FLAC is an acronym for Free Lossless Audio Codec; the codec was created by the Xiph.Org Foundation, and primarily developed by Josh Coalson.
The project is ‘open source’ meaning that the original programming code is available to anyone who wishes to see it and as a result it is easy for developers of free and paid software packages alike to integrate support for FLAC into their player programs.
Though FLAC is free it is not supported by Windows so third party programs need to be installed to play the file format; Windows Media Player can support FLAC but only with third-party plug-ins for Windows Media Player. Other popular players such as WINAMP support FLAC without needing additional plug-ins.
The popularity of FLAC is hindered by the fact that FLAC file sizes are larger than the more popular MP3; though FLAC is lossless – meaning that audio encoded results in FLAC are exactly like the original, the techniques used in MP3 encoding produce a smaller file size.
MP3 is a lossy audio codec, meaning that some audio quality is lost when audio files are encoded to MP3. Although the quality can be increased or decreased by various settings when creating the files, MP3 was created with the limitations of the human ear in mind which allows MP3 to leave out certain detail without any noticeable difference between the original and an MP3.
FLAC however, does not exclude anything in the finished product and as a result is usually a larger file than MP3; persons normally consider both quality and size when making a decision about which format to use and FLAC usually loses to MP3.
MP3 dedicated players are available for purchase just about anywhere but finding a player which supports FLAC is not as easy; audiophiles who want exact copies of their music collection will choose a lossless audio codec over a lossy codec any day and so for them FLAC is the top choice. So if an audiophile is carrying music around he/she will most likely seek out a portable player which supports FLAC files.
Companies like YAMAHA, PIONEER, SAMSUNG and CREATIVE LABS among others have manufactured hardware players that support FLAC and though they can be had the price is usually higher than the average MP3 player.
FLAC also has other features aside from being lossless which make it a better choice than MP3; for one thing, FLAC supports MD5 hash checking (an error checking method) within the file itself and this is integrated into the FLAC file type.
What this means is that the file can be streamed from a server to a device and played with absolute confidence that there will be no faults with the file; the MD5 hash checking method checks sections of the file as it is received by the device and sent from the server with a mathematical alpha-numeric result for each section of the file. This is done to ensure that any corruption detected can be corrected by re-sending the broken piece.