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README.md

structure-bytes

A TypeScript library for efficient data serialization, achieved by separating data structure from their values and storing each in compact binary formats.

npm Version Build Status Coverage Status Dependencies Dev Dependencies

Concept

Most modern data serialization formats fall into one of two categories:

  • Formats like JSON which can represent a wide range of simple and compound data types. Serialized values in these formats implicitly serialize their type so the deserializer doesn't need knowledge of the type.
  • Formats like MP3 or PNG which represent one specific data type, such as a song or image. The serializer and deserializer must both know the file format in order to communicate.

The aim of this project is to store values with the flexibility of JSON but the byte efficiency of dedicated formats. To accomplish this, custom "types" are constructed, implicitly defining binary serialization formats for specific categories of values. Types are defined from a rich set of primitive and compound types (see Data Types). There is a fixed (universal) serialization format for types, and each type defines a serialization format for its values. structure-bytes reduces the number of bytes needed to serialize values in several ways in comparison to JSON:

  • Types and values are each serialized in binary formats with far less redundancy than JSON's text-based formats. For example, serializing a 32-bit signed integer in JSON can take up to 11 characters, whereas it requires only 4 bytes when serialized by sb.IntType.
  • JSON does not require each value in an array or dictionary to have the same type, which results in highly redundant serializations of collections. structure-bytes serializes the type of a collection's elements as part of the type rather than the value, so it isn't repeated.
  • One type can be used to serialize many different values. For example, when sending multiple values of the same type across a network, the type can sent along with the first value and only values need to be sent afterwards.

This project is somewhat similar to Google's Protocol Buffers, but was not designed to match its functionality.

Use cases

  • Use when the structure of the data is complicated. For example, if you are serializing plaintext, this can easily be accomplished without redundancy by writing to files or sockets.
  • Use when there is a lot of repetition in the data. If you don't have any arrays, sets, or maps, there is less redundancy for structure-bytes to eliminate.
  • Use when serializing many values for the type (e.g. many files storing the same type of value, or many communications of the same type). This will give you the benefit of being able to keep only a single copy of the type spec.

Differences from Protocol Buffers

  • Types have binary serializations, not just values. (Protocol Buffers requires both the serializer and deserializer to have .proto definition files, which are not designed to be transmitted like values.) This compactly stores complex types and allows values to be written along with their types so they can be read without knowing their types beforehand.
  • Types are generated programmatically rather than by reading .proto files. This allows, for example, for a function which turns a type into another type that either contains an error message or an instance of the original type.
  • This project is designed with downloading data over HTTP in mind. If the client has already received values of the same type, the server only sends the value and the client reads it using its cached type. If the client doesn't know the type, the server serializes it along with the value and the client caches the type. This way, the type does not need to be specified in the client-side JavaScript and repeated requests to the same endpoint are very efficient.
  • structure-bytes provides a larger set of primitive and compound types.

Data types

  • Primitive types
    • Byte (1-byte signed integer)
    • Short (2-byte signed integer)
    • Int (4-byte signed integer)
    • Long (8-byte signed integer)
    • BigInt (a signed integer with arbitrary precision)
    • FlexInt (a signed integer from -(2 ** 52) to 2 ** 52 with a variable-length representation)
    • UnsignedByte (1-byte unsigned integer)
    • UnsignedShort (2-byte unsigned integer)
    • UnsignedInt (4-byte unsigned integer)
    • UnsignedLong (8-byte unsigned integer)
    • BigUnsignedInt (an unsigned integer with arbitrary precision)
    • FlexUnsignedInt (an unsigned integer below 2 ** 53 with a variable-length representation)
    • Date (8-byte signed integer representing number of milliseconds since Jan 1, 1970)
    • Day (3-byte signed integer representing a specific day in history)
    • Time (4-byte unsigned integer representing a specific time of day)
    • Float (IEEE 32-bit floating-point number)
    • Double (IEEE 64-bit floating-point number)
    • Boolean (a single true or false value)
    • BooleanTuple (a constant-length array of Booleans)
    • BooleanArray (a variable-length array of Booleans)
    • Char (a single UTF-8 character)
    • String (UTF-8-encoded text)
    • Octets (an ArrayBuffer (raw binary data))
  • Compound/recursive types
    • Tuple<Type> (a constant-length array of Types)
    • Struct (an object with up to 255 fields, each with a fixed name and type)
    • Array<Type> (a variable-length array of Types)
    • Set<Type> (like an Array, except creates a set when read)
    • Map<KeyType, ValueType> (a mapping of KeyType instances to ValueType instances)
    • Enum<Type> (a fixed set of up to 255 Types; useful when only a small subset of Type instances represent possible values, especially with Strings)
    • Choice (a fixed set of up to 255 types that values can take on)
    • NamedChoice (a fixed set of up to 255 named types that values can take on, each associated with a constructor)
    • Recursive<Type> (a type that can reference itself and be used to serialize circular data structures)
    • Singleton<Type> (a type that serializes only one value)
    • Optional<Type> (either null or undefined or an instance of Type)
    • Pointer<Type> (allows multiple instances of Type with the same serialization to be stored only once)

