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File:JPEG example flower.jpg
A photo of a flower compressed with successively lossier compression ratios from left to right.

In computing, JPEG (pronounced jay-peg) is a commonly used standard method of lossy compression for photographic images. The file format which employs this compression is commonly also called JPEG; the most common file extensions for this format are .jpeg, .jfif, .jpg, .JPG, or .JPE although .jpg is the most common on all platforms.

The name stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. JPEG itself specifies only how an image is transformed into a stream of bytes, but not how those bytes are encapsulated in any particular storage medium. A further standard, created by the Independent JPEG Group, called JFIF (JPEG File Interchange Format) specifies how to produce a file suitable for computer storage and transmission (such as over the Internet) from a JPEG stream. In common usage, when one speaks of a "JPEG file" one generally means a JFIF file, or sometimes an Exif JPEG file. There are, however, other JPEG-based file formats, such as JNG.

JPEG/JFIF is the most common format used for storing and transmitting photographs on the World Wide Web. It is not as well suited for line drawings and other textual or iconic graphics because its compression method performs badly on these types of images (the PNG and GIF formats are in common use for that purpose; GIF, having only 8 bits per pixel is not well suited for colour photographs, PNG can be used to losslessly store photographs but the filesize makes it largely unsuitable for putting photographs on the web).

The MIME media type for JPEG is image/jpeg (defined in RFC 1341).


Many of the options in the JPEG standard are little used. Here is a brief description of one of the more common methods of encoding when applied to an input that has 24 bits per pixel (eight each of red, green, and blue). This particular option is a lossy data compression method.

Color space transformation

First, the image is converted from RGB into a different color space called YCbCr. This is similar to the color space used by NTSC and PAL color television transmission, but is most similar to the way the MAC television transmission system works.

  • The Y component represents the brightness of a pixel
  • The Cb and Cr components together represent the chrome

This encoding system is useful because the human eye can see more detail in the Y component than in Cb and Cr. Using this knowledge, encoders can be designed to compress images more efficiently.


The above transformation enables the next step, which is to reduce the Cb and Cr components (called "downsampling" or "chroma subsampling"). The ratios at which the downsampling can be done on JPEG are 4:4:4 (no downsampling), 4:2:2 (reduce by factor of 2 in horizontal direction), and most commonly 4:2:0 (reduce by factor of 2 in horizontal and vertical directions). For the rest of the compression process, Y, Cb and Cr are processed separately and in a very similar manner.

Discrete cosine transform

File:JPEG example image.jpg
The 8x8 subimage shown in 8-bit greyscale

Next, each component (Y, Cb, Cr) of the image is "tiled" into sections of eight by eight pixels each, then each tile is converted to frequency space using a two-dimensional forward discrete cosine transform (DCT).

If one such 8×8 8-bit subimage is:

which is then shifted by 128 results in

and then taking the DCT and rounding to the nearest integer results in

Note the rather large value of the top-left corner. This is the DC coefficient.


The human eye is fairly good at seeing small differences in brightness over a relatively large area, but not so good at distinguishing the exact strength of a high frequency brightness variation. This fact allows one to get away with greatly reducing the amount of information in the high frequency components. This is done by simply dividing each component in the frequency domain by a constant for that component, and then rounding to the nearest integer. This is the main lossy operation in the whole process. As a result of this, it is typically the case that many of the higher frequency components are rounded to zero, and many of the rest become small positive or negative numbers.

A common quantization matrix is:

Using this quantization matrix with the DCT coefficient matrix from above results in:

For example, using −415 (the DC coefficient) and rounding to the nearest integer

Entropy coding

Entropy coding is a special form of lossless data compression. It involves arranging the image components in a "zigzag" order that groups similar frequencies together, inserting length coding zeros, and then using Huffman coding on what is left. The JPEG standard also allows, but does not require, the use of arithmetic coding which is mathematically superior to Huffman coding. However, this feature is rarely used as it is covered by patents and because it is much slower to encode and decode compared to Huffman coding. Arithmetic coding typically makes files about 5% smaller.

The zig-zag sequence for the above quantized coefficients would be:

−26, −3, 0, −3, −3, −6, 2, −4, 1 −4, 1, 1, 5, 1, 2, −1, 1, −1, 2, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, −1, −1, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0

JPEG has a special Huffman code word for ending the sequence prematurely when the remaining coefficients are zero. Using this special code word, EOB, the sequence becomes

−26, −3, 0, −3, −3, −6, 2, −4, 1 −4, 1, 1, 5, 1, 2, −1, 1, −1, 2, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, −1, −1, EOB

Compression ratio and artifacts

The resulting compression ratio can be varied according to need by being more or less aggressive in the divisors used in the quantization phase. Ten to one compression usually results in an image that can't be distinguished by eye from the original. 100 to one compression is usually possible, but will look distinctly artifacted compared to the original. The appropriate level of compression depends on the use to which the image will be put.

