What’s a GIF and How Do They Work? The Complete Tech Guide



Are you wondering what’s a GIF? Well, you’re not the first, and certainly not the last.

In premise, a GIF is an animated image file, which has specific features unavailable to a traditional format, such as PNG or JPEG.

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about the GIF. As well as how to make use of it.

So if you want to leave the kingdom of confusion and enter the realm of clarity, keep reading.

What’s a GIF?

As mentioned earlier, a GIF is a not-so-simple image file that can be animated.

It’s an animation on the premise of not being a video, as well as not having any sound. A GIF consists of many images at once, and they can be encrypted sequentially and decoded similarly.

In 1987, the GIF was published by CompuServe, and the final update for the format occurred in 1989. So if you think about it, the GIF is exceptionally old. Nonetheless, GIFs are a large part of modern internet culture. In fact, it’s as popular as ever.

However, you will be surprised to find out that a GIF is not a GIF anymore. It’s not a series of images, but rather a full-fledged video with audio and color-spectrum capabilities that were previously unheard of.

How Did GIF Get So Popular?

GIFs are popular for many reasons, but the premise upon their advancement remains the same. They are great for conveying emotion, ideas, and jokes. Not to mention, sites like Gyfcat make it exceptionally easy to create and share your own.

These services are now part of standard operating systems on your phone, as well as messaging apps, such as Facebook and Twitter.

We know that GIF is outdated. These files are 8 bit coded, thus they are only depleted to a limit of 256 colors. The format does not support transparency, and they are often large because of the lack of compression.

Everybody tried to replace the format, but they also all failed. For instance, the APNG format by Mozilla was developed over a decade ago, but it didn’t work out.

Every browser is unique. Although APNG appeared in 2008, only recently are browsers started to support it. If the format does not work for you, you are using an old browser. However, GIF works on all browsers and this has been true for a long time.

The Confusion

Before HTML5 appeared, the standard did not support video. This meant that GIFs were more easily shared. Many websites used Flash Player to showcase video, but the plugin never worked on mobile.

And once again, GIFs are just so easy to create. You can transcribe the video into GIF, you can take different images in no sequence and make them into a GIF, the possibilities are endless. You can learn how to make a GIF on your own.

So what exactly is a GIF now?

Well, in efforts to advance the format, website like Imgur and GIPHY rely on an extension for HTML5, which is called GIFV. This means that GIFs created on these websites are not truly GIFs, they are WebM or MP4 videos. The format also has audio, takes up less space, and uses more colors. Hopefully, that was enough to explain what a GIF is.

So it’s not surprising that people get confused when someone proposes the fact that GIFs are not actually GIFs anymore.

How to Use GIFs?

Using a GIF is like using an emoji. You select a GIF that accommodates the situation, the conversational mood, and then shares it. You don’t have to download anything because GIFs are integrated with almost all messengers, and they are a part of your keyboard on mobile.

The best way to search for and make use of GIFs is to use the search function, use the GBoard, and/or copy a direct link.

First, most social websites have an integrated search function that allows you to share GIFs from large libraries, such as Imgur or GIPHY. This makes GIF sharing very convenient.

Second, Google Keyboard on your mobile device has an integrated function that allows you to select and share GIFs based on a tag/keyword that you place into the search bar or in your message.

Third, sites like Gifycat and Imgur allow you to copy embedded links from GIFs that are on their website. You simply copy, paste, and then the GIF will most likely envelop itself within the messaging application so that the other person does not have to open the link.

But what if you want to save the GIF? Well, you don’t need to do that. Websites that are dedicated to GIF hosting use HTML5, which is not a true GIF. That means if you were to save a GIF, you will miss out on the color spectrum, sound, and other features that are not present in a .GIF format.

If you want to save GIFs, simply make an account on these websites and make use of the favorite/save option that allows you to create a collection.

GIFs Galore

Now that you know “what’s a GIF?”, you are well on your way to outshine your friends in intense discourse over the facts about the format. Everybody likes to argue about GIFs, but not everybody has the knowledge to back it up. But you do, so don’t hesitate to shun those who don’t.

If you’re interested in similar articles, feel free to check out the rest of our tech-related articles on our website.