Documentation

The docs folder is hosted at https://calebsander.github.io/structure-bytes.

Examples

Type creation

const sb = require('structure-bytes')

const colorType = new sb.TupleType({
	type: new sb.UnsignedByteType,
	length: 3
})
const routeAttributesType = new sb.StructType({
	color: colorType,
	description: new sb.PointerType(new sb.StringType),
	direction_names: new sb.PointerType(
		new sb.ArrayType(new sb.StringType)
	),
	long_name: new sb.StringType,
	text_color: colorType,
	type: new sb.UnsignedByteType
})
const routesType = new sb.ArrayType(
	new sb.StructType({
		id: new sb.StringType,
		attributes: routeAttributesType
	})
)

Converting types and values to binary data

const sb = require('structure-bytes')

const colorType = new sb.TupleType({
	type: new sb.UnsignedByteType,
	length: 3
})
const routeAttributesType = new sb.StructType({
	color: colorType,
	description: new sb.PointerType(new sb.StringType),
	direction_names: new sb.PointerType(
		new sb.ArrayType(new sb.StringType)
	),
	long_name: new sb.StringType,
	text_color: colorType,
	type: new sb.UnsignedByteType
})
const routesType = new sb.ArrayType(
	new sb.StructType({
		id: new sb.StringType,
		attributes: routeAttributesType
	})
)
const typeBuffer = routesType.toBuffer()
// ArrayBuffer { byteLength: 92 }
console.log(Buffer.from(typeBuffer))
// <Buffer 52 51 02 0a 61 74 74 72 69 62 75 74 65 73 51 06 05 63 6f 6c 6f 72 50 11 03 0b 64 65 73 63 72 69 70 74 69 6f 6e 70 41 0f 64 69 72 65 63 74 69 6f 6e 5f ... >

const toRGB = hex => [
	parseInt(hex.slice(0, 2), 16),
	parseInt(hex.slice(2, 4), 16),
	parseInt(hex.slice(4, 6), 16)
]
fetch('https://api-v3.mbta.com/routes?filter[type]=0,1')
	.then(res => res.json())
	.then(({data}) => {
		const routes = data.map(({id, attributes}) => {
			delete attributes.short_name
			delete attributes.sort_order
			attributes.color = toRGB(attributes.color)
			attributes.text_color = toRGB(attributes.text_color)
			return {id, attributes}
		})
		const valueBuffer = routesType.valueBuffer(routes)
		// ArrayBuffer { byteLength: 306 }
		// (for comparison, JSON.stringify(routes).length == 1498)
	})

Reading from type and value buffers

const sb = require('structure-bytes')

// Buffer obtained somehow
const typeBuffer = new Uint8Array([0x50, 0x11, 0x03]).buffer
const type = sb.r.type(typeBuffer)
console.log(type)
// TupleType { type: UnsignedByteType {}, length: 3 }

// Buffer obtained somehow
const valueBuffer = new Uint8Array([0x00, 0x80, 0xFF]).buffer
console.log(type.readValue(valueBuffer))
// [ 0, 128, 255 ]

File I/O

The I/O functions are implemented with callbacks, but can all be used with util.promisify() if you prefer to use Promises instead. See the documentation for examples.

