Some compression programs can show information (like compression ratio or time and size totals) while performing the task, like xz -v:

--- %   2,580.2 KiB / 6,552.0 KiB = 0.394   1.2 MiB/s       0:05

While compressing a big file I would like to know the compression ratio in mid-task, so that I can stop the process if the compression ratio is low and leave it uncompressed.

Are there any other programs with this feature? (xz has a high compression ratio but is slow)

1 Answer 1


The generic way to do this is to use something like pv to monitor both the input and output size of the compression program. For example :

$ pv -cpterba -N in /dev/urandom | gzip | pv -cpterba -N out > /dev/null 
      out:  956MiB 0:00:42 [23.1MiB/s] [22.8MiB/s] [                           <=>        ]
       in:  956MiB 0:00:42 [23.1MiB/s] [22.8MiB/s] [                           <=>        ]

It's easy enough to see above that the output size is the same as the input size—as expected when attempting to compress random data.

If instead we try on a file that compresses really well:

$ pv -cpterba -N in /dev/zero | gzip | pv -cpterba -N out > /dev/null 
      out: 2.62MiB 0:00:25 [ 109KiB/s] [ 107KiB/s] [                   <=>                ]
       in: 2.65GiB 0:00:25 [ 110MiB/s] [ 108MiB/s] [                   <=>                ]

The output size is 2.62MiB, the input is 2.65GiB—3 orders of magnitude larger.

As a side benefit, if used on a normal file, pv will give you an ETA:

$ pv -cpterba -N in debian-8.2.0-amd64-DVD-1.iso | gzip | pv -cpterba -N out > /dev/null 
      out:  578MiB 0:00:27 [22.1MiB/s] [21.4MiB/s] [                  <=>                 ]
       in:  595MiB 0:00:27 [22.1MiB/s] [  22MiB/s] [==>                   ] 15% ETA 0:02:25

The Jessie DVD image is mostly compressed files, so it doesn't compress so well, but it'd take another two and a half minutes to complete.

You can also use pv -d to monitor an already-running process—if you apply that to a running compressor, it will tell you where it is on the input vs. the output file, again letting you quickly see the ratio:

$ pv -pterba -d "$(pidof gzip)"
   3:/var/tmp/mp3s.tar:  911MiB 0:00:44 [  20MiB/s] [19.9MiB/s] [>         ]  9% ETA 0:07:35
   4:/var/tmp/mp3s.tar.gz:  906MiB 0:00:44 [  20MiB/s] [19.8MiB/s] [                <=>   ] 

Tar files of MP3s do not compress well, either.

Note: Many compressors work on a block-by-block basis. That's why you may see things like the transfer rate spiking then being 0, repeat. You need to let the compressor run for a bit before you can get any real idea of the expected ratio. Keep in mind that right after a spike, it's probably read in a block, but not yet written the compressed version—but if you've already waited through 10 blocks, that's at most a 10% error.

(The pv options I'm using: -p to turn on the progress bar; -t to turn on the elapsed time; -e to turn on the ETA; -r to show the transfer rate; -b to turn on the byte counter; -c to make multiple pvs in a pipe work; -N to set the labels).

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