Most Compact

Chris Mills
Twitter: @MisterXopher

Judges' comments:

To use:


./prog compressed_file.Z


printf '000I\236\f\31H\260\240\301\203' > ioccc.Z
./prog ioccc.Z 

dd bs=1k count=4096 < /dev/urandom > test1
compress < test1 > test1.Z
time ./prog test1.Z | cmp - test1

dd bs=1k count=4096 < /dev/zero > test2
compress < test2 > test2.Z
time ./prog test2.Z | cmp - test2

Selected Judges Remarks:

Without ASCII art, the source code of this entry would have been exactly 256 bytes. Compared to 1990/jaw, it is very impressive, even taking into account the missing atob functionality. Now we wish for a compress(1)-like compressor using a similar idea.

Why is the sad smiley on line 12 in that particular place?

Author’s comments:

The Program

This program is in implementation of the unix zcat(1) command for printing compressed files that have been created by the compress(1) command.

The adaptive LZW compression employed by compress usually requires a fairly large amount of memory to build the decompression tables (in fact, compress has a command-line option to control the size of the decompression tables, since some of the early systems to which it was ported (coughMS-DOScough) did not have enough memory to use the full 16-bit codes). This version has no large static or dynamic tables. It is able to decompress 16-bit files using a single function and a few ints.

To run the program, take an existing compressed file and pass it to the program on the command line. On the odd chance you don’t have compress hanging about on your system, I’ve provided compressed copies of this year’s IOCCC rules and guidelines files. To print them, just do

./prog ioccc_guidelines.txt.Z

The Details

The basic cleverness here comes from realizing that the compressed data is itself an encoded version of the code dictionary. When the encoder sees an input string that is not in its dictionary, it emits the code corresponding to the longest prefix that is in the dictionary and adds a new entry consisting of that code followed by the next input character. This means that when the decoder wants to know how to decode a code, it just needs to find the spot in the code-stream where the encoder added that entry to the dictionary. The code at that spot is the prefix, and the first character of the following code is the suffix. Decoding then just becomes recursion, to follow the chain of prefixes and suffix characters.

Of course, it’s not nearly that simple. Finding the code in the stream is complicated by several issues:

Managing all the details involved added a lovely additional layer of obfuscation to the otherwise elegant recursive decoder. Still, the code manages it in a remarkably small amount of code.


The decoder doesn’t look at the header. If you supply something that is not compressed data, it’s likely to crash in an interesting manner.

In particular, it doesn’t look at the third byte of the header, which encodes the maximum code word size and whether “block mode” was used when the encoder was run. If you use compress in its default mode, the maximum word size will be 16 bits and “block mode” will be enabled. You are unlikely to find any files that don’t use “block mode”, since all versions of compress after 2.0 (circa 1984) use it by default and have no documented way to disable it. Reducing the bit depth is still possibly by using the -b flag. Modern systems have no problem with the 200 KB or so needed for 16-bit decoder tables, so the need for reducing the table size has passed, hence this program always assumes 16-bits… However, should you find a file that needs a smaller table, feel free to change the hard-coded 16 in the source into the appropriate number and recompile.

In the event that you don’t supply an argument, or that argument doesn’t name a readable file, the program will just silently exit. This is a feature.

The program depends on having a little-endian system. On a big-endian system you will get a wierd big-endian version of compress, which might have come to pass in an alternate universe where the vax on which compress was authored had been big-endian. Luckily for us, it wasn’t, and neither are most of the systems you might want to compile this for.

Creative Commons License

© Copyright 1984-2016, Leo Broukhis, Simon Cooper, Landon Curt Noll - All rights reserved
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.