I recommend the file extensions .sbt for a serialized type, .sbv for a serialized value, and .sbtv for a serialized type and value.

const fs = require('fs')
const sb = require('structure-bytes')

const type = new sb.EnumType({
	type: new sb.StringType,
	values: [
		'ON_TIME',
		'LATE',
		'CANCELLED',
		'UNKNOWN'
	]
})
sb.writeType({
	type,
	outStream: fs.createWriteStream('status.sbt')
}, err => {
	sb.readType(fs.createReadStream('status.sbt'), (err, readType) =>
		console.log(readType)
		/*
		EnumType {
			type: StringType {},
			values: [ 'ON_TIME', 'LATE', 'CANCELLED', 'UNKNOWN' ] }
		*/
	)
})

const value = 'CANCELLED'
sb.writeValue({
	type,
	value,
	outStream: fs.createWriteStream('status.sbv')
}, err => {
	sb.readValue({
		type,
		inStream: fs.createReadStream('status.sbv')
	}, (err, value) =>
		console.log(value)
		// 'CANCELLED'
	)
})

sb.writeTypeAndValue({
	type,
	value,
	outStream: fs.createWriteStream('status.sbtv')
}, err => {
	sb.readTypeAndValue(fs.createReadStream('status.sbtv'), (err, type, value) =>
		console.log(value)
		// 'CANCELLED'
	)
})

HTTP GET value

Server-side:

const http = require('http')
const sb = require('structure-bytes')

const type = new sb.DateType
http.createServer((req, res) => {
	sb.httpRespond({req, res, type, value: new Date}, err =>
		console.log('Responded')
	)
}).listen(80)

Client-side:

<script src = '/structure-bytes/compiled/download.js'></script>
<script>
	// 'date' specifies the name of the type being transferred so it can be cached for future requests
	sb.download({
		name: 'date',
		url: '/',
		options: {} // optional options to pass to fetch() (e.g. cookies, headers, etc.)
	})
		.then(value =>
			console.log(value.getFullYear())
			// 2017
		)
</script>

HTTP POST value

Server-side:

const http = require('http')
const sb = require('structure-bytes')

http.createServer((req, res) => {
	sb.readValue({type: new sb.FlexUnsignedIntType, inStream: req}, (err, value) => {
		res.end(String(value))
	})
}).listen(80)

Client-side:

<script src = '/structure-bytes/compiled/upload.js'></script>
<button onclick = 'upload()'>Click me</button>
<script>
	let clickCount = 0
	function upload() {
		clickCount++
		sb.upload({
			type: new sb.FlexUnsignedIntType,
			value: clickCount,
			url: '/click',
			options: {method: 'POST'} // options to pass to fetch(); method 'POST' is required
		})
			.then(response => response.text())
			.then(alert)
	}
</script>

Using with TypeScript

The entire project is written in TypeScript and declaration files are automatically generated. That means that if you are using TypeScript, the compiler can automatically infer the type of the various values exported from structure-bytes. To import the package, use:

import * as sb from 'structure-bytes'

The typings allow the compiler to automatically infer what types of values a Type can serialize. For example:

const type = new sb.StructType({
	abc: new sb.DoubleType,
	def: new sb.MapType(
		new sb.StringType,
		new sb.DayType
	)
})
type.valueBuffer(/*...*/)
/*
If you hover over "valueBuffer", you can see
that it requires the value to be of type:
{ abc: number | string, def: Map<string, Date> }
*/

You can also add explicit VALUE generics to make the compiler check that your Type serializes the correct types of values. Many non-primitive types (e.g. ArrayType, MapType, StructType) can take either one or two generics. The first, VALUE, specifies the type of values the type can serialize. The second, READ_VALUE, specifies the type of values the type will deserialize and defaults to VALUE if omitted. READ_VALUE must extend VALUE. Generally the two generics are the same, except in the case of numeric types (which write number | string but read number) and OptionalType (which writes E | null | undefined but reads E | null).

