Let GDI do your RLE compression for you

Raymond Chen

This is another trick along the lines of using DIB sections to perform bulk color mapping. GDI will do it for you; you just have to know how to ask. Today’s mission is to take a 4bpp bitmap and compress it in BI_RLE4 format. Now, sure, there are programs out there which already do this conversion, but the lesson is in the journey, not in the destination.

The secret is the GetDIBits function. You give this function a bitmap and a bitmap format, and out come the bits in the format you requested; GDI will convert as necessary.

Note: I’m going to take a risk and write “sloppy” code. This is code that is not production quality but is enough to get the point across, so put your nitpicking notepads away.

void ConvertToRLE4(LPCTSTR pszSrc, LPCTSTR pszDst)
    // error checking elided for expository purposes
    HBITMAP hbm = (HBITMAP)LoadImage(NULL, pszSrc, IMAGE_BITMAP,
                                     0, 0,
                                     LR_LOADFROMFILE |


// error checking elided for expository purposes GetObject(hbm, sizeof(ds), &ds);

if (ds.dsBmih.biBitCount != 4) { // error – source bitmap is not 4bpp }

struct BITMAPINFO16COLOR { BITMAPINFOHEADER bmih; RGBQUAD rgrgb[16]; } bmi16; bmi16.bmih = ds.dsBmih;

bmi16.bmih.biCompression = BI_RLE4;

BYTE *rgbPixels = new BYTE[bmi16.bmih.biSizeImage]; HDC hdc = GetDC(NULL); if (GetDIBits(hdc, hbm, 0, bmi16.bmih.biHeight, rgbPixels, (LPBITMAPINFO)&bmi16, DIB_RGB_COLORS) != bmi16.bmih.biHeight) { // error – bitmap not compressible } ReleaseDC(NULL, hdc);

BITMAPFILEHEADER bfh = { 0 }; bfh.bfType = MAKEWORD(‘B’, ‘M’); bfh.bfOffBits = sizeof(BITMAPFILEHEADER) + sizeof(bmi16); bfh.bfSize = bfh.bfOffBits + bmi16.bmih.biSizeImage;

// error checking elided for expository purposes HANDLE h = CreateFile(pszDst, GENERIC_WRITE, 0, NULL, CREATE_ALWAYS, FILE_ATTRIBUTE_NORMAL, NULL); DWORD dwWritten; WriteFile(h, &bfh, sizeof(bfh), &dwWritten, NULL); WriteFile(h, &bmi16, sizeof(bmi16), &dwWritten, NULL); WriteFile(h, rgbPixels, bmi16.bmih.biSizeImage, &dwWritten, NULL); CloseHandle(h); delete[] rgbPixels; }

Let’s start from the top. After loading the bitmap and verifying that it is a 4bpp bitmap, we declare a BITMAPINFO16COLOR structure that is just a BITMAPINFO structure that holds 16 colors instead of just one. We copy the BITMAPINFOHEADER from the DIBSECTION to our structure for two reasons:

  1. We want to make some changes, and
  2. GDI expects the color table to come immediately after the BITMAPINFOHEADER.

The second reason is the more important one. We can’t use the BITMAPINFOHEADER that is part of the DIBSECTION structure because the DIBSECTION structure puts dsBitfields after the BITMAPINFOHEADER instead of a color table.

After copying the BITMAPINFOHEADER, we make the key change: Changing the compression type to BI_RLE4. We allocate a pixel buffer of a size equal to the uncompressed size of the original bitmap and use GetDIBits to fill it with compressed data. Key points:

  • Before calling the GetDIBits function, we must set the biSizeImage member of the BITMAPINFO structure to the size of the buffer we passed as rgbPixels. In our case, this happened implicitly since we allocated rgbPixels based on the value of bmi16.bmih.biSizeImage.
  • On successful exit from the GetDIBits function, the GetDIBits function sets the biSizeImage member of the BITMAPINFO structure to the number of bytes actually written to the buffer.
  • On successful exit from the GetDIBits function, the GetDIBits function fills the color table if you’re using a bitmap format that requires a color table. It’s important that you allocate enough memory to hold the color table; if you forget, then you have a buffer overflow bug.

Since the GetDIBits function returns the number of scan lines successfully read, if the value is different from the value we requested, then something went wrong. In our case, the most likely reason is that the bitmap is not compressible according to the BI_RLE4 algorithm.

Now that we have the compressed bits, it’s just grunt work to turn it into a BMP file. The BMP file format specifies that the file begins with a BITMAPFILEHEADER, followed by the BITMAPINFOHEADER, the color table, and the pixels. So we write them out in that order.

Easy peasy.


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