GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) is a bitmapped image file format for images that contain up to 256 distinct colors from the over 16 million representable in a 24 bit rgb format. The format was introduced by CompuServe in 1987 and has since come into common usage on the World Wide Web.
GIFs are compressed files, and were adopted to reduce the amount of time and bandwidth required to transfer images. Unlike the JPEG format, the compression in the GIF format is lossless — the expanded file is an exact duplicate of the file before it was compressed. It is therefore better than JPEG for many drawings that include sharp transitions between solid regions of color, but a limited palette.
However, the limit to 256 colors makes the GIF format unsuitable for most photographs.
GIF files are also popular because the format allows for simple animations and every graphical Web browser can natively play such GIF animations without needing a plugin such as Flash. See animated GIF for more information.
A newer format PNG was created in response to patent issues over the GIF format. Although the GIF patents have expired (or are no longer being enforced), some claim that the PNG format is technically surperior in any case.
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