MessagePack serializer/deserializer implementation for Nim /[Nim]
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MessagePack implementation written in pure nim

why another implementation?

I am fully aware of another msgpack implementation written in nim. But I want something easier to use. Another motivation come from the nim language itself. The current version of nim compiler offer many improvements, including 'generics ' specialization. I found out nim compiler is smart enough to make serialization/deserialization to/from msgpack easy and convenient.

requirement: nim ver 0.18.1 or later

Build Status (Travis) Windows build status (Appveyor) nimble license


import msgpack4nim, streams

  #lets try with a rather complex object
  CustomType = object
    count: int
    content: seq[int]
    name: string
    ratio: float
    attr: array[0..5, int]
    ok: bool

proc initCustomType(): CustomType =
  result.count = -1
  result.content = @[1,2,3] = "custom"
  result.ratio = 1.0
  for i in 0..5: result.attr[i] = i
  result.ok = false

var x = initCustomType()
var s = MsgStream.init() # besides MsgStream, you can also use Nim StringStream or FileStream
s.pack(x) #here the magic happened

var ss = MsgStream.init(
var xx: CustomType
ss.unpack(xx) #and here too

assert xx == x
echo "OK ",

see? you only need to call 'pack' and 'unpack', and the compiler do the hard work for you. Very easy, convenient, and works well

if you think setting up a MsgStream too much for you, you can simply call pack(yourobject) and it will return a string containing msgpack data.

  var a = @[1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,0]
  var buf = pack(a)
  var aa: seq[int]
  unpack(buf, aa)
  assert a == aa

in case the compiler cannot decide how to serialize or deserialize your very very complex object, you can help it in easy way by defining your own handler pack_type/unpack_type

  #not really complex, just for example
  mycomplexobject = object
    a: someSimpleType
    b: someSimpleType

# help the compiler to decide
# ByteStream is any Stream Compatible object such as MsgStream, FileStream, StringStream
proc pack_type*[ByteStream](s: ByteStream, x: mycomplexobject) =
  s.pack(x.a) # let the compiler decide
  s.pack(x.b) # let the compiler decide

# help the compiler to decide
# ByteStream is any Stream Compatible object
proc unpack_type*[ByteStream](s: ByteStream, x: var mycomplexobject) =

var s = MsgStream.init() # besides MsgStream, you can also use Nim StringStream or FileStream
var x: mycomplexobject
s.pack(x) #pack as usual

var ss = MsgStream.init(
ss.unpack(x) #unpack as usual

Data Conversion

nim msgpack JsonNode
int8/16/32/64 int8/16/32/64 JInt
uint8/16/32/64 uint8/16/32/64 JInt
true/false true/false JBool
nil nil JNull
procedural type ignored n/a
cstring ignored n/a
pointer ignored n/a
ptr see ref-types n/a
ref see ref-types n/a
circular ref see ref-types n/a
distinct types converted to base type applicable base type
float32/64 float32/64 JFloat
string string8/16/32 JString
array/seq array JArray
set array JArray
range/subrange int8/16/32/64 JInt
enum int8/16/32/64 JInt
IntSet,Doubly/SinglyLinkedList* array JArray
Doubly/SinglyLinkedRing* array JArray
Queue,HashSet,OrderedSet* array JArray
Table,TableRef* map JObject
OrderedTable,OrderedTableRef* map JObject
StringTableRef* map JObject
CritBitTree[T]* map JObject
CritBitTree[void]* array JArray
object/tuple array/map JObject

(*) please import msgpakc4collection for Nim standard library collections, they are no longer part of codec core

object and tuple

object and tuple by default converted to msgpack array, however you can tell the compiler to convert it to map by supplying --define:msgpack_obj_to_map

nim c --define:msgpack_obj_to_map yourfile.nim

or --define:msgpack_obj_to_stream to convert object/tuple fields value into stream of msgpack objects

nim c --define:msgpack_obj_to_stream yourfile.nim

What this means? It means by default, each object/tuple will be converted to one msgpack array contains field(s) value only without their field(s) name.