With StructType:

class Car {
	constructor(
		public make: string,
		public model: string,
		public year: number
	) {}
}
const carType = new sb.StructType<Car>({
	make: new sb.StringType,
	model: new sb.StringType,
	year: new sb.UnsignedShortType
})
// The compiler would have complained if one of the fields were missing
// or one of the field's types didn't match the type of the field's values,
// e.g. "make: new sb.BooleanType"

If you have transient fields (i.e. they shouldn't be serialized), you can create a separate interface for the fields that should be serialized:

interface SerializedCar {
	make: string
	model: string
	year: number
}
class Car implements SerializedCar {
	public id: number // transient field
	constructor(public make: string, public model: string, public year: number) {
		this.id = Math.floor(Math.random() * 1e6)
	}
}
const carType = new sb.StructType<SerializedCar>({
	make: new sb.StringType,
	model: new sb.StringType,
	year: new sb.UnsignedShortType
})

With ChoiceType (and similarly for NamedChoiceType), you can let the type be inferred automatically if each of the possible types writes the same type of values:

const choiceType = new sb.ChoiceType([ // Type<number | string, number>
	new sb.ByteType,
	new sb.ShortType,
	new sb.IntType,
	new sb.DoubleType
])

However, if the value types are not the same, TypeScript will complain about them not matching, and you should express the union type explicitly:

interface RGB {
	r: number
	g: number
	b: number
}
interface HSV {
	h: number
	s: number
	v: number
}
type CSSColor = string

const choiceType = new sb.ChoiceType<RGB | HSV | CSSColor>([
	new sb.StructType<RGB>({
		r: new sb.FloatType,
		g: new sb.FloatType,
		b: new sb.FloatType
	}),
	new sb.StructType<HSV>({
		h: new sb.FloatType,
		s: new sb.FloatType,
		v: new sb.FloatType
	}),
	new sb.StringType
])

A RecursiveType has no way to infer its value type, so you should always provide the VALUE generic:

interface Cons<A> {
	head: A
	tail: List<A>
}
interface List<A> {
	list: Cons<A> | null // null for empty list
}

const recursiveType = new sb.RecursiveType<List<string>>('linked-list')
recursiveType.setType(new sb.StructType<List<string>>({
	list: new sb.OptionalType(
		new sb.StructType<Cons<string>>({
			head: new sb.StringType,
			tail: recursiveType
		})
	)
}))
recursiveType.valueBuffer({
	list: {
		head: '1',
		tail: {
			list: {
				head: '2',
				tail: {list: null}
			}
		}
	}
})

When reading types from buffers and streams, they will be of type Type<any>. You should specify their value types before using them to write values:

const booleanType = new sb.BooleanType
const readType = sb.r.type(booleanType.toBuffer()) // Type<any>
// Will throw a runtime error
readType.valueBuffer('abc')

//vs.

const castReadType: sb.Type<boolean> = sb.r.type(booleanType.toBuffer())
// Will throw a compiler error
castReadType.valueBuffer('abc')

It may also sometimes be useful to be more specific about what types of values you want to be able to serialize. For example, if you want to serialize integer values that will always be represented as numbers (and never in string form), you can force the compiler to error out if you try to serialize a string value with the following:

const intType: sb.Type<number> = new sb.IntType
// Now this is valid:
intType.valueBuffer(100)
// But this is not, even though it would be if you omitted the type annotation on intType:
intType.valueBuffer('100')

Binary formats

In the following definitions, uint8_t means an 8-bit unsigned integer. flexInt means a variable-length unsigned integer with the following format, where X represents either 0 or 1:

  • [0b0XXXXXXX] stores values from 0 to 2**7 - 1 in their unsigned 7-bit integer representations
  • [0b10XXXXXX, 0bXXXXXXXX] stores values from 2**7 to 2**7 + 2**14 - 1, where a value x is encoded into the unsigned 14-bit representation of x - 2**7
  • [0b110XXXXX, 0bXXXXXXXX, 0bXXXXXXXX] stores values from 2**7 + 2**14 to 2**7 + 2**14 + 2**21 - 1, where a value x is encoded into the unsigned 21-bit representation of x - (2**7 + 2**14)
  • and so on, up to 8-byte representations

All numbers are stored in big-endian format.

