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bzip2 is a free and open source file compressor that uses the Burrows–Wheeler algorithm.
bzip2 compresses most files more effectively than the older LZW (.Z) and Deflate (.zip and .gz) compression algorithms, but is considerably slower. LZMA is generally more space-efficient than bzip2 at the expense of slower compression speed, while having much faster decompression.

bzip2 compresses data in blocks of size between 100 and 900 kB and uses the Burrows–Wheeler transform to convert frequently-recurring character sequences into strings of identical letters. It then applies move-to-front transform and Huffman coding. bzip2's ancestor bzip used arithmetic coding instead of Huffman. The change was made because of a software patent restriction.

bzip2 performance is asymmetric, as decompression is relatively fast. Motivated by the large CPU time required for compression, a modified version was created in 2003 called pbzip2 that supported multi-threading, giving almost linear speed improvements on multi-CPU and multi-core computers.

Like gzip, bzip2 is only a data compressor. It is not an archiver like RAR or ZIP; the program itself has no facilities for multiple files, encryption or archive-splitting, but, in the UNIX tradition, relies instead on separate external utilities such as tar and GnuPG for these tasks.