If you specify that the object/tuple will be converted to msgpack map, then each object/tuple will be converted to one msgpack map contains key-value pairs. The key will be field name, and the value will be field value.

If you specify that the object/tuple will be converted to msgpack stream, then each object/tuple will be converted into one or more msgpack's type for each object's field and then the resulted stream will be concatenated to the msgpack stream buffer.

Which one should I use?

Usually, other msgpack libraries out there convert object/tuple/record/struct or whatever structured data supported by the language into msgpack array, but always make sure to consult the documentation first. If both of the serializer and deserializer agreed to one convention, then usually there will be no problem. No matter which library/language you use, you can exchange msgpack data among them.

since version 0.2.4, you can set encoding mode at runtime to choose which encoding you would like to perform

note: the runtime encoding mode only available if you use MsgStream, otherwise only compile time flag available

mode msgpack_obj_to_map msgpack_obj_to_array msgpack_obj_to_stream default
MSGPACK_OBJ_TO_DEFAULT map array stream array
MSGPACK_OBJ_TO_ARRAY array array array array
MSGPACK_OBJ_TO_MAP map map map map
MSGPACK_OBJ_TO_STREAM stream stream stream stream


ref something :

  • if ref value is nil, it will be packed into msgpack nil, and when unpacked, you will get nil too
  • if ref value not nil, it will be dereferenced e.g. pack(val[]) or unpack(val[])
  • ref subject to some restriction. see restriction below
  • ptr will be treated like ref during pack
  • unpacking ptr will invoke alloc, so you must dealloc it

circular reference: altough detecting circular reference is not too difficult(using set of pointers), the current implementation does not provide circular reference detection. If you pack something contains circular reference, you know something bad will happened

Restriction: For objects their type is not serialized. This means essentially that it does not work if the object has some other runtime type than its compiletime type:

import streams, msgpack4nim

  TA = object of RootObj
  TB = object of TA
    f: int

  a: ref TA
  b: ref TB

a = b

echo stringify(pack(a))
#produces "[ ]" or "{ }"
#not "[ 0 ]" or '{ "f" : 0 }'


these types will be ignored:

  • procedural type
  • cstring(it is not safe to assume it always terminated by null)
  • pointer

these types cannot be automatically pack/unpacked:

  • void (will cause compile time error)

however, you can provide your own handler for cstring and pointer

Gotchas: because data conversion did not preserve original data types(only partial preservation), the following code is perfectly valid and will raise no exception

import msgpack4nim, streams, tables, sets, strtabs

  Horse = object
    legs: int
    foals: seq[string]
    attr: Table[string, string]

  Cat = object
    legs: uint8
    kittens: HashSet[string]
    traits: StringTableRef

proc initHorse(): Horse =
  result.legs = 4
  result.foals = @["jilly", "colt"]
  result.attr = initTable[string, string]()
  result.attr["color"] = "black"
  result.attr["speed"] = "120mph"

var stallion = initHorse()
var tom: Cat

var buf = pack(stallion) #pack a Horse here
unpack(buf, tom)
#abracadabra, it will unpack into a Cat

echo "legs: ", $tom.legs
echo "kittens: ", $tom.kittens
echo "traits: ", $tom.traits

another gotcha:

    KAB = object of RootObj
      aaa: int
      bbb: int

    KCD = object of KAB
      ccc: int
      ddd: int

    KEF = object of KCD
      eee: int
      fff: int

  var kk = KEF()
  echo stringify(pack(kk))
  # will produce "{ "eee" : 0, "fff" : 0, "ccc" : 0, "ddd" : 0, "aaa" : 0, "bbb" : 0 }"
  # not "{ "aaa" : 0, "bbb" : 0, "ccc" : 0, "ddd" : 0, "eee" : 0, "fff" : 0 }"

bin and ext format

this implementation provide function to encode/decode msgpack bin/ext format header, but for the body, you must write it yourself or read it yourself to/from the MsgStream

