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The BMP file format or bitmap, is a raster graphics image file format used to store bitmap digital images, independently of the display device (such as a graphics adapter), especially on Microsoft Windows and OS/2 operating systems.
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Microsoft has defined a particular representation of color bitmaps of different color depths, as an aid to exchanging bitmaps between devices and applications with a variety of internal representations. They called these device-independent bitmaps or DIBs, and the file format for them is called DIB file format or BMP image file format.
A device-independent bitmap (DIB) is a format used to define device-independent bitmaps in various color resolutions. The main purpose of DIBs is to allow bitmaps to be moved from one device to another (hence, the device-independent part of the name). A DIB is an external format, in contrast to a device-dependent bitmap, which appears in the system as a bitmap object (created by an application...). A DIB is normally transported in metafiles (usually using the StretchDIBits() function), BMP files, and the Clipboard (CF_DIB data format).
The following sections discuss the data stored in the BMP file or DIB in detail. This is the standard BMP file format. Some applications create bitmap image files which are not compliant with the Microsoft documentation. Also, not all fields are used; a value of 0 will be found in these unused fields.
The bitmap image file consists of fixed-size structures (headers) as well as variable-sized structures appearing in a predetermined sequence. Many different versions of some of these structures can appear in the file, due to the long evolution of this file format.
This block of bytes tells the application detailed information about the image, which will be used to display the image on the screen. The block also matches the header used internally by Windows and OS/2 and has several different variants. All of them contain a dword (32-bit) field, specifying their size, so that an application can easily determine which header is used in the image. The reason that there are different headers is that Microsoft extended the DIB format several times. The new extended headers can be used with some GDI functions instead of the older ones, providing more functionality. Since the GDI supports a function for loading bitmap files, typical Windows applications use that functionality. One consequence of this is that for such applications, the BMP formats that they support match the formats supported by the Windows version being run. See the table below for more information.
The color table is a block of bytes (a table) listing the colors used by the image. Each pixel in an indexed color image is described by a number of bits (1, 4, or 8) which is an index of a single color described by this table. The purpose of the color palette in indexed color bitmaps is to inform the application about the actual color that each of these index values corresponds to. The purpose of the color table in non-indexed (non-palettized) bitmaps is to list the colors used by the bitmap for the purposes of optimization on devices with limited color display capability and to facilitate future conversion to different pixel formats and palettization.
As mentioned above, the color table is normally not used when the pixels are in the 16-bit per pixel (16bpp) format (and higher); there are normally no color table entries in those bitmap image files. However, the Microsoft documentation (on the MSDN web site as of Nov. 16, 2010) specifies that for 16bpp (and higher), the color table can be present to store a list of colors intended for optimization on devices with limited color display capability, while it also specifies, that in such cases, no indexed palette entries are present in this Color Table. This may seem like a contradiction if no distinction is made between the mandatory palette entries and the optional color list.
The pixel array is a block of 32-bit DWORDs, that describes the image pixel by pixel. Usually pixels are stored "bottom-up", starting in the lower left corner, going from left to right, and then row by row from the bottom to the top of the image. Unless BITMAPCOREHEADER is used, uncompressed Windows bitmaps also can be stored from the top to bottom, when the Image Height value is negative.
Padding bytes (not necessarily 0) must be appended to the end of the rows in order to bring up the length of the rows to a multiple of four bytes. When the pixel array is loaded into memory, each row must begin at a memory address that is a multiple of 4. This address/offset restriction is mandatory only for Pixel Arrays loaded in memory. For file storage purposes, only the size of each row must be a multiple of 4 bytes while the file offset can be arbitrary. A 24-bit bitmap with Width=1, would have 3 bytes of data per row (blue, green, red) and 1 byte of padding, while Width=2 would have 6 bytes of data and 2 bytes of padding, Width=3 would have 9 bytes of data and 3 bytes of padding, and Width=4 would have 12 bytes of data and no padding.
The simplicity of the BMP file format, and its widespread familiarity in Windows and elsewhere, as well as the fact that this format is relatively well documented and has an open format, makes BMP a very common format that image processing programs from many operating systems can read and write. ICO and CUR files contain bitmaps starting with a BITMAPINFOHEADER.
Many older graphical user interfaces used bitmaps in their built-in graphics subsystems; for example, the Microsoft Windows and OS/2 platforms' GDI subsystem, where the specific format used is the Windows and OS/2 bitmap file format, usually named with the file extension of .BMP.
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