used for text also work reasonably well for indexed images.