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bulletsfArk downloading issues

I've received a few questions from users about cache size and large soundfonts, so here's some information on the issue:

The SBLive must have a cache at least equal to the size of the soundfont to be loaded. I've found that on my system, making the cache about 15% larger than the soundfont helps stability.

The size of the cache is limited to no more than 50% of the installed system RAM. On a system with 64MB, this limits you to 32MB cache - not enough for PC311! PC311 runs fine on a 128MB system.

Memory allocated to the cache is still available to applications - it's not actually used until you load a soundfont, and then only an amount of memory equal to the soundfont size is used, so setting the cache 15% over doesn't cost memory.

For some who have been following comments on these pages or had problems downloading and decompressing sfArk files from this site, or others, I thought I'd share my own experiences.

Like others, I had problems decompressing sfArk files downloaded from a number of sites. These problems were:

bulletWhen clicking on a link to an sfArk file, my browser (Netscape 4.5 by default) would begin to display the file in the browser window. I would have to click the "Stop" button, and right click the link and select the "Save Link As" dialog.
bulletAfter downloading the link as a file and attempting to decompress using the sfArk utility, I would get an error message telling me the file was an "invalid sfArk" file. I would then have to find some other location to download the file, or not be able to get it - no matter how badly I wanted that file.

After some time suffering with this problem, I stumbled across the fact that if I used Internet Explorer instead of Netscape Communicator to download the file, it would download and I would be able to correctly decompress the file. I posted some suggestions on my site, advising anyone who wanted the sfArk files there to use Internet Explorer to download them.

I then was contacted by the author of the sfArk utility who had himself been contacted by users who were having these problems with files from Personal Copy. He saw that I had at least partially addressed the issue, and he and I then ran a series of tests to define what was going wrong.

The tests we ran consisted of renaming sfArk files from my server, and downloading them to my PC and attempting decompression. What we found was that if the sfArk file had an extension of *.bin (normally meaning it's a binary file) or *.exe (always a binary file), Netscape would download it as a binary file, and it would correctly decompress. If the file extension was left as sfArk, the file appears to be treated as an ASCII file and downloaded as ASCII, which corrupts the binary file structure, rendering the file useless. If you've just spent a couple of hours connected trying to get a big soundfont, only to find out the file is useless, you have every reason to be upset.

Initial solutions discussed included zipping the sfArk file so that the browser downloads as a binary ZIP file. My concern with this approach is that, as mentioned elsewhere on this site, WinZIP, which is a very popular ZIP utility, extracts an sfArk file from a ZIP archive and truncates the file extension to *.SFA. sfArk won't recognize a file with an SFA extension as valid, even though it probably is. Renaming sfArk files and using a *.bin extension does work, but you have to include instructions to rename the file back to a *.sfArk extension to decompress. If you are downloading Unison, make sure the soundfont file is named (or renamed) Unison.sfArk before you attempt to decompress the file.

The solution that I've implemented on this site is to store the sfArk soundfont file in a self-extracting 32bit ZIP archive created with the PKZip utility. This utility correctly extracts the file and retains the *.sfArk file extension; is usable on any 32bit PC operating system, and requires no special instructions to users.

All of the sfArk files on this site are now handled this way - you download the *.exe file, double click to extract the sfArk file, select the folder where you want to put the sfArk file, and then decompress using the sfArk utility.

If you have experienced problems on other sites getting usable sfArk files downloaded, the best suggestion I have for you is to download with Internet Explorer, even if your preference is Netscape.