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[netCDF #IIW-512338]: using nccopy tool

Hi Mike,

> Organization: adnet systems
> Package Version: 4.3
> Operating System: linux
> Hardware:
> Description of problem: Hi, I have a question about nccopy. I try to use to 
> convert a classic netcdf file to netcdf V.4 to use version 4's compression 
> feature.
> This is the command I use:
> nccopy -k 3 -d 6 
> dmspf18_ssusi_edr-auroral_disk_2013315T234753-2013316T012838-REV20972_vA0106r001.nc
> dmspf18_ssusi_edr-auroral_disk_2013315T234753-2013316T012838-REV20972_vA0106r001_v4.nc
> But, when I check the file sizes. The version 4's is even larger than the 
> original. Am I doing something wrong?

Not necessarily, but you may need to use another nccopy option to convert the 
dimension in the netCDF classic file (if you have one) to fixed size to get 
compression.  The "u" option to nccopy does this, and can be used either in a 
nccopy step or combined with -k 3 -d 6, and which is faster may depend on your 
(By the way, you can probably use -k 4 instead of -k 3 to get a classic model 
output file, or just leave off the -k option, since nccopy can infer that it 
has to be
a netCDF-4 file from your compression option.)

Also, if your variables are not large, it could be that the extra netCDF-4 
overhead is more than any savings on compression.  Another possibility is the
default chunk shapes used for your data may be interfering with good 
You can see the chunk shapes with ncdump -h -s, where the "-s" option shows the
virtual special attributes, such as chunk shapes.

Finally, if your data is very noisy or random, compression will not be possible,
as the compression algorithm used is lossless, so cannot compress data that
appears to be random.

I'll write a Unidata Developers Blog entry on compression in the next month or 
will show how this works with examples, but in the meantime, you might look at 
extract of two responses I sent to an earlier question on compression.  
I hope to put this into guidance in the documentation:

I just looked at the files quickly, to see what's going on, and verified
the results you reported, that gzip of the whole raw file provides 8.4
to 1 compression, and gzip of the whole proc file yields about 2.8 to 1

However, using nccopy with -d1 does poorly (and is very slow), resulting
in making the files larger by factors of about 7.0 and 6.7,

I think use of the unlimited time dimension is the root of the problem,
because it means that each variable is divided into chunks for
compression, with one record per chunk, and what you are seeing is the
HDF5 space overhead for storing lots of tiny chunks, each supposedly

Two solutions come to mind:

    1.  If you don't need the unlimited dimension any more, perhaps
        because no more data will be appended to the files, then convert
        the unlimited dimension into a fixed-size dimension, resulting in
        all the values of each variable being stored contiguously, which
        should be more compressible.

    2.  If you still need the unlimited dimension, then rechunk the data
        before compressing it, so the compression can work on larger

The nccopy utility can be used for both of these approaches.

For approach 1:

    $ nccopy -u proc.nc proc-u.nc  # makes unlimited dimension fixed size
    $ nccopy -d9 proc-u.nc proc-u-d9.nc  # compresses result, 2.8 to 1

and similarly for the raw.nc file

For approach 2:

    $ nccopy -c time/3157 proc.nc proc-c.nc # chunks time dimension
    $ nccopy -d9 proc-c.nc proc-c-d9.nc     # compresses result, 2.8 to 1

Both of these achieve the same modest amount of compression, which isn't
as good as gzip because

    - each chunk of each variable is separately compressed, whereas gzip
      compresses the whole file as a single chunk of data

    - the file metadata in the header is not compressed, only the data

    - the HDF5 overhead is a larger portion of the file for relatively
      small files like these

If your variables were a lot larger or you had fewer variables per file
or the variables were multidimensional, nccopy might be able to achieve
better compression, but the benefit of compressing each chunk of each
variable separately is that you can read a small amount of data out of
the file without uncompressing the whole file.  Only the compressed
chunks of the desired variable need to be uncompressed.

I duplicated the poor results you saw when I didn't use eith the "-u"
flag to fix the size of the unlimited dimension or the "-c time/3157"
arguments to set the chunk length to something better than the default 1
used for unlimited dimensions.  So maybe there's nothing wrong with your
build, unless you've tried those arguments and still get poor

I also verified that you don't have to do each of these approaches in
two separate nccopy calls using an intermediate file, as in my examples.
Each of them can be done with just one nccopy call using the options
from the separate calls, and get the same compression:

   $ nccopy -u -d9 proc.nc proc-u-d9.n
   $ nccopy -c time/3157 -d9 proc.nc proc-c-d9.nc
   $ ls -l proc.nc proc-u-d9.n proc-c-d9.nc
   -rw-rw-r-- 1 russ ustaff 3843892 Jul 15 15:31 proc.nc
   -rw-rw-r-- 1 russ ustaff 1355552 Jul 15 19:36 proc-u-d9.nc
   -rw-rw-r-- 1 russ ustaff 1355552 Jul 15 19:36 proc-c-d9.nc

Also, the -k4 is not needed, as nccopy can figure out the type of the
output file.  


> Thanks,
> Mike

Russ Rew                                         UCAR Unidata Program
address@hidden                      http://www.unidata.ucar.edu

Ticket Details
Ticket ID: IIW-512338
Department: Support netCDF
Priority: Normal
Status: Closed