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  • What is file compression

Computer users have been dealing with the issues of data storage and drive capacity ever since the dawn of computing. To put it simply, modern users create more data than ever before. As such, they require access to storage devices that can accommodate their ever-growing data. One method to deal with this, known as data or file compression, is used to cut down on modern data storage needs while still providing access to the data on an as-needed basis.

There are multiple forms of data compression available today, and it's used in a variety of different ways. Some are more effective than others and some are meant for specific applications, but they all function much in the same way.

How Does File Compression Work?
As the name implies, file compression works by reducing the overall digital footprint of a file, folder, or group of files. Not only does this save space on any local hard drives or storage mediums, but it also makes it faster when transmitting large files through a network or via the internet.

In most cases, file compression works by identifying similar or repeating patterns in the data of each file. These patterns are then replaced with a smaller, unique identifier. Since the identifier takes up less space than the original data that it's replacing, the file size is effectively reduced. When the process is finished, most modern compression platforms can reduce a file's size by as much as 90 percent.

While there are some obvious benefits to compressing the data on a hard drive, there are some drawbacks that aren't immediately apparent to novice computer users.

Types of File Compression
Generally speaking, there are currently two types of compression used today - lossless and lossy. When storing individual files or folders, lossless compression is typically used. This results in a perfect, byte-for-byte copy of the source data within the compressed archive.

Lossy compression, on the other hand, is generally used when compressing digital images, videos, or music files. This process works by eliminating the elements that are unperceivable to the human ear or human eye. In the case of MP3s, for example, this process results in the removal of certain inaudible sounds - ultimately reducing the file size.

Drawbacks of File Compression
A compressed file is not the same as the original file. Instead, it serves as a representation of that file, folder, or group of files. To access the original data contained therein, the information must be decompressed in some way.

Each method of file compression handles the decompression process differently. Most modern software solutions give the user the option of decompressing the entire archive or extracting individual files as needed. Likewise, entire files, folders, and even drives can be compressed into a single archive. Again, individual files, folders, and new datasets can be added as needed. When viewing compressed images and videos, or when listening to compressed audio, the data is typically decompressed as its viewed or played.

In any case, however, the decompression process takes time. As a result, the user has to wait longer to access the file than they otherwise would. They'll also have to load their compressed file into the program that was used to compress it in the first place.

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I`m an IT professional who has worked from home for over a decade. Early on in my career, I configured an HP ProLiant Server (Raid 1+0) as a workstation that I would remote into from my laptop. As technology evolved, I began to use it only for email and as a config file repository.

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