Native Clojure CBOR codec implementation.
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This library is a native Clojure implementation of the Concise Binary Object Representation format specified in RFC 7049.

CBOR is a binary encoding with the goal of small code size, compact messages, and extensibility without the need for version negotiation. This makes it a good alternative to EDN for storing and transmitting Clojure data in a more compact form.


Library releases are published on Clojars. To use the latest version with Leiningen, add the following dependency to your project definition:

Clojars Project


The clj-cbor.core namespace contains the high-level encoding and decoding functions. The simplest way to use this library is to require it and call them diretly with the data:

=> (require '[clj-cbor.core :as cbor])

=> (cbor/encode [0 :foo/bar true {:x 'y} #{1/3} #"foo"])
; 0x8600D827683A666F6F2F626172F5A1D827623A78D8276179CD81D81E820103D82363666F6F

=> (cbor/decode *1)
[0 :foo/bar true {:x y} #{1/3} #"foo"]

With no extra arguments, encode and decode will make use of the default-codec, which comes loaded with read and write handler support for many Java and Clojure types (see the type extensions section below). Both functions accept an additional argument to specify the codec, should different behavior be desired.

=> (def codec (cbor/cbor-codec :canonical true))

=> (cbor/encode codec {:foo "bar", :baz 123})
; 0xA2D827643A666F6F63626172D827643A62617A187B

=> (cbor/decode codec *1)
{:foo "bar", :baz 123}

So far we haven't specified any outputs when encoding, so we've gotten a byte array back. The full form of encode takes three arguments: the codec, the output stream, and the value to encode.

=> (def out (

=> (cbor/encode codec out :a)

=> (cbor/encode codec out 123)

=> (cbor/encode codec out true)

=> (cbor/encode codec out "foo")

=> (.toByteArray out))
; 0xD827623A61187BF563666F6F

=> (with-open [input ( *1)]
     (doall (cbor/decode-seq codec input)))
(:a 123 true "foo")

In this mode, encode returns the number of bytes written instead of a byte array. We can read multiple items from an input stream using decode-seq, which returns a lazy sequence. If the input is a file you must realize the values before closing the input. Similarly, encode-seq will write a sequence of multiple values to an output stream.

As a convenience, the library also provides the spit, spit-all, slurp, and slurp-all functions, which operate on files:

=> (cbor/spit "data.cbor" {:abc 123, :foo "qux", :bar true})

=> (cbor/spit-all "data.cbor" [[0.0 'x] #{-42}] :append true)

=> (.length (io/file "data.cbor"))

=> (cbor/slurp "data.cbor")
{:abc 123, :bar true, :foo "qux"}

=> (cbor/slurp-all "data.cbor")
({:abc 123, :bar true, :foo "qux"} [0.0 x] #{-42})

Type Extensions

In order to support types of values outside the ones which are a native to CBOR, the format uses tagged values, similar to EDN. In CBOR, the tags are integer numbers instead of symbols, but the purpose is the same: the tags convey new semantics about the following value.

The most common example of a need for this kind of type extension is representing an instant in time. In EDN, this is represented by the #inst tag on an ISO-8601 timestamp string. CBOR offers two tags to represent instants - tag 0 codes a timestamp string, while tag 1 codes a number in epoch seconds. The former is more human-friendly, but the latter is more efficient.

New types are implemented by using read and write handlers - functions which map from typed value to representation and back. Currently, the library comes with support for the following types:

Tag Representation Type Semantics
0 Text string Date/Instant Standard date/time string
1 Number Date/Instant Epoch-based date/time
2 Byte string BigInt Positive bignum
3 Byte string BigInt Negative bignum
4 Array(2) BigDecimal Decimal fraction
27 Array(2) TaggedLiteral Constructor support for Clojure tagged literal values
30 Array(2) Ratio Rational fractions, represented as numberator and denominator numbers
32 Text string URI Uniform Resource Identifier strings
35 Text string Pattern Regular expression strings
37 Byte string UUID Binary-encoded UUID values
39 Text string Symbol/Keyword Identifiers
258 Array Set Sets of unique entries
55799 Varies N/A Self-describe CBOR

For further information about registered tag semantics, consult the IANA Registry.

Write Handlers

A write handler is a function which takes a typed value and returns an encodable representation. In most cases the representation is a CBOR tagged value. The tag conveys the type semantic and generally the expected form that the representation takes.

In some cases, multiple types will map to the same tag. For example, by default this library maps both java.util.Date and the newer java.time.Instant types to the same representation.

Read Handlers

A read handler is a function which takes the representation from a tagged value and returns an appropriately typed value. The choice of function to parse the values thus determines the 'preferred type' to represent values of that kind.

Continuing the example, the library comes with read handlers for both Date and Instant types, allowing the user to choose their preferred time type.


As of 0.3.0, this library is roughly on par with many other comparable serialization formats. Some benchmarking results can be found in this spreadsheet.

For small data sizes, CBOR is more compact, while at larger sizes (above 512 bytes) all formats are fairly close in size (within 3%, generally). Other than Nippy, which was by far the fastest codec, clj-cbor was one of the fastest encoders and is mid-to-bottom of the pack in decoding times.

This is still pretty fast, however - here's a few samples from the dataset:

Size Encode Decode
3 2.7 ms 4.8 ms
45 5.7 ms 4.7 ms
173 11 ms 9.5 ms
408 15 ms 14 ms
922 15 ms 17 ms
1817 28 ms 27 ms
3036 70 ms 76 ms
7328 102 ms 118 ms


A few things to keep in mind while using the library:

  • Streaming CBOR data can be parsed from input, but there is currently no way to generate streaming output data.
  • Decoding half-precision (16-bit) floating-point numbers is supported, but the values are promoted to single-precision (32-bit) as the JVM does not have native support for them. There is currently no support for writing half-precision floats except for the special values 0.0, +Inf, -Inf, and NaN, which are always written as two bytes for efficiency.
  • CBOR does not have a type for bare characters, so they will be converted to single-character strings when written.
  • Regular expressions are supported using tag 35, but beware that Java Pattern objects do not compare equal or have the same hash code for otherwise identical regexes. Using them in sets or as map keys is discouraged.


This is free and unencumbered software released into the public domain. See the UNLICENSE file for more information.