Sustainability of Digital Formats: Planning for Library of Congress Collections

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BIIF, Basic Image Interchange Format

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Format Description Properties Explanation of format description terms

Identification and description Explanation of format description terms

Full name Information technology -- Computer graphics and image processing -- Image Processing and Interchange (IPI) -- Functional specification -- Part 5: Basic Image Interchange Format (BIIF)
Description A wrapper for imagery and other forms of content developed to serve military and intelligence-agency interoperability (see history Notes below). The format can wrap up to 999 images and symbols in a single file; a typical example (text and graphics layered over raster image) is presented as figure 3 in Bernadette Kuzma's 1999 update.
Production phase Used for content in the middle and final state.
Relationship to other formats
    May contain Image data of various types; see Notes below.
    May contain CGM_family, Computer Graphics Metafile File Format Family
    May contain Text data; see Notes below

Local use Explanation of format description terms

LC experience or existing holdings None
LC preference None

Sustainability factors Explanation of format description terms

Disclosure Open standard. Developed by ISO technical program JTC 1/SC 24.
    Documentation ISO/IEC 12087-5:1998 (with corrigenda in 2001 and 2002). Information technology -- Computer graphics and image processing -- Image Processing and Interchange (IPI) -- Functional specification -- Part 5: Basic Image Interchange Format (BIIF)
Adoption Appears to be used by the military. A NATO Profile of BIIF, NATO Secondary Image Format, NSIF01.01, was updated in June 2008. BIIF was listed in 2002 by the National Archives and Records Administration as an accepted format for scanned images of textual records, but was not listed in updated transfer guidance from 2014.
    Licensing and patents Not investigated at this time.
Transparency The wrapper is transparent; contained data varies.
Self-documentation Header describes the structure of the file. The specification defines Tagged Record Extensions that may be used for data (a) about people, buildings, places, landmarks, equipment, or other objects that may appear in the image; (b) to allow correlation of information among multiple images and annotations within a BIIF file; (c) about the equipment settings used to obtain the digital image, xray, etc.; and (d) data to allow geopositioning of items in the imagery or measurement of distances of items in the imagery.
External dependencies None
Technical protection considerations Not investigated at this time.

Quality and functionality factors Explanation of format description terms

Still Image
Normal rendering Supported.
Clarity (high image resolution) Depends upon the types of image data contained in the file.
Color maintenance No particular elements indicated in specification; Comments welcome.
Support for vector graphics, including graphic effects and typography CGM, vector graphics, and text are supported.
Support for multispectral bands Multispectral images are supported.
Functionality beyond normal rendering Not investigated.

File type signifiers and format identifiers Explanation of format description terms

Tag Value Note
Filename extension Not found.  Comments welcome.   
Magic numbers Not found.  Comments welcome.   

Notes Explanation of format description terms


Bernadette Kuzma's 1999 update reports on the components of a BIIF file, beginning with the BIIF File Header. The header is "a basic description of this file. Including how many of each subcomponent exist. For each subcomponent a pair of numbers is given indicating how many bytes the subheader for it is and how bytes of data are associated with it." Kuzma continues, "For each of the remaining segments there is a subheader that describes the individual segment and the actual data associated with it:"

  • Image Segments: The data can be stored in various interleave patterns. Monochrome, color, multispectral and hyperspectral data can be included. The data can also be compressed. The standard allows for each image within the file to be compressed. Currently, bi-level, JPEG and vector quantization (VQ) are the supported compression methods. The same compression does not need to be applied to all images in a given file.
  • Symbol Segments: Symbols are stored as computer graphics metafiles (CGMs).
  • Text Segments: The data in these segments are not part of the composite picture that results from displaying a BIIF file. They are text attachments that are associated with the file.
  • Remaining segments: Allows for extensibility of the format.

Bernadette Kuzma's 1999 update sketches the history:

"During the Grenada conflict [1983], it became apparent that . . . there was no way to share imagery between systems. Interoperability just wasn't there. There were numerous tools for creating, distributing and viewing imagery; however interoperability had not been considered. . . . Several folks got together and fashioned . . . the National Imagery Transmission Format (NITF). Version 1.0 of the standard was not fielded, but approved as a demonstration capability. In 1984, the NITF Technical Board was formed. This organization consisted of representatives from each service and the Intel community. . . . The Joint Interoperability Test Center was tasked with ensuring that systems conformed to the standard. The first system was certified in 1988.

"The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) was responsible for making NITF 1.1 a military standard. By 1991 all the services were complying with the standard. . . . Work on version 2.0 of the standard started in 1992. . . . [In 1995,] the National Committee for Information Technology Standards agreed it was within their purview to convert NITF from a military standard to an international standard. Work began on the Basic Imagery Interchange Format (BIIF). Simultaneously, work was started on NITF 2.1. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secondary Imagery Format (STANAG 4545, NSIF) was developed at the same time."

Development of ISO/IEC 12087-5 began in 1995 and, in 1998, this international standard was approved. Some additional historical information is included in a 2002 presentation from the Arnold, Missouri, Bandwidth Compression Symposium.

Format specifications Explanation of format description terms

Useful references


Last Updated: 06/17/2021