  • proc pack_bin*[ByteStream](s: ByteStream, len: int)
  • proc pack_ext*[ByteStream](s: ByteStream, len: int, exttype: int8)
  • proc unpack_bin*[ByteStream](s: ByteStream): int
  • proc unpack_ext*[ByteStream](s: ByteStream): tuple[exttype:uint8, len: int]
import streams, msgpack4nim

const exttype0 = 0

var s = MsgStream.init()
var body = "this is the body"

s.pack_ext(body.len, exttype0)

#the same goes to bin format

var ss = MsgStream.init(
#unpack_ext return tuple[exttype:uint8, len: int]
let (extype, extlen) = ss.unpack_ext()
var extbody = ss.readStr(extlen)

assert extbody == body

let binlen = ss.unpack_bin()
var binbody = ss.readStr(binlen)

assert binbody == body


you can convert msgpack data to readable string using stringify function

    Horse = object
      legs: int
      speed: int
      color: string
      name: string

  var cc = Horse(legs:4, speed:150, color:"black", name:"stallion")
  var zz = pack(cc)
  echo stringify(zz)

the result will be:

[ 4, 150, "black", "stallion" ]

msgpack_obj_to_map defined:
{ "legs" : 4, "speed" : 150, "color" : "black", "name" : "stallion" }

msgpack_obj_to_stream defined:
4 150 "black" "stallion"


toAny takes a string of msgpack data or a stream, then it will produce msgAny which you can interrogate of it's type and value during runtime by accessing it's member kind

toAny recognize all valid msgpack message and translate it into a group of types:

msgMap, msgArray, msgString, msgBool,
msgBin, msgExt, msgFloat32, msgFloat64,
msgInt, msgUint, msgNull

for example, msg is a msgpack data with content [1, "hello", {"a": "b"}], you can interrogate it like this:

var a = msg.toAny()
assert a.kind == msgArray
assert a.arrayVal[0].kind == msgInt
assert a.arrayVal[0].intVal == 1
assert a.arrayVal[1].kind == msgString
assert a.arrayVal[1].stringVal == "hello"
assert a.arrayVal[2].kind == msgMap
var c = a[2]
assert c[anyString("a")] == anyString("b")

since version 0.2.1, toAny was put into separate module msgpack2any, it has functionality similar with json, with support of msgpack bin and ext natively

msgpack2any also support pretty printing similar with json pretty printing.

Primary usage for msgpack2any is to provide higher level API while dynamically querying underlying msgpack data at runtime. Currently, msgpack2any decode all msgpack stream at once. There are room for improvements such as progressive decoding at runtime, or selective decoding at runtime. Both of this improvements are not implemented, yet they are important for applications that need for finer control over decoding step.


Start version 0.2.0, msgpack4nim receive additional family member, msgpack2json module. It consists of toJsonNode and fromJsonNode to interact with stdlib's json module.

Installation via nimble

nimble install msgpack4nim

Implementation specific

If an object can be represented in multiple possible output formats, serializers SHOULD use the format which represents the data in the smallest number of bytes.

According to the spec, the serializer should use smallest number of bytes, and this behavior is implemented in msgpack4nim. Therefore, some valid encoding would never produced by msgpack4nim.

For example: although 0xcdff00 and 0xceff000000 encoding is valid according to the spec which is decoded into positive integer 255, msgpack4nim never produce it, because the internal algorithm will select the smallest number of bytes needed, which is 0xccff.

However, if msgpack4nim received encoded streams from other msgpack library contains those longer than needed sequence, as long as it conforms to the spec, msgpack4nim will happily decoded it and convert it to the destination storage(variable) type.

Other msgpack library who consume msgpack4nim stream, will also decode it properly, although they might not produce smallest number of bytes required.

enjoy it, happy nim-ing