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  • ImageMagick
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ImageMagick is provided by many web hosts, and you'll find it included on shared hosting, virtual private servers (VPS) and dedicated servers alike. It's normally used to manipulate images on the fly. ImageMagick is normally executed using a command line interface, either manually or using a scripting language like PHP.

A Brief History of ImageMagick

In 1987, John Cristy was tasked with finding an algorithm to reduce the number of colours in an image file. At the time, this was not a common task, and Cristy scoured newsgroups to find the script he needed. As part of his role at DuPont, he was tasked with a number of similar queries over the next decade, and wound up sourcing and adapting fragments of code.

In 1990, he decided to release the tools he'd found, adapted and developed. These were compiled and released as a free package called ImageMagick, with DuPont's blessing. Despite most of the work being done on DuPont's time, DuPont essentially gave away ImageMagick by giving Cristy the copyright. He suspected that the business did not see any value in it as a commercial product.

Cristy continued to develop ImageMagick as it gained a solid reputation. The various tools were bundled and incorporated into the Linux operating system, and they were also adopted by thousands of programmers as their imaging editing toolbox of choice. ImageMagick is now an established and, some might say, essential part of most dynamic websites.

How ImageMagick Works

ImageMagick is essentially an imaging editing program; a collection of tools for processing and manipulating graphics files. It has three main functions:

  • It displays raster and vector images in more than 200 formats
  • It converts images from one format to another (including common formats like GIF, JPG, TIFF and PNG)
  • It edits images

ImageMagick is known for being installed on Linux web servers, but it's written in C and is fully cross platform compatible, working well on Windows, Android, Solaris and iOS. Its functionality is similar to popular desktop software for image editing but it looks quite different. On Linux, it is a command line application; a basic graphical user interface is included, but it's nowhere near as sophisticated as the desktop imaging editing programs you'll have used on your laptop.

ImageMagick also has its own application programming interfaces (APIs), but not all hosts install these. You can execute ImageMagick commands by using PHP's exec function instead. By coding the commands, you can essentially manipulate images in an application automatically, without the need for the user to get involved.

Typical Uses on Servers

Most of us have uploaded photographs or avatars to web servers. This is common when creating a profile on forums, social networks and content management systems. ImageMagick can automatically resize the uploaded image to fit the predefined requirements of the system. This is one of its most basic uses on the web.

ImageMagick can also:

  • Dither an image
  • Add text to an image (such as a caption)
  • Reduce the number of colours in a picture (perhaps to reduce file size or create an effect)
  • Change the tone of a picture (e.g. from normal to sepia)
  • Convert from one format to another
  • Rescale an image
  • Draw lines and shapes
  • Crop and rotate
  • Flip images horizontally or vertically
  • Overlay images on top of each other
  • Create animated GIFs from single GIFs
  • Process massive images, such as RAW files
  • Apply artistic effects to an image

Its versatility and efficiency has made it a prerequisite for many scripts that need image processing capabilities. For example, if you install Drupal, you'll need ImageMagick support in order to use its thumbnail creation feature.

ImageMagick vs GraphicsMagick

As you research ImageMagick hosting, you might come across GraphicsMagick. GraphicsMagick was forked from ImageMagick in 2002. Some users claim that GraphicsMagick is more stable, since its releases are more controlled and backwards compatibility is maintained.

Some developers have switched to GraphicsMagick because it's faster and more efficient; others say that it depends which formats you're working with. Many applications actually use both ImageMagick and GraphicsMagick so they have the best of both worlds. If graphics editing is a critical part of your site, having this versatility will be a real bonus.

ImageMagick Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is PHP?

    PHP is a popular scripting language, primarily used for web development, such as blogs, websites, and servers. It can also be used as a general-purpose programming language.

  • Why use ImageMagick instead of a GUI-based program like Photoshop or gimp?

    While ideal for editing single images, a GUI-based program is not as convenient when you need to dynamically process the same operations to several images, or if you need to repeat a specific operation at different times to the same or different images. In these cases, it is more convenient to utilize a command-line image processing utility, which can be run directly from a web script.

  • What type of commands can I send to ImageMagick?

    There are hundreds of commands you can send to ImageMagick, including commands to set font style, add shading, scale images, resize and rotate images, blur parts of the image, and more. You can find a complete list of command options and specific coding requirements on the ImageMagick website.

  • Is ImageMagick available for any other programming languages?

    Yes. There are ready-made ImageMagick interfaces available for a number of programming languages, including Ada, C++, Java, .NET, PHP, Python, Ruby, XML-PRC, and more. You can find many of these interfaces available on the ImageMagick website.

  • Can I run ImageMagick from an executable file?

    Yes. If you’re running Windows or Unix, you can download an executable file to run ImageMagick. You can also install ImageMagick from source code on Windows, Unix, Mac OS X, and iOS.

  • What are the minimum system requirements to run ImageMagick?

    ImageMagick can run on a single-core computer, and it automatically runs in parallel on dual and quad-core systems. The Windows executable will run on an x86 & x64 system running Windows XP Service Pack 3 – Windows 8, or Windows Server 2003 and above, with a minimum of 512MB of RAM. Executable files are also available for a number of Unix systems, and source code can be used to install ImageMagick on other Unix systems. The current binary release for Mac OS X was written for Yosemite, but older versions are also available. The source code has been successfully run on other systems as well, including Android, Solaris, FreeBSD, AmigaOS 4.0, and MorphOS.

  • How do I install ImageMagick?

    If you’re running a Unix-based system or server, chances are ImageMagick is already installed. If not, you can install ImageMagick using either an executable file, which is available for Windows and some Unix systems, or by compiling the source code.

  • What is Source Code? How do I use it?

