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Note: A new GRASS GIS stable version has been released: GRASS GIS 7.4, available here.
Updated manual page: here


r.compress - Compresses and decompresses raster maps.


raster, map management, compression


r.compress --help
r.compress [-up] map=string[,string,...] [--help] [--verbose] [--quiet] [--ui]


Uncompress the map
Print compression information and data type of input map(s)
Print usage summary
Verbose module output
Quiet module output
Force launching GUI dialog


map=string[,string,...] [required]
Name of existing raster map(s)

Table of contents


r.compress can be used to compress and decompress raster map layers. Additionally, it prints information about the map compression and data type of the input raster map(s).

During compression, this program reformats raster maps using a run-length-encoding (RLE) or ZLIB's "deflate" (LZ77-based) algorithm. Raster map layers which contain very little information (such as boundary, geology, soils and land use maps) can be greatly reduced in size. Some raster map layers are shrunk to roughly 1% of their original sizes. Raster map layers containing complex images such as elevation and photo or satellite images may increase slightly in size. All newly generated raster maps are automatically stored in compressed form (see FORMATS below). Other modules can read both compressed and regular (uncompressed) file formats.

As an example, the Spearfish data base raster map layer owner was originally a size of 26600 bytes. After it was RLE compressed, the raster map became only 1249 bytes (25351 bytes smaller).

Raster files may be decompressed manually to return them to their original format, using the -u flag of r.compress. If r.compress is asked to compress a raster map which is already compressed (or to decompress an already decompressed raster map), it simply informs the user the map is already (de)compressed and exits.



Floating point (FCELL, DCELL) raster maps never use RLE compression; they are either compressed with ZLIB or uncompressed.

Integer (CELL) raster maps are by default ZLIB compressed or may remain uncompressed. If the environment variable GRASS_INT_ZLIB exists and has the value 0, newly generated compressed integer (CELL type) raster maps will be compressed using RLE compression instead of ZLIB.

In the internal cellhd file, the value for "compressed" is 1 for RLE and 2 for ZLIB.

Obviously, decompression is controlled by the raster map's compression, not the environment variable.


r.compress can be run either non-interactively or interactively. In non-interactive use, the user must specify the name(s) of the raster map layer(s) to be compressed (or decompressed) on the command line, using the form map=name[,name,...] (where each name is the name of a raster map layer to be compressed or decompressed). The default behavior is to compress the named map(s).


Conceptually, a raster data file consists of rows of cells, with each row containing the same number of cells. A cell consists of one or more bytes. The number of bytes per cell depends on the category values stored in the cell. Category values in the range 0-255 require 1 byte per cell, while category values in the range 256-65535 require 2 bytes, and category values in the range above 65535 require 3 (or more) bytes per cell.

The decompressed raster map format matches the conceptual format. For example, a raster map with 1 byte cells that is 100 rows with 200 cells per row, consists of 20,000 bytes. Running the UNIX command ls -l on this file will show a size of 20,000. If the cells were 2 byte cells, the file would require 40,000 bytes. The map layer category values start with the upper left corner cell followed by the other cells along the northern boundary. The byte following the last byte of that first row is the first cell of the second row of category values (moving from left to right). There are no end-of-row markers or other syncing codes in the raster map. A cell header file (cellhd) is used to define how this string of bytes is broken up into rows of category values.

The compressed RLE format is not so simple, but is quite elegant in its design. It not only requires less disk space to store the raster data, but often can result in faster execution of graphic and analysis programs since there is less disk I/O. There are two compressed RLE formats: the pre-version 3.0 format (which GRASS programs can read but no longer produce), and the version 3.0 format (which is automatically used when new raster map layers are created).


First 3 bytes (chars) - These are a special code that identifies the raster data as compressed.

Address array (long) - array (size of the number of rows + 1) of addresses pointing to the internal start of each row. Because each row may be a different size, this array is necessary to provide a mapping of the data.

Row by row, beginning at the northern edge of the data, a series of byte groups describes the data. The number of bytes in each group is the number of bytes per cell plus one. The first byte of each group gives a count (up to 255) of the number of cells that contain the category values given by the remaining bytes of the group.


The 3 byte code is not used. Instead, a field in the cell header is used to indicate compressed format.

The address array is the same.

The RLE format is the same as the pre-3.0 RLE, except that each row of data is preceded by a single byte containing the number of bytes per cell for the row, and if run-length-encoding the row would not require less space than non-run-length-encoding, then the row is not encoded.

These improvements give better compression than the pre-3.0 format in 99% of the raster data layers. The kinds of raster data layers which get bigger are those in which each row would be larger if compressed (e.g., imagery band files). But even in this case the raster data layer would only be larger by the size of the address array and the single byte preceding each row.

Since GRASS GIS 7.0.0, the default compression method for Integer (CELL) maps is deflate and not any more the RLE compression.

DEFLATE compression level

If the environment variable GRASS_ZLIB_LEVEL exists and its value can be parsed as an integer, it determines the compression level used when newly generated raster maps are compressed using zlib compression. This applies to all raster map types (CELL, FCELL, DCELL).

If the variable does not exist, or the value cannot be parsed as an integer, zlib's default compression level will be used.


Printing of current compression state:
r.compress compressed_no -p
  <compressed_no> (level 0: NONE). Data type: <CELL>

Applying RLE compression to a copy of the uncompressed map:

# compression of map using RLE compression
g.copy raster=compressed_no,compressed_RLE

r.compress compressed_RLE 
r.compress compressed_RLE -p 
  <compressed_RLE> is compressed (level 1: RLE). Data type: <CELL>

Applying DEFLATE (ZLIB) compression to a copy of the uncompressed map:

# compression of map using DEFLATE compression
g.copy raster=compressed_no,compressed_DEFLATE

export GRASS_INT_ZLIB=1 # deflate
r.compress compressed_DEFLATE
r.compress compressed_DEFLATE -p
  <compressed_DEFLATE> is compressed (level 2: DEFLATE). Data type: <CELL>



James Westervelt,
Michael Shapiro,
U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratory

Last changed: $Date: 2015-05-13 04:38:09 -0700 (Wed, 13 May 2015) $


Available at: r.compress source code (history)

Note: A new GRASS GIS stable version has been released: GRASS GIS 7.4, available here.
Updated manual page: here

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