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History of LZMA Utils and XZ Utils
Tukaani distribution
In 2005, there was a small group working on the Tukaani distribution,
which was a Slackware fork. One of the project's goals was to fit the
distro on a single 700 MiB ISO-9660 image. Using LZMA instead of gzip
helped a lot. Roughly speaking, one could fit data that took 1000 MiB
in gzipped form into 700 MiB with LZMA. Naturally, the compression
ratio varied across packages, but this was what we got on average.
Slackware packages have traditionally had .tgz as the filename suffix,
which is an abbreviation of .tar.gz. A logical naming for LZMA
compressed packages was .tlz, being an abbreviation of .tar.lzma.
At the end of the year 2007, there was no distribution under the
Tukaani project anymore, but development of LZMA Utils was kept going.
Still, there were .tlz packages around, because at least Vector Linux
(a Slackware based distribution) used LZMA for its packages.
First versions of the modified pkgtools used the LZMA_Alone tool from
Igor Pavlov's LZMA SDK as is. It was fine, because users wouldn't need
to interact with LZMA_Alone directly. But people soon wanted to use
LZMA for other files too, and the interface of LZMA_Alone wasn't
comfortable for those used to gzip and bzip2.
First steps of LZMA Utils
The first version of LZMA Utils (4.22.0) included a shell script called
lzmash. It was a wrapper that had a gzip-like command-line interface. It
used the LZMA_Alone tool from LZMA SDK to do all the real work. zgrep,
zdiff, and related scripts from gzip were adapted to work with LZMA and
were part of the first LZMA Utils release too.
LZMA Utils 4.22.0 included also lzmadec, which was a small (less than
10 KiB) decoder-only command-line tool. It was written on top of the
decoder-only C code found from the LZMA SDK. lzmadec was convenient in
situations where LZMA_Alone (a few hundred KiB) would be too big.
lzmash and lzmadec were written by Lasse Collin.
Second generation
The lzmash script was an ugly and not very secure hack. The last
version of LZMA Utils to use lzmash was 4.27.1.
LZMA Utils 4.32.0beta1 introduced a new lzma command-line tool written
by Ville Koskinen. It was written in C++, and used the encoder and
decoder from C++ LZMA SDK with some little modifications. This tool
replaced both the lzmash script and the LZMA_Alone command-line tool
in LZMA Utils.
Introducing this new tool caused some temporary incompatibilities,
because the LZMA_Alone executable was simply named lzma like the new
command-line tool, but they had a completely different command-line
interface. The file format was still the same.
Lasse wrote liblzmadec, which was a small decoder-only library based
on the C code found from LZMA SDK. liblzmadec had an API similar to
zlib, although there were some significant differences, which made it
non-trivial to use it in some applications designed for zlib and
The lzmadec command-line tool was converted to use liblzmadec.
Alexandre Sauvé helped converting the build system to use GNU
Autotools. This made it easier to test for certain less portable
features needed by the new command-line tool.
Since the new command-line tool never got completely finished (for
example, it didn't support the LZMA_OPT environment variable), the
intent was to not call 4.32.x stable. Similarly, liblzmadec wasn't
polished, but appeared to work well enough, so some people started
using it too.
Because the development of the third generation of LZMA Utils was
delayed considerably (3-4 years), the 4.32.x branch had to be kept
maintained. It got some bug fixes now and then, and finally it was
decided to call it stable, although most of the missing features were
never added.
File format problems
The file format used by LZMA_Alone was primitive. It was designed with
embedded systems in mind, and thus provided only a minimal set of
features. The two biggest problems for non-embedded use were the lack
of magic bytes and an integrity check.
Igor and Lasse started developing a new file format with some help
from Ville Koskinen. Also Mark Adler, Mikko Pouru, H. Peter Anvin,
and Lars Wirzenius helped with some minor things at some point of the
development. Designing the new format took quite a long time (actually,
too long a time would be a more appropriate expression). It was mostly
because Lasse was quite slow at getting things done due to personal
Originally the new format was supposed to use the same .lzma suffix
that was already used by the old file format. Switching to the new
format wouldn't have caused much trouble when the old format wasn't
used by many people. But since the development of the new format took
such a long time, the old format got quite popular, and it was decided
that the new file format must use a different suffix.
It was decided to use .xz as the suffix of the new file format. The
first stable .xz file format specification was finally released in
December 2008. In addition to fixing the most obvious problems of
the old .lzma format, the .xz format added some new features like
support for multiple filters (compression algorithms), filter chaining
(like piping on the command line), and limited random-access reading.
Currently the primary compression algorithm used in .xz is LZMA2.
It is an extension on top of the original LZMA to fix some practical
problems: LZMA2 adds support for flushing the encoder, uncompressed
chunks, eases stateful decoder implementations, and improves support
for multithreading. Since LZMA2 is better than the original LZMA, the
original LZMA is not supported in .xz.
Transition to XZ Utils
The early versions of XZ Utils were called LZMA Utils. The first
releases were 4.42.0alphas. They dropped the rest of the C++ LZMA SDK.
The code was still directly based on LZMA SDK but ported to C and
converted from a callback API to a stateful API. Later, Igor Pavlov
made a C version of the LZMA encoder too; these ports from C++ to C
were independent in LZMA SDK and LZMA Utils.
The core of the new LZMA Utils was liblzma, a compression library with
a zlib-like API. liblzma supported both the old and new file format.
The gzip-like lzma command-line tool was rewritten to use liblzma.
The new LZMA Utils code base was renamed to XZ Utils when the name
of the new file format had been decided. The liblzma compression
library retained its name though, because changing it would have
caused unnecessary breakage in applications already using the early
liblzma snapshots.
The xz command-line tool can emulate the gzip-like lzma tool by
creating appropriate symlinks (e.g. lzma -> xz). Thus, practically
all scripts using the lzma tool from LZMA Utils will work as is with
XZ Utils (and will keep using the old .lzma format). Still, the .lzma
format is more or less deprecated. XZ Utils will keep supporting it,
but new applications should use the .xz format, and migrating old
applications to .xz is often a good idea too.