Type

The binary format of a type contains a byte identifying the class of the type followed by additional information to describe the type, if necessary. For example, new sb.UnsignedIntType translates into [0x13], and new sb.StructType({abc: new sb.ByteType, def: new sb.StringType}) translates into:

[
	0x51 /*StructType*/,
		2 /*2 fields*/,
			3 /*3 characters in first field's name*/, 0x61 /*a*/, 0x62 /*b*/, 0x63 /*c*/, 0x01 /*ByteType*/,
			3 /*3 characters in second field's name*/, 0x64 /*d*/, 0x65 /*e*/, 0x66 /*f*/, 0x41 /*StringType*/
]

If the type has already been written to the buffer, it is also valid to serialize the type as:

  • 0xFF
  • offset ([position of first byte of offset in buffer] - [position of type in buffer]) - flexInt

For example:

const someType = new sb.TupleType({
	type: new sb.FloatType,
	length: 3
})
const type = new sb.StructType({
	one: someType,
	two: someType
})
// type serializes to
[
	0x51 /*StructType*/,
		2 /*2 fields*/,
			3 /*3 characters in first field's name*/, 0x6f /*o*/, 0x6e /*n*/, 0x65 /*e*/,
				0x50 /*TupleType*/,
					0x20 /*FloatType*/,
					3 /*3 floats in the tuple*/,
			3 /*3 characters in second field's name*/, 0x74 /*t*/, 0x77 /*w*/, 0x6f /*o*/,
				0xff, /*type is defined previously*/
					8 /*type is defined 8 bytes before this byte*/
]

In the following definitions, type means the binary type format.

  • ByteType: identifier 0x01
  • ShortType: identifier 0x02
  • IntType: identifier 0x03
  • LongType: identifier 0x04
  • BigIntType: identifier 0x05
  • FlexIntType: identifier 0x07
  • UnsignedByteType: identifier 0x11
  • UnsignedShortType: identifier 0x12
  • UnsignedIntType: identifier 0x13
  • UnsignedLongType: identifier 0x14
  • BigUnsignedIntType: identifier 0x15
  • FlexUnsignedIntType: identifier 0x17
  • DateType: identifier 0x1A
  • DayType: identifier 0x1B
  • TimeType: identifier 0x1C
  • FloatType: identifier 0x20
  • DoubleType: identifier 0x21
  • BooleanType: identifier 0x30
  • BooleanTupleType: identifier 0x31, payload:
    • length - uint8_t
  • BooleanArrayType: identifier 0x32
  • CharType: identifier 0x40
  • StringType: identifier 0x41
  • OctetsType: identifier 0x42
  • TupleType: identifier 0x50, payload:
    • elementType - type
    • length - uint8_t
  • StructType: identifier 0x51, payload:
    • fieldCount - uint8_t
    • fieldCount instances of field:
      • nameLength - uint8_t
      • name - a UTF-8 string containing nameLength bytes
      • fieldType - type
  • ArrayType: identifier 0x52, payload:
    • elementType - type
  • SetType: identifier 0x53, payload identical to ArrayType:
    • elementType - type
  • MapType: identifier 0x54, payload:
    • keyType - type
    • valueType - type
  • EnumType: identifier 0x55, payload:
    • valueType - type
    • valueCount - uint8_t
    • valueCount instances of value:
      • value - a value that conforms to valueType
  • ChoiceType: identifier 0x56, payload:
    • typeCount - uint8_t
    • typeCount instances of possibleType:
      • possibleType - type
  • NamedChoiceType: identifier 0x58, payload:
    • typeCount - uint8_t
    • typeCount instances of possibleType:
      • typeNameLength - uint8_t
      • typeName - a UTF-8 string containing typeNameLength bytes
      • typeType - type
  • RecursiveType: identifier 0x57, payload:
    • recursiveID (an identifier unique to this recursive type in this type buffer) - flexInt
    • If this is the first instance of this recursive type in this buffer:
      • recursiveType (the type definition of this type) - type
  • SingletonType: identifier 0x59, payload:
    • valueType - type
    • value - a value that conforms to valueType
  • OptionalType: identifier 0x60, payload:
    • typeIfNonNull - type
  • PointerType: identifier 0x70, payload:
    • targetType - type

