Google debuts Brotli, the Internet’s newest compression algorithm

Google’s philosophy has always been that faster speeds are better because Internet users just shouldn’t have to wait a while for pages to load. The company’s already made inroads in this regard. Two years ago, it unveiled the Zopfli compression algorithm, which was met with positive feedback from the industry.

Feedback for Zopfli was so good that it has since been integrated into a lot of different compression solutions, everything from PNG optimizers all the way to preprocessing web content.

Earlier this week, Google improved on Zopfli and released the Brotli compression algorithm, which was born out of modern compression requirements like web font compression. An open source algorithm, Brotli is an entirely new data format, according to Google’s release announcing Brotli. This is in stark contrast to Zopfli, which is Deflate-compatible.

What does this new format mean in measurable terms? Something quite impressive, actually. The company says that Brotli offers between 20% and 26% higher compression ratios compared to Zopfli. Google’s already tested this out in its “Comparison of Brotli, Deflate, Zopfli, LZMA, LZHAM and Bzip 2 Compression Algorithms” study.

Said study provides a few, eye-opening findings about its new compression algorithm. For starters, Google determined that Brotli is approximately as speedy as zlib’s Deflate implementation. Nonetheless, it still compresses just a bit more densely when compared to LZMA and bzip2 on the Canterbury corpus. The increased data density is garnered by way of four, important factors:

  • Second-order context modeling
  • The reuse of entropy codes
  • A bigger memory window of previous data
  • Joint distribution codes

All told, Brotli’s smaller, compressed size means good news for web users of all stripes. Better space utilization leads to much quicker page load times, and who doesn’t want their pages to load speedily all the time?

It’s also necessary to point out that Google has high hopes for this format. Eventually, it wants all major browsers to support Brotli (sooner rather than later), but, for now, Zopfli is still in use and isn’t going to get shuttered any time soon. As a matter of fact, Zopfli is currently utilized across different compression solutions, making it challenging to retire it right away.

Desktop users aren’t the only people who’ll benefit from this latest Google algorithm that promotes faster page load times. More relevantly, mobile users would benefit additionally from the smaller compressed size of Brotli. Due to the faster speeds, they’d enjoy things like cheaper data transfer feeds and lower battery use.

In case you were wondering about Google’s very unique choice for its new algorithm’s name, look no farther than Switzerland. Swiss German, to be exact. According to the company, Brotli is actually a reference to a Swiss baked good. In Swiss German, Brotli means “small bread,” which makes it very apropos, although somewhat esoteric, for the company to name its new algorithm that offers smaller compressed sizes after Swiss German dough.

Marc’s a copywriter who covers design news for Web Designer Depot. Find out more about him at More articles by Marc Schenker
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