COS 226 Programming Assignment Checklist: Burrows–Wheeler Data Compression

Frequently Asked Questions

How should I read and write the data? You must use and, which read and write sequences of bytes. Do not use and, which read and write sequences of Unicode characters.

My programs don't work properly with binary data. Why not? Be absolutely sure that you use only and for reading and writing data. Also, be sure to call either BinaryStdOut.flush() or BinaryStdOut.close() after you are done writing—for an example, see

Why does BinaryStdIn return the 8-bits as a (16-bit unsigned) char instead of as an (8-bit signed) byte? The primitive type byte is annoying to use in Java. When you operate on a byte, it is typically promoted to an int and you must be careful because the byte is signed. For example, to convert a byte b to a char c, you must write c = (char) (b & 0xff) instead of c = (char) b. By using char, we avoid the hassle.

For the Burrows–Wheeler transform, in which order do I sort the suffixes? The input is a sequence of extended ASCII characters (00 to FF), which you can read in with BinaryStdIn.readString(). You should sort the suffixes according to extended ASCII order, which is the natural order of the String data type.

For the Burrows–Wheeler inverse transform, does next[0] always equal first? And wouldn't this mean that the index first is redundant? No, this is just a coincidence with the input string "ABRACADABRA!". Consider any two input strings that are cyclic rotations of one another, e.g., "ABRACADABRA!" and "CADABRA!ABRA". They will have the same sorted suffixes and t[] array—their only difference will be in the index first.

Can I assume that the inverseTransform() method in BurrowsWheeler receives only valid inputs (that were created by a call to the transform() method)? Yes.

How can I view the contents of a binary file and determine its size? Use, as in the assignment. The command-line argument specifies the number of bytes per line to print; if the argument is 0, all output except for the number of bits will be suppressed.

How much memory can my program consume? The Burrows–Wheeler transform may use quite a bit, so you may need to use the -Xmx option when executing. You must use space linear in the input size n and alphabet size R. (Industrial strength Burrows–Wheeler compression algorithms typically use a fixed block size, and encode the message in these smaller chunks. This reduces the memory requirements, at the expense of some loss in compression ratio.) Therefore, depending on your operating system and configuration there may be some very large files for which your program will not have enough memory even with the -Xmx option.

I'm running out of memory in the transform() method in Burrows–Wheeler. Any ideas? Be sure not to create a new String object for each circular suffix created in CircularSuffixArray, It is OK to have multiple references to the same String (for example if you use a CircularSuffix nested class).

What is meant by "typical English text inputs"? Inputs such as Aesop's Fables, Moby Dick, or your most recent essay. We do not mean inputs with very long repeated substrings (such as aesop-2copies.txt or an input will 1 million consecutive As) or random inputs.

How do I use gzip and bzip2 on Windows? It's fine to use pkzip or 7-zip instead.

I'm curious. What compression algorithm is used in PKZIP? In gzip? In bzip2? PKZIP uses LZW compression followed by Shannon-Fano (an entropy encoder similar to Huffman). The Unix utility gzip uses a variation of LZ77 (similar to LZW) followed by Huffman coding. The program bzip2 combines the Burrows–Wheeler transform, Huffman coding, and a (fancier) move-to-front style rule.


Input. Here are some sample text files. To fully test your program, you should also try to compress and uncompress binary files (e.g., .class or .jpg files). Be careful to download them as binary files—some browsers will corrupt them if you view the file and use File -> Save. Do not edit them in a text editor—some editors will corrupt them by inserting bogus newline characters.

Reference solutions. For reference, we have provided the output of compressing aesop.txt and us.gif. We have also provided the results of applying each of the three encoding algorithms in isolation. Note that the .gif file is a binary file and is already compressed.

To compare the contents of two files, you can use the following commands:

Timing your program.

Timing using gzip, bzip2, 7zip, etc.

Possible Progress Steps

These are purely suggestions for how you might make progress. You do not have to follow these steps.

A video on compressing and another on expanding are provided for those wishing additional assistance. Be forewarned that video was made in early 2014 and is somewhat out of date. For example the API has changed.