the Huffman code

October 9, 2009



We often overlook the basic principles that makes this overreaching communication revolution possible. I know that I for sure often do. The overwhelmingly amount of underlying concepts that goes into sending a word across the Internet, streaming a video, sending a fax or even watching HDTV is unfathomable. One concept however emerges as one that is the epitome and that typifies all what makes modern communication possible. Yet its notional direction is relatively simple in comparison to supportive technologies.

Its synthesis helped lead to the development of JPEG, MP3, Fax machines and of course HDTV – just to name a few. Any application that involves the transmission and compression of digital data uses or is based on the Huffman Code. A Method for the Construction of Minimum-Redundancy Codes was his term paper through which he explained his idea. It is an unusual story where the student outdid the professor whose futile search for an optimum way of encoding ended with its publishing. 

It is mainly due to its high speed and simplicity that it is still in used. Thinking of its employment in MP3 encoding, I wonder what the record companies think of David Huffman whose ten years of passing is this month. Then again, he is just one of the many initiators who is leading the eventual demise of the behemoth record companies