Unlike ASCII code, which is a fixed-length code using seven bits per character, Huffman compression is a variable-length coding system that assigns smaller codes for more frequently used characters and larger codes for less frequently used characters in order to reduce the size of files being compressed and transferred.
For example, in a file with the following data:
the frequency of “X” is 6, the frequency of “Y” is 4, and the frequency of “Z” is 2. If each character is represented using a fixed-length code of two bits, then the number of bits required to store this file would be 24, i.e., (2 x 6) + (2x 4) + (2x 2) = 24.
If the above data were compressed using Huffman compression, the more frequently occurring numbers would be represented by smaller bits, such as:
X by the code 0 (1 bit)
Y by the code 10 (2 bits)
Z by the code 11 (2 bits)
therefore the size of the file becomes 18, i.e., (1x 6) + (2 x 4) + (2 x 2) = 18.
In the above example, more frequently occurring characters are assigned smaller codes, resulting in a smaller number of bits in the final compressed file.
Huffman compression was named after its discoverer, David Huffman.