What Is a GIF?

By Amy Kay

A GIF is a common type of image file found on most computer systems and websites. The abbreviation "GIF" stands for Graphics Interchange Format. GIF files can usually be opened with the image viewing software included with your operating system or within a browser as part of a web page.


The GIF file format was invented in 1987 by the CompuServe Corporation to enable computer systems to display high-quality images.


A GIF image uses a method of file compression called LZW to shrink its file size and speed up its retrieval by a computer system. GIF files can display up to 256 colors, support transparent backgrounds, and may also be animated.


GIF files will usually have an extension of ".gif". Double-clicking on the file to open it or viewing it in a web browser will display the graphic or animation.


GIF file sizes can vary greatly, depending on the size and complexity of the image represented.


GIF files are best suited for displaying line drawings, text or relatively simple graphics containing up to 256 colors. Image distortion or quality loss may occur in more complex images.