    Source code is the original program code used to write a program. It is written in a particular programming language, such as C, Perl, Java, etc. Your computer can't read source code, so it must first be translated to machine language, using a compiler. The compiler you need to use will depend on the language the source code was written in and the operating system you are running.

  • How much does ImageMagick cost?

    ImageMagick is free to download and use. It is distributed under the Apache 2.0 open source license, so you can use, copy, or modify it however you please.

  • Can ImageMagick be used with a graphical user interface (GUI)?

    ImageMagick was developed to be used with the command line interface; however, there have been some attempts to adapt the code to utilize a graphical user interface. The most recognized of those is Magick Studio, which you can find on the ImageMagick website.

  • Is there support available for ImageMagick?

    The ImageMagick website has a number of resources available including user documentation and community forums. There are also a number of books available to learn and master ImageMagick.

  • How can ImageMagick improve the performance of my WordPress site?

    You can replace the standard GD image library with ImageMagick. Doing so will improve the quality of resized images, preserve embedded color profiles, automatically recognize custom image sizes, optimize different image sizes for either quality or size, and more. In order to install ImageMagick on your WordPress site, you will need full access to your server. Once your server is ready, you can download the ImageMagick files to your WordPress directory and activate the plugin through your control panel.

  • How does GraphicsMagick differ from ImageMagick?

    GraphicsMagick works to maintain pre-existing functionality, even as it adds new features, while ImageMagick focuses on adding new functionality and features, which has resulted in some incompatibilities with code written for older versions. GraphicsMagick is a smaller installation, and has fewer dependencies on external libraries. Some developers believe GraphicsMagick is more stable, faster, and better at dealing with larger files than ImageMagick, but there is considerable debate on all of these points.

  • What is structured query language (SQL)?

    Structured Query Language (SQL) is a programming language used to interact with relational databases. The majority of web-hosted databases are created using this language and require an SQL server to support them. When a user accesses these types of databases, the software translates their input into SQL code, which the database interprets.

  • Why would I need to use MS Access?

    MS Access offers a number of advantages, particularly in an office setting. For MS Office users, Access provides a centralized data source, spread across multiple Excel worksheets and workbooks. It provides an easy solution for creating custom data entry forms, including lookups, check boxes, list boxes, and text boxes, all of which can be easily filtered. You can easily create and share custom reports with other office and SharePoint users, export data to Excel, and easily integrate your data with accounting programs and CRMs.

  • Does MS Access 2013 use SQL databases?

    When you develop a web app (as opposed to a desktop application), Access 2013 utilizes an SQL database. The program connects to a SharePoint site, where an SQL Server database is provisioned to house all of the objects and data your application requires. If you're using Access with Office 365, the database will be stored in SQL Azure, Microsoft’s cloud system. This change increases the performance and scalability of your MS Access database.

  • Can I import data from other software?

    MS Access can import data from a number of other sources, including Excel, SharePoint lists, XML, Outlook, and HTML. Access can also connect to most ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) compliant database technologies, including databases from Oracle, Lotus Notes, Microsoft SQL Server, and MySQL.

  • Can I use an older MS Access database in a new version of Access?

    Yes. MS Access includes a conversion tool that can import an older Access database, which you can then save in either the latest Access format (.accdb) or the 2000/2002-2003 Access format (.mbd). The more recent your database, and the less macros and/or Visual Basic coding utilized, the easier the conversion process and better chance of success.

  • Is Access available on a mobile phone or tablet?

    MS Access is not available on iOS or Android phones or tablets, Windows Phone, or any other mobile phone platform. If you have a tablet that runs the full version of Windows 8 (as opposed to RT), you can install Access just like you would on a desktop or laptop; however, it will not be touch-friendly like office apps available for other mobile devices.

  • Can I run multiple versions of MS Access on the same computer?

    Yes, but only if you install them in chronological order. For instance, if you have Access 2003 installed already and you are upgrading to Access 2013, you should have no problem keeping both versions of Access on your machine and running them together. However, if you already have Access 2013 installed, and then attempt to install Access 2003, doing so will most likely cause the 2013 installation to fail.

  • How hard is it to get started with MS Access?

    MS Access is an ideal database program for newbies. Not only does it have a user-friendly, graphical interface, but it also includes several built-in templates, to easily create databases for common tasks such as expense reports, contact management, issue tracking, and product inventory. Templates are included for both desktop applications and web apps, depending on the requirements and scale of your project.

  • What type of support is available for MS Access?

    At the time of this article, Microsoft offered support for MS Access 2013, 2010, and 2007. They provide a number of support options, including online guides, tutorials, videos, online tech support, and phone support. IT professionals and developers can also receive support through subscriptions to TechNet, MSDN, or Microsoft Premier Online.

  • Can an Access database be viewed by someone without MS Access installed on their machine?

    Yes. Microsoft offers free runtime versions of Access, which allows users to view, edit, and delete data from a database. They can also run queries, forms, reports, macros and VBA module code. However, without MS Access, they will not be able to change the design of Access objects or code.

  • How does a database differ from a spreadsheet?

    Spreadsheets store data in rows, columns, and cells, and are designed for fairly straight-forward task and queries, such as sorting a customer list or calculating a list of numbers. Databases store data in a table format similar to this; however, they are designed for working with complex data and queries. They allow users to input a variety of search parameters in order to locate specific information. They can also query several tables, from a variety of programs, including spreadsheet software and other database programs.

  • Are there any size limits for an Access database?

    There is no limit to the number of records an Access database can contain; however, there is a maximum of 255 fields to a table, and the maximum size for a database file is 2 gigabytes. If your database is larger than that limit, it may be possible to split it into multiple databases.

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