The term archive has two meanings on the Web:
- Archive Sites – Much like our traditional use of the word, archive can refer to a repository of information, such as a collection of electronic files or site content.
- Archive Files – An archive file is a collection of files that have been combined into one, often using compression, to make it easy to store or download.
Just as you might visit your local library’s archive section to find old newspaper articles or public records, Internet archives contain collections of information that you wouldn’t normally find on traditional sites. The best known Web archive, aptly named the Internet Archive, houses millions of public domain eBooks, music, movies, software, and other electronic files that are available for free. They also maintain an archive of the Internet, known as the WayBack Machine, which stores images of websites the way they appeared in the past, providing a rich repository of Internet history.
Archives may be stored on public websites, such as with the Internet Archive, they may be available through a subscription service, or they may be available on removable media, such as a CD-Rom. Your local library may even have their one electronic archives. Remember all those microfiche files you used to have to search through to research your town’s history? Chances are, those are now available electronically.
Think of an archive file like a suitcase. You throw all your clothes into it, smoosh them down until you can fit even more into the same amount of space, and then zip it up. Instead of carrying five pairs of pants and a dozen shirts, now all you have to carry is one bag.
Transferring large amounts of files between computers can be just as difficult as lugging around a week’s worth of loose clothes. To solve this problem, you can place all the files you need to store or transfer into a single archive file. Now you only have to transfer a single file, with all your other files inside. And just as when you squeezed those last few shirts that shouldn’t really have fit into your suitcase, most archive technologies allow you to compress the files you add, storing more files in less space.
The ability to compress large collections of files into a smaller single file is particularly attractive when sending information over slower Internet connections, such as dial-up accounts, or over metered Internet services, such as most mobile data plans. It can also be useful when sending files over email, where there is often a limit to the size or number of files you can send at one time.