Google Shrinks Down the Internet with Brotli Compression Algorithm

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Last time anyone counted heads on the Internet, there were more than 3.2 billion active users scattered worldwide (more or less evenly). The World Wide Web Consortium (WC3) has even had to adopt new types of IP addresses (IPv6) because the older ones (IPv4) were running out. The data generated annually is being measured in exabytes (1 billion gigabytes). Internet providers estimate that annual global IP traffic will shift into a new gear, passing the zettabyte threshold by the end of 2016. For who’s asking, that’s 1024 exabytes.

In less than four years from now, we will reach the equivalent of 66 times the volume of the Internet in 2005, while traffic per capita will reach 37 gigabytes by 2019 (up from 15.5 GB in 2014). This calls for new technologies to cope with these vast amounts of data. And Google doesn’t want to be caught off guard.

Introducing Brotli

On its Open Source blog, the search giant has announced a new compression algorithm that would shrink down the Internet by 20-26% – if everyone would use it and if all web browsers supported it today. Higher compression rates means smaller files. It also means larger files will get transferred faster. In any case, web pages will take less time to load on your device. Google says the source code is up for grabs.

Brotli is an entirely new data format, different from Zopfli (a Deflate-compatible format) introduced by Google two years ago. It is comparable to zlib’s Deflate implementation but compresses a bit more densely when handed the average types of information used by the world wide web – text and image content. “The higher data density is achieved by a 2nd order context modeling, re-use of entropy codes, larger memory window of past data and joint distribution codes.”

Brotli is named after Swiss bakery products (Brötli) and means ‘small bread’ in Swiss German.

Your smartphone will thank you

So, what does all this means for us, the end users? Well, one of the reasons why Google is making this move is the proliferation of mobile Internet devices. By 2016, traffic from wireless and mobile devices is projected to exceed traffic from traditional wired devices. Because Brotli shrinks down the files that make up a web page, your smartphone, tablet, or laptop will be able to save precious battery life, while data transfer fees will be smaller (when a cellular connection is involved, of course). Your browsing experience will also be smoother and snappier.

But this doesn’t just extend to portables. Desktop users will be able to experience similar changes, including faster loading websites and faster downloads. Google wins too, of course. Faster page loads means more traffic and more ads displayed.

It isn’t clear if the Mountain View behemoth will put forth an actual compression tool for everyone to employ as a general purpose utility and take advantage of the higher compression ratio. However, it is reasonable to assume that third party developers will take it upon themselves to include the algorithm in new and / or existing compression tools.

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