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KDL Spec

This is the semi-formal specification for KDL, including the intended data model and the grammar.

This document describes KDL version 1.0.0. It was released on September 11, 2021.


KDL is a node-oriented document language. Its niche and purpose overlaps with XML, and as do many of its semantics. You can use KDL both as a configuration language, and a data exchange or storage format, if you so choose.

The bulk of this document is dedicated to a long-form description of all Components of a KDL document. There is also a much more terse Grammar at the end of the document that covers most of the rules, with some semantic exceptions involving the data model.

KDL is designed to be easy to read and easy to implement.

In this document, references to "left" or "right" refer to directions in the data stream towards the beginning or end, respectively; in other words, the directions if the data stream were only ASCII text. They do not refer to the writing direction of text, which can flow in either direction, depending on the characters used.



The toplevel concept of KDL is a Document. A Document is composed of zero or more Nodes, separated by newlines and whitespace, and eventually terminated by an EOF.

All KDL documents should be UTF-8 encoded and conform to the specifications in this document.


The following is a document composed of two toplevel nodes:

foo {


Being a node-oriented language means that the real core component of any KDL document is the "node". Every node must have a name, which is an Identifier.

The name may be preceded by a Type Annotation to further clarify its type, particularly in relation to its parent node. (For example, clarifying that a particular date child node is for the publication date, rather than the last-modified date, with (published)date.)

Following the name are zero or more Arguments or Properties, separated by either whitespace or a slash-escaped line continuation. Arguments and Properties may be interspersed in any order, much like is common with positional arguments vs options in command line tools.

Children can be placed after the name and the optional Arguments and Properties, possibly separated by either whitespace or a slash-escaped line continuation.

Arguments are ordered relative to each other (but not relative to Properties) and that order must be preserved in order to maintain the semantics.

By contrast, Property order SHOULD NOT matter to implementations. Children should be used if an order-sensitive key/value data structure must be represented in KDL.

Nodes MAY be prefixed with /- to "comment out" the entire node, including its properties, arguments, and children, and make it act as plain whitespace, even if it spreads across multiple lines.

Finally, a node is terminated by either a Newline, a semicolon (;) or the end of the file/stream (an EOF).


foo 1 key="val" 3 {
    (role)baz 1 2


An Identifier is either a Bare Identifier, which is an unquoted string like node or item, or a String, which is quoted, like "node" or "two words". There's no semantic difference between the kinds of identifier; this simply allows for the use of quotes to have unusual identifiers that are inexpressible as bare identifiers.

Bare Identifier

A Bare Identifier is composed of any Unicode codepoint other than non-initial characters, followed by any number of Unicode codepoints other than non-identifier characters, so long as this doesn't produce something confusable for a Number, Boolean, or Null. For example, both a Number and an Identifier can start with -, but when an Identifier starts with - the second character cannot be a digit. This is precisely specified in the Full Grammar below.

Identifiers are terminated by Whitespace or Newlines.

Non-initial characters

The following characters cannot be the first character in a Bare Identifier:

Be aware that the - character can only be used as an initial character if the second character is not a digit. This allows identifiers to look like --this, and removes the ambiguity of having an identifier look like a negative number.

Non-identifier characters

The following characters cannot be used anywhere in a Bare Identifier:

  • Any codepoint with hexadecimal value 0x20 or below.
  • Any codepoint with hexadecimal value higher than 0x10FFFF.
  • Any of \/(){}<>;[]=,"

Line Continuation

Line continuations allow Nodes to be spread across multiple lines.

A line continuation is a \ character followed by zero or more whitespace characters and an optional single-line comment. It must be terminated by a Newline (including the Newline that is part of single-line comments).

Following a line continuation, processing of a Node can continue as usual.


my-node 1 2 \  // comments are ok after \
        3 4    // This is the actual end of the Node.


A Property is a key/value pair attached to a Node. A Property is composed of an Identifier, followed immediately by a =, and then a Value.

Properties should be interpreted left-to-right, with rightmost properties with identical names overriding earlier properties. That is:

node a=1 a=2

In this example, the node's a value must be 2, not 1.

No other guarantees about order should be expected by implementers. Deserialized representations may iterate over properties in any order and still be spec-compliant.

Properties MAY be prefixed with /- to "comment out" the entire token and make it act as plain whitespace, even if it spreads across multiple lines.


An Argument is a bare Value attached to a Node, with no associated key. It shares the same space as Properties, and may be interleaved with them.

A Node may have any number of Arguments, which should be evaluated left to right. KDL implementations MUST preserve the order of Arguments relative to each other (not counting Properties).

Arguments MAY be prefixed with /- to "comment out" the entire token and make it act as plain whitespace, even if it spreads across multiple lines.


my-node 1 2 3 "a" "b" "c"

Children Block

A children block is a block of Nodes, surrounded by { and }. They are an optional part of nodes, and create a hierarchy of KDL nodes.

Regular node termination rules apply, which means multiple nodes can be included in a single-line children block, as long as they're all terminated by ;.


parent {

parent { child1; child2; }


A value is either: a String, a Number, a Boolean, or Null.

Values MUST be either Arguments or values of Properties.

Values (both as arguments and as properties) MAY be prefixed by a single Type Annotation.

Type Annotation

A type annotation is a prefix to any Node Name or Value that includes a suggestion of what type the value is intended to be treated as, or as a context-specific elaboration of the more generic type the node name indicates.

Type annotations are written as a set of ( and ) with an Identifier in it. Any valid identifier is considered a valid type annotation. There must be no whitespace between a type annotation and its associated Node Name or Value.

