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A chain code is a lossless compression algorithm for monochrome images. The basic principle of chain codes is to separately encode each connected component, or "blob", in the image. For each such region, a point on the boundary is selected and its coordinates are transmitted. The encoder then moves along the boundary of the region and, at each step, transmits a symbol representing the direction of this movement. This continues until the encoder returns to the starting position, at which point the blob has been completely described, and encoding continues with the next blob in the image.
This encoding method is particularly effective for images consisting of a reasonably small number of large connected components.
Some popular chain codes include the Freeman Chain Code of Eight Directions (FCCE), Vertex Chain Code (VCC), Three OrThogonal symbol chain code (3OT) and Directional Freeman Chain Code of Eight Directions (DFCCE).
A related blob encoding method is crack code. Algorithms exist to convert between chain code, crack code, and run-length encoding.
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