Value

  • ByteType: 1-byte integer
  • ShortType: 2-byte integer
  • IntType: 4-byte integer
  • LongType: 8-byte integer
  • BigIntType:
    • byteCount - flexInt
    • number - byteCount-byte integer
  • FlexIntType: flexInt of value * 2 if value is non-negative, -2 * value - 1 if value is negative
  • UnsignedByteType: 1-byte unsigned integer
  • UnsignedShortType: 2-byte unsigned integer
  • UnsignedIntType: 4-byte unsigned integer
  • UnsignedLongType: 8-byte unsigned integer
  • BigUnsignedIntType:
    • byteCount - flexInt
    • number - byteCount-byte unsigned integer
  • FlexUnsignedIntType: flexInt
  • DateType: 8-byte signed integer storing milliseconds in Unix time
  • DayType: 3-byte signed integer storing days since the Unix time epoch
  • TimeType: 4-byte unsigned integer storing milliseconds since the start of the day
  • FloatType: single precision (4-byte) IEEE floating point
  • DoubleType: double precision (8-byte) IEEE floating point
  • BooleanType: 1-byte value, either 0x00 for false or 0xFF for true
  • BooleanTupleType: ceil(length / 8) bytes, where the nth boolean is stored at the (n % 8)th MSB (0-indexed) of the floor(n / 8)th byte (0-indexed)
  • BooleanArrayType:
    • length - flexInt
    • booleans - ceil(length / 8) bytes, where the nth boolean is stored at the (n % 8)th MSB (0-indexed) of the floor(n / 8)th byte (0-indexed)
  • CharType: UTF-8 codepoint (somewhere between 1 and 4 bytes long)
  • StringType:
    • string - a UTF-8 string of any length not containing '\0'
    • 0x00 to mark the end of the string
  • OctetsType:
    • length - flexInt
    • octets - length bytes
  • TupleType:
    • length values serialized by elementType
  • StructType:
    • For each field in order of declaration in the type format:
      • The field's value serialized by fieldType
  • ArrayType:
    • length - flexInt
    • length values serialized by elementType
  • SetType:
    • size - flexInt
    • size values serialized by elementType
  • MapType:
    • size - flexInt
    • size instances of keyValuePair:
      • key - value serialized by keyType
      • value - value serialized by valueType
  • EnumType:
    • index of value in values array - uint8_t
  • ChoiceType:
    • index of type in possible types array - uint8_t
    • value - value serialized by specified type
  • NamedChoiceType:
    • index of type in possible types array - uint8_t
    • value - value serialized by specified type
  • RecursiveType:
    • valueNotYetWrittenInBuffer - byte containing either 0x00 or 0xFF
    • If valueNotYetWrittenInBuffer:
      • value - value serialized by recursiveType
    • Else:
      • offset ([position of first byte of offset in buffer] - [position of value in buffer]) - flexInt
  • SingletonType:
    • No value bytes
  • OptionalType:
    • valueIsNonNull - byte containing either 0x00 or 0xFF
    • If valueIsNonNull:
      • value - value serialized by typeIfNonNull
  • PointerType:
    • offset - flexInt:
      • If this is the first instance of these value bytes in the write buffer, then 0
      • Otherwise, ([position of first byte of offset] - [position of first byte of offset in the last instance of these value bytes])
    • If offset is 0 (i.e. this is the first instance):
      • Value serialized by targetType

Versioning

Versions will be of the form x.y.z. They are in the semver format:

  • x is the major release; changes to it represent significant or breaking changes to the API, or to the type or value binary specification.
  • y is the minor release; changes to it represent new features that do not break backwards compatibility.
  • z is the patch release; changes to it represent bug fixes that do not change the documented API.

Testing

To test the Node.js code, run npm test. To test the HTTP transaction code, run node client-test/server.js and open localhost:8080 in your browser. Open each link in a new page. Upload and Download should each alert Success, while Upload & Download should alert Upload: Success and Download: Success.

Caleb Sander, 2017

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