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What Is ImageMagick Hosting?

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 ImageMagick?

    ImageMagick is a software application that allows images to be edited on the fly. It must be used from the command line as it does not have a graphical user interface.

  • Why use ImageMagick instead of Photoshop or gimp?

    ImageMagick is designed to process images from a script, or dynamically process the same operations to several images. It's very useful if you need to repeat a specific operation at different times, perhaps from a script on your server. It is not designed for one-off image editing.

  • How do I install ImageMagick?

    If you're running a Unix-based system or server, ImageMagick may already be 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 type of commands can I send to ImageMagick?

    ImageMagick can set a 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.

  • What programming languages support ImageMagick?

    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.

  • How much does ImageMagick cost?

    ImageMagick is free to download and use. It is distributed under the Apache 2.0 Open Source License.

  • Is there support available for ImageMagick?

    The ImageMagick website offers user documentation and community forums.

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

    You can replace the standard GD image library with ImageMagick. This 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 is a fork of ImageMagick. It works to maintain pre-existing functionality, even as it adds new 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 some debate about this.

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