The future of TIFF

Is TIFF a legacy format?

The most recent version of the TIFF specification, 6.0, dates from 1992. Adobe updated it with three technical notes, the latest coming out in 2002. Since then there has been nothing.

The format is solid, but the past quarter-century has seen reasons to enhance it. BigTIFF is a variant of the format to accommodate larger files. It isn’t backward-compatible with TIFF, but the changes mostly concern data lengths and are easy to add to a TIFF interpreter. The format sits in a kind of limbo, since Adobe owns the spec but is no longer updating it. There have been new tags which have achieved consensus acceptance but don’t have official status. AWare Systems has a list of known tags but has no reliable way to say which ones are private and which are generally accepted. There’s no way to add a new compression or encryption algorithm, or any other new feature, and give it official status.

The LibTiff library is the de facto standard, but it’s not a specification. It isn’t even obvious to the casual user where to find it. There’s still a version of it on libtiff . org, but it’s eons out of date. For some unknown reason, someone keeps that site up yet won’t update it even to point at the current version. For several years, AWare Systems hosted LibTiff. It still has a lot of information on TIFF, but it points at simplesystems.org for downloading LibTiff.

Adobe still has an active interest in controlling the TIFF trademark but not in doing anything with the TIFF standard. Currently there is no one who can update the standard.

Does TIFF have a future?

For its age, TIFF still offers a lot of value. It’s particularly useful in the printing industry, because of its flexibility in handling colors, including spot colors, and its capacity for 16 bits per channel. It offers lossless compression and it’s very portable. Other formats, such as PNG and PDF, have displaced it in many areas.

The LibTiff team has done an impressive job of keeping the format alive and supported. Without an officially maintained standard, though, it’s likely to slowly fade into disuse. Unlike some other legacy formats, such as JPEG and MP3, it doesn’t have a strong base in which it’s the natural default format.

If Adobe does allow some way of updating the standard, though, TIFF could still be useful for a long time.

One response to “The future of TIFF

  1. Although the TIFF standard is not changing we are seeing more formats complying to TIFF but containing specialised content such as Cannon Raw V2.