Those who use the World Wide Web may be familiar with the irregularities known as compression artifacts that appear in JPEG digital images. These are due to the quantization step of the JPEG algorithm. They are especially noticeable around eyes in pictures of faces. They can be reduced by choosing a lower level of compression; they may be eliminated by saving an image using a lossless file format, though for photographic images this will usually result in a larger file size.

Some programs allow the user to vary the amount by which individual blocks are compressed. Stronger compression is applied to areas of the image that show less artifacts. This way it is possible to make a JPEG file smaller/prettier by hand.


Decoding to display the image consists of doing all the above in reverse.

Taking the DCT coefficient matrix (after adding the difference of the DC coefficient back in)

and multiplying it by the quantization matrix from above results in

which closely resembles the original DCT coefficient matrix for the top-left portion. Taking the inverse DCT results in an image with values (still shifted down by 128)


File:JPEG example image decompressed.jpg
Notice the slight differences between the original (top) and decompressed image (bottom) which is most readily seen in the bottom-left corner.

and adding 128 to each entry

This is the uncompressed subimage and can be compared to the original subimage (also see images to the right) by taking the difference (original - uncompressed) results in error values

with an average absolute error of about 5 values per pixels (i.e., ). The error is most noticeable in the bottom-left corner where the bottom-left pixel becomes darker than the pixel to its immediate right.


JPEG is at its best on photographs and paintings of realistic scenes with smooth variations of tone and color. In this case it usually performs much better than purely lossless methods while still giving a good looking image (in fact it will produce a much higher quality image than other common methods such as GIF which are lossless for drawings and iconic graphics but require severe quantization for full-color images).


JPEG compression artifacts blend well into photographs with detailed non-uniform textures, allowing higher compression ratios.

File:JPEG example donkey 010.jpg
Low quality (10%), filesize 1.7 KB.
File:JPEG example donkey 050.jpg
Mid quality (50%), filesize 5.7 KB.
File:JPEG example donkey 100.jpg
Full quality (100%), filesize 36 KB.

NOTE: The above images are not IEEE / CCIR / EBU test images, and the encoder settings are not specified or available.

The mid-quality photo uses only one sixth the storage space but has no noticeable loss of detail or visible artifacts. However, once a certain threshold of compression is passed, compressed images show increasingly visible defects. See the article on rate distortion theory for a mathematical explanation of this threshold effect.

Medical Imaging: JPEG's 12 bit seldom supported mode

There are many medical imaging systems that create and process 12 bit JPEG images. The 12 bit JPEG format has been part of the JPEG specification for some time, but very few consumer programs (or web browsers) support this less often used JPEG format.

Other lossy encoding formats

Newer lossy methods, particularly wavelet compression, perform even better in these cases. However, JPEG is a well established standard with plenty of software available, including free software, so it continues to be heavily used as of 2005. Also, many wavelet algorithms are patented, making it difficult or impossible to use them freely in many software projects.

The JPEG committee has now created its own wavelet-based standard, JPEG 2000, which is intended to eventually supersede the original JPEG standard.

Potential patent issues

In 2002 Forgent Networks asserted that it owns and will enforce patent rights on the JPEG technology, arising from a patent that had been filed in 1986 (Template:US patent). The announcement has created a furor reminiscent of Unisys' attempts to assert its rights over the GIF image compression standard.

The JPEG committee investigated the patent claims in 2002 and are of the opinion that they were invalidated by prior art. [1] Others have also concluded that Forgent doesn't have a patent that covers JPEG. [2] Nevertheless, between 2002 and 2004 Forgent was able to obtain about $90 million by licensing their patent to some 30 companies. In April 2004 Forgent sued 31 other companies to enforce further license payments. In July of the same year, a consortium of 21 large computer companies filed a countersuit, with the goal of invalidating the patent. However, as of July 2005, the battle is still ongoing (German news link). Surprisingly, in contrast to the other major computer companies such as Sony and Philips, Microsoft has launched a major lawsuit against Forgent. In principle, the Forgent patent will expire in 2006.

The JPEG committee has as one of its explicit goals that their standards (in particular their baseline methods) be implementable without payment of license fees, and they have secured appropriate license rights for their upcoming JPEG 2000 standard from over 20 large organizations.

See also

External links

ca:JPEG cs:JPEG da:JPEG de:Joint Photographic Experts Group es:JPEG eo:JPEG fr:Joint Photographic Experts Group gl:JPEG ko:JPEG it:Joint Photographic Experts Group hu:JPEG nl:Joint Photographic Experts Group ja:JPEG pl:JPEG pt:Joint Photographic Experts Group ru:JPEG sl:JPEG fi:JPEG sv:JPEG th:JPEG vi:JPEG zh:JPEG