Zip Files - Internet Luggage
What are zip files?
Ever wondered if zip files are related to pants? After all, pants, coats, and luggage bags are the only real objects we ever have to ‘zip up.’ Why on earth would someone name a type of computer file after a zipper?
The answer is that zip files act as luggage on the internet. Even though hard drive space has gotten cheaper and cheaper over the years, the average user is still concerned about managing their storage space well and deleting old or unused files. Most of the files that contain large amounts of data are, understandably, quite large files. Also, some games need many small files, and added up, that can amount to a lot of storage space as well. Zip files are a way to conveniently store any of the above, and more. Perhaps you’ve heard the term ‘archive’ tossed around. That’s one of the most important uses of zip files.
First we need to understand more about the zip file itself. There are lots of different formats; jar, gz, tar, zip, and rar are just a few. This hub won’t cover any of the differences between file types. I’ll just collectively refer to them all as zip files. The buzz word here is ‘compression.’ Normally, files are stored on the hard drive as bits—zeroes and ones, arranged into groups of eight called bytes. A kilobyte is a thousand bytes, and a megabyte is a thousand kilobytes, and so forth. Most hard drives of today can hold hundreds of gigabytes, which is an exorbitant amount of data. It’s the equivalent of a classroom piled high with textbooks, or hundreds of high-quality movies. A zip file, on the other hand, is compressed before it is stored.
Compression finds patterns within the file, and collapses those patterns, using a compression table, into smaller parts. Files containing a large number of repeated patterns (such as videos) become much smaller when compressed, while more complex files (such as game executables and device drivers) will take up about the same amount of space no matter how much they are compressed. The downside to compression is that a compressed file cannot be read properly. For instance, a video in zip format would be unintelligible to a media player application until it is uncompressed.
The best thing about zip files is that they can contain more than one file; in fact, you can cram virtually any number of files into a zip file, and it all ends up in one big archive. This zip file is the perfect format for data transmission (over the internet) because it is usually smaller than the original file or files. Also, it is a good format for archives, because an archive typically contains data that does not need to be accessed very often. Instead, the entire contents of the archive can be zipped up into a zip file, and they take up much less space. Not only that, but archives reduce the clutter of a large number of old files into a simple piece of luggage, easy to manage and move around.
In short, zip files or archives are one of the best ways to manage and transmit your files. There are many free zip utilities available, as well as a number of higher-quality commercial products. These include Power Archiver, WinRAR, and 7-Zip. Several of the commercial archival tools also offer a free demo or trial version. If you don’t require a lot of different options, you may even be able to use a demo version for everything you need. Most users simply want a program that can unzip files they have downloaded from the internet, and there are plenty of programs offering that feature for free.
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