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Definition: GIF

(Graphics Interchange Format) A popular bitmapped graphics file format developed by CompuServe. Pronounced "jif" or "gif" (hard g), GIF images are widely used on the Web because the format is compressed and takes up less space.

GIF supports 8-bit color (256 colors), but it gets the most mileage out of its limited colors by using a built-in color palette. For example, the palette for an image of a forest would mostly contain shades of green and brown. If all the colors in the image are within a tight range, GIFs provide excellent realism for an 8-bit format. In contrast, JPEGs are 24 bits. See indexed color.

GIF87a and GIF89a
The original GIF87a and subsequent GIF89a are named after their year of introduction. GIF89a allows one of the colors to be transparent and reflect the background color of the underlying page or window (see alpha channel). GIF89a also supports a limited form of animation by rendering multiple frames in sequence (see animated GIF).

GIFs and JPEGs
Both GIF and JPEG images are widely supported on the Web. Charts and technical drawings are typically GIFs because GIFs use lossless compression, and the text is maintained properly. Photos are generally better rendered as JPEGs, which support 24-bit color, and they can be highly compressed. However, if drawings are saved as JPEGs with limited compression (users have a choice), the text renders quite well (see JPEG). See GIF patents, lossless compression, graphics formats and PNG.

More Shades Than Apparent
At first glance, it looks like the Android logo is white, black and one shade of green. Zooming into one of its antennas shows several shades (see dithering).

Even More Colors
The GIF format picks the 256 most used colors in an image. Notice how the colors in the palettes match the two images.