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Email Compression

Updated on November 14, 2016


Email is ubiquitous today and it is part of our daily lives. One thing I've noticed both at work and at home is the amount of redundancy in many of our emails. I have a simple idea that may save at least 50% of storage space and perhaps much more on the email provider's server site.

- January 2016


Years ago, while working at IBM, we used Lotus Notes as our main email service. As part of Lotus Notes, their exists a discussion DB feature which was a very efficient way to deal with sharing data among a group of people. The idea is to keep only one copy of any document on the server and all team members will be able to access them or post items.

It is also while working at IBM Research, I learned about data compression from my colleagues. The data compression we were concerned with was with images. A common way to compress data is called "run length" encoding. The idea is to look for simple patterns in an image and use a scheme where a repeated pattern would be encoded using that pattern followed by a count. In most cases, this simple scheme can compress the data by a factor of 10.

Finally, while working at another company and using Microsoft Outlook email, I was constantly reminded by the system that my storage space has reached the maximum and I needed to delete some files to make room.

All have lead me to think of a simple way to save storage on email servers and on the local PC. I have come up with the following suggestion.

My Idea to Save Email Storage

If you are like me, I receive lots of email everyday. Some are spam and I delete them as soon as I get them. Others are from individuals or companies whom I am in contact with. In addition, I receive emails as part of a distribution list. They could be from family members who are organizing a get together dinner or a reunion etc. These are the emails that I am targeting to save storage.

Sample scenario:

I send an email to 4 other people. One of them respond with a "Reply All" message with some question or issue. I then follow up with another "Reply All" to clarify the details.

In this simple exchange, an original "message" is replicated 15 times and then on the server would then automatically backed up creating another 15 copies.

The simple solution:

Add a new feature to email called "Reply Link" to replace "Reply All". This new feature will adopt the simple compression concept of keeping only one copy of the message on the server. Instead of appending the "message" in the reply, it will only add a link to the "message". This will drastically reduce the storage size of the server. The potential saving in this simple example would be over 90%. (from 15 copies down to 1). This assumes the original "message" is large compared to the length of the link.


It seems to me, this is a very simple and elegant way to reduce storage space on email servers. It would also put a dent on the size of the Digital Universe.


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