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binser - Customizable Lua Serializer

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There already exists a number of serializers for Lua, each with their own uses, limitations, and quirks. binser is yet another robust, pure Lua serializer that specializes in serializing Lua data with lots of userdata and custom classes and types. binser is a binary serializer and does not serialize data into human readable representation or use the Lua parser to read expressions. This makes it safe and moderately fast, especially on LuaJIT. binser also handles cycles, self-references, and metatables.

How to Use


local binser = require "binser"

local mydata = binser.serialize(45, {4, 8, 12, 16}, "Hello, World!")

print(binser.deserializeN(mydata, 3))
-- 45	table: 0x7fa60054bdb0	Hello, World!

Serializing and Deserializing

local str = binser.serialize(...)

Serialize (almost) any Lua data into a Lua string. Numbers, strings, tables, booleans, and nil are all fully supported by default. Custom userdata and custom types, both identified by metatables, can also be supported by specifying a custom serialization function. Unserializable data should throw an error. Aliased to binser.s.

local results, len = binser.deserialize(str[, index])

Deserialize any string previously serialized by binser. Can optionally start at an index in the string (to drop leading characters). Index is 1 by default. Unrecognized data should throw an error. Results is a list of length len. Aliased to binser.d.

local ... = binser.deserializeN(str, n[, index])

Deserializes at most n values from str. The default value for n is one, so binser.deserializeN(str) will deserialize exactly one value from string, and ignore the rest of the string. Can optionally start at a given index, which is 1 by default. Aliased to binser.dn.

Custom types

local metatable = binser.register(metatable, name, serialize, deserialize)

Registers a custom type, identified by its metatable, to be serialized. Registering types has two main purposes. First, it allows custom serialization and deserialization for userdata and tables that contain userdata, which can't otherwise be serialized in a uniform way. Second, it allows efficient serialization of small tables with large metatables, as registered metatables are not serialized.

The metatable parameter is the metatable the identifies the type. The name parameter is the type name used in serialization. The only requirement for names is that they are unique. The serialize and deserialize parameters are a pair of functions that construct and destruct and instance of the type. serialize can return any number of serializable Lua objects, and deserialize should accept the arguments returned by serialize. serialize and deserialize can also be specified in metatable._serialize and metatable._deserialize respectively.

If serialize and deserialize are omitted, then default table serializers are used, which work very well for most tables. If your type describes userdata, however, serialize and deserialize must be provided.

local class = binser.registerClass(class[, name])

Registers a class as a custom type. binser currently supports 30log and middleclass. name is an optional parameter that defaults to

local metatable = binser.unregister(name)

Users should seldom need this, but to explicitly unregister a type, call this.


If binser's already compact serialization isn't enough, and you don't want to write complex and error prone custom serializers, binser has a functionality called templating. Templates specify the layout of a custom type, so that table keys don't need to be serialized many times. To specify a template, add the _template key to the metatable of your type.

An example:

local template = {
	"name", "age", "salary", "email",
	nested = {"more", "nested", "keys"}

local Employee_MT = {
	name = "Employee",

local joe = setmetatable({
	name = "Joe",
	age = 11,
	salary = "$1,000,000",
	email = "",
	nested = {
		more = "blah",
		nested = "FUBAR",
		keys = "lost"
}, Employee_MT)

-- Print length of serialized employee without templating
-- 117

-- Print length of serialized employee with templating
-- 72
Employee_MT._template = template

In the above example, the resulting serialized value with templating is nearly half of the size of the default table serialization.


If there are certain objects that don't need to be serialized at all, like images, audio, or any system resource, binser can mark them as such to only serialize a reference to them. Resources must be registered in a similar way to custom types and given a unique name.

local resource = binser.registerResource(resource, name)

Registers a resource.

local resource = binser.unregisterResource(name)

Resources can be unregistered in a similar manner as custom types.

File IO

Mostly for convenience, binser has functions for writing and reading to files. These work through Lua's built in IO.

binser.writeFile(filepath, ...)

Serializes Lua objects and writes them to a file. Overwrites the previous file.

binser.appendFile(filepath, ...)

Same as writing to a file, but doesn't overwrite the old file.

local results, len = binser.readFile(filepath)

Reads and deserializes a file.

The trio of file convenience function have shortened aliases as well.

Function Alias
binser.writeFile binser.w
binser.appendFile binser.a
binser.readFile binser.r


Most Lua serializers serialize into valid Lua code, which while very useful, makes it impossible to do things like custom serialization and deserialization. binser was originally written as a way to save game levels with images and other native resources, but is extremely general.


binser is available as a rock on LuaRocks. Install via:

luarocks install binser


binser uses busted for testing. Install and run busted from the command line to test.


  • Serialized strings can contain unprintable and null characters.
  • Serialized data can be appended to other serialized data. (Cool :))
  • The functions binser.serialize, binser.deserialize, and binser.deserializeN can be shortened to binser.s, binser.d, and binser.dn as handy shortcuts.


Pull requests are welcome, please help me squash bugs!


Customizable Lua Serializer







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