GIF is a graphic format – Graphich Interchange Format – which was first specificated in May 1987. GIF is well known for it’s limit of 256 colour spectrum and support for animations and aplha channel to create transparent pictures. GIF is one of the oldest widely used graphic formats – for example, TIFF was created in Spring 1986. Unlike JPEG, PNG or TIFF, GIF was not created to be used for photos or other heavy graphics tasks, because of strict colour palette limit.
GIF was very popular in the begginings of the Internet, because GIF pictures were small in size which was crucial for very slow Internet connection in the 90s. GIF was pushed out 5 years later with JPEG format and after another 5 years was created PNG – a format for lossless compression and support for transparent channel.
Useable animations were specificated for GIF in 1989, six years later was added loop-animation support to Netscape.
GIF is often used for simple animations on social networks, because using videos is not always as practical as GIF and GIF is not only significantly smaller, but more compatible through devices, including mobile operating systems, desktop platforms or even dumbphones without support for video. Of course, GIF format is graphic format, so no audio track(s) are included.
GIF uses compress algorithm Lempel-Ziv-Welch (LZW) and since 1994 Unisys, creator of LZW, began to requesting license fees, so GIF was not really widespreaded, but in years 2003 – 2004 patents expired.
This format in todays is very popular on social networks like Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. A lot of “videos” I found on Twitter from people I follow were GIF animations. There are really a lot of picture (and video) formats in the computer world, but not all are universal as GIF or JPEG. There were some attempts to replace them, but without success. Currently, a new HEIF format was created and it will be supported in todays (or future) operating systems like Windows 10, macOS, some Linux distributions, Android and iOS. If you are interested in, let’s look at our review HEIF and HEVC – new formats of multimedia.