I have an hybrid compression technique I want to implement, my implementation is (so far): I can encode a string into a encoded compressed string. These are binary strings. For example,

I read texts from a text file ->

then convert it to a binary string ->

then convert it to an encoded binary string.

At this point, I can save the encoded binary string in a text file, but I want to know what is done in general.

For example, when we use Winrar software, it -

  1. does not read as I said above, it compresses any file
  2. makes .rar file as output

So, how a compressor "read" any file as a pure binary form, and how it makes output file?

In another way, what i want is to know how to read any file as a pure binary form and make a output file given that I have a encoding and decoding scheme. Please comment anything related to question, I am new to the topic.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I can't understand what kind of answer are you looking for. Are you looking for how to implement that? A code, library, something in a particular language? What prevents you from doing what you want? Text is binary, so I can't understand the difficulty or what you are asking. $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Mar 17, 2020 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ @D.W. 1.Not the direct implementation, looking for method/ procedure or related terms that reads data file, and makes a compressed output file, for example, what .rar file does if i give it a mp3 file, how it reads it and compressed it in a way that can be later retrieved? $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Mar 17, 2020 at 17:31
  • $\begingroup$ If I understand what you are asking (which I may not), that sounds like a programming question and likely off-topic here. Any community votes? $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Mar 17, 2020 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ @D.W. if I ask about the question about how winrar software considers a mp3 file as input, will it be okay or should I ask it elsewhere (in that case plz recommend the site)? $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Mar 17, 2020 at 18:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It’s a question about filesystems. In your typical filesystem, every file is binary. If you interpret the content as text, it’s your own choice. $\endgroup$ Mar 17, 2020 at 21:06

1 Answer 1


A file is a byte stream

Although OSes provide some bells and whistles (such as metadata, or forks), most define a file as a sequence of 0 or more bytes.

Each byte in the file is a numerical value from 0 to 255 (inclusive). There's nothing more to it.

A file format is a way of giving meaning to the bytes in a file

For a simple example, you could have a file representing a black-and-white image, where each byte is either 0 (black pixel) or 1 (white pixel), one row after another. Perhaps the first two bytes encode the image width as a 16-bit number, and the second two bytes encode the height as a 16-bit number.

This example is very inefficient, since each pixel byte can never use the possible values 2-255. You may want to read about information theory.

"Text file" is a file format

In a text file, every possible value 0-255 is given a meaning, a specific letter, number, symbol, or a "special effect" character like newline. Sort of. Strictly speaking, in the ASCII encoding, only values 0-127 have a meaning.

There are many different text encodings, although only a few common ones. In Unicode, characters are not always 1 byte in length.

But let's stick with ASCII. If you store "51a3" as text, the byte values 53, 49, 97, 51 will go into the file, as they correspond to "5", "1", etc.

If you store the hexadecimal value 0x51 and 0xa3 as bytes, then there will simply be those two bytes (81, 163 in decimal.) So this is half the number of bytes. However the file is no longer a text file because 163 is not defined in ASCII.

Other file formats require purpose-built software

Text files are popular because you can open them in any editor (Notepad, nano). As you understand, they are not very space-efficient.

But it is not difficult to write your own software. Here is an example.

#!/usr/bin/env python3


save_hex = "60b725f10c9c85c70d97880dfe8191b3"

print("Saving:", save_hex)

# group save_hex into groups of 2
save_ints = []
i = 0
while i < len(save_hex):
    # the 16 makes int() treat the value as hex
    integer = int(save_hex[i:i+2], 16)

print("Integer values:", save_ints)

# create a bytes object out of an array of numbers
save_raw = bytes(save_ints)

with open('myfile.raw', 'wb') as f:


with open('myfile.raw', 'rb') as f:
    contents = f.read()

print("Loaded: ", end='')
for byte in contents:
    print('{:02x}'.format(byte), end='')

After running this check the length of the file is half the length of the hex string. Also, learn to use a hexdump tool to inspect the contents of the file.

Python's bytes objects have a lot of features but if you use the basic idea above (list of ints in range 0-255 -> bytes object) and (iterate over bytes object and get an int in range 0-255) then you don't need to get too deep into the details.

All-purpose compression software usually doesn't understand the files it compresses

When you put an mp3 file into a ZIP or RAR, the compression software treats it as a sequence of bytes, the same way it would treat a JPEG or EXE or HTML file.

  • $\begingroup$ Excellent answer for a beginner like me!! Thanks!! but Plz add one point to your answer, you used fixed string save_hex, now assume I have a mp3 file, I want to get a string like save_hex, in your language "a sequence of bytes" of that mp3 file or a text file, which I can get back/ read (like you did in PART 2, though you just read the file, din't save it as text format), how can I do that, I assume there are lot of ways as u mentioned at the end of "Other file formats require purpose-built software", but plz do that in your code , plz. Thank you very much. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Mar 18, 2020 at 1:05
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure exactly what you mean. If you want to explore the contents of a binary file, just use a hex editor. If you try to make your own hex viewer, you will learn a lot. If you actually want to understand the contents of a file, you will need to read documentation about it. The BMP file format is a good place to start, lots of places to read about it online. It's important to first understand how you can combine groups of bytes into 16 or 32-bit numbers. $\endgroup$
    – Artelius
    Mar 18, 2020 at 1:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.