KDL does not specify any restrictions on what implementations might do with these annotations. They are free to ignore them, or use them to make decisions about how to interpret a value.

Additionally, the following type annotations MAY be recognized by KDL parsers and, if used, SHOULD interpret these types as follows:

Reserved Type Annotations for Numbers Without Decimals:

Signed integers of various sizes (the number is the bit size):

  • i8
  • i16
  • i32
  • i64

Unsigned integers of various sizes (the number is the bit size):

  • u8
  • u16
  • u32
  • u64

Platform-dependent integer types, both signed and unsigned:

  • isize
  • usize

Reserved Type Annotations for Numbers With Decimals:

IEEE 754 floating point numbers, both single (32) and double (64) precision:

  • f32
  • f64

IEEE 754-2008 decimal floating point numbers

  • decimal64
  • decimal128

Reserved Type Annotations for Strings:

  • date-time: ISO8601 date/time format.
  • time: "Time" section of ISO8601.
  • date: "Date" section of ISO8601.
  • duration: ISO8601 duration format.
  • decimal: IEEE 754-2008 decimal string format.
  • currency: ISO 4217 currency code.
  • country-2: ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code.
  • country-3: ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 country code.
  • country-subdivision: ISO 3166-2 country subdivision code.
  • email: RFC5322 email address.
  • idn-email: RFC6531 internationalized email address.
  • hostname: RFC1132 internet hostname (only ASCII segments)
  • idn-hostname: RFC5890 internationalized internet hostname (only xn---prefixed ASCII "punycode" segments, or non-ASCII segments)
  • ipv4: RFC2673 dotted-quad IPv4 address.
  • ipv6: RFC2373 IPv6 address.
  • url: RFC3986 URI.
  • url-reference: RFC3986 URI Reference.
  • irl: RFC3987 Internationalized Resource Identifier.
  • irl-reference: RFC3987 Internationalized Resource Identifier Reference.
  • url-template: RFC6570 URI Template.
  • uuid: RFC4122 UUID.
  • regex: Regular expression. Specific patterns may be implementation-dependent.
  • base64: A Base64-encoded string, denoting arbitrary binary data.


node (u8)123
node prop=(regex)".*"
(published)date "1970-01-01"
(contributor)person name="Foo McBar"


Strings in KDL represent textual Values, or unusual identifiers. A String is either a Quoted String or a Raw String. Quoted Strings may include escaped characters, while Raw Strings always contain only the literal characters that are present.

Quoted String

A Quoted String is delimited by " on either side of any number of literal string characters except unescaped " and \. This includes literal Newline characters, which means a String Value can encompass multiple lines without behaving like a Newline for Node parsing purposes.

Strings MUST be represented as UTF-8 values.

In addition to literal code points, a number of "escapes" are supported. "Escapes" are the character \ followed by another character, and are interpreted as described in the following table:

Name Escape Code Pt
Line Feed \n U+000A
Carriage Return \r U+000D
Character Tabulation (Tab) \t U+0009
Reverse Solidus (Backslash) \\ U+005C
Solidus (Forwardslash) \/ U+002F
Quotation Mark (Double Quote) \" U+0022
Backspace \b U+0008
Form Feed \f U+000C
Unicode Escape \u{(1-6 hex chars)} Code point described by hex characters, up to 10FFFF

Raw String

Raw Strings in KDL are much like Quoted Strings, except they do not support \-escapes. They otherwise share the same properties as far as literal Newline characters go, and the requirement of UTF-8 representation.

Raw String literals are represented as r, followed by zero or more # characters, followed by ", followed by any number of UTF-8 literals. The string is then closed by a " followed by a matching number of # characters. This allows them to contain raw " or # characters; only the precise terminator (resembling "##, for example) ends the raw string. This means that the string sequence " or "# and such must not match the closing " with the same or more # characters as the opening r.


just-escapes r"\n will be literal"
quotes-and-escapes r#"hello\n\r\asd"world"#


Numbers in KDL represent numerical Values. There is no logical distinction in KDL between real numbers, integers, and floating point numbers. It's up to individual implementations to determine how to represent KDL numbers.

There are four syntaxes for Numbers: Decimal, Hexadecimal, Octal, and Binary.

  • All numbers may optionally start with one of - or +, which determine whether they'll be positive or negative.
  • Binary numbers start with 0b and only allow 0 and 1 as digits, which may be separated by _. They represent numbers in radix 2.
  • Octal numbers start with 0o and only allow digits between 0 and 7, which may be separated by _. They represent numbers in radix 8.
  • Hexadecimal numbers start with 0x and allow digits between 0 and 9, as well as letters A through F, in either lower or upper case, which may be separated by _. They represent numbers in radix 16.
  • Decimal numbers are a bit more special:
    • They have no radix prefix.
    • They use digits 0 through 9, which may be separated by _.
    • They may optionally include a decimal separator ., followed by more digits, which may again be separated by _.
    • They may optionally be followed by E or e, an optional - or +, and more digits, to represent an exponent value.


A boolean Value is either the symbol true or false. These SHOULD be represented by implementation as boolean logical values, or some approximation thereof.


my-node true value=false


The symbol null represents a null Value. It's up to the implementation to decide how to represent this, but it generally signals the "absence" of a value. It is reasonable for an implementation to ignore null values altogether when deserializing.


my-node null key=null


The following characters should be treated as non-Newline white space:

Name Code Pt
Character Tabulation U+0009
Space U+0020
No-Break Space U+00A0
Ogham Space Mark U+1680
En Quad U+2000
Em Quad U+2001
En Space U+2002
Em Space U+2003
Three-Per-Em Space U+2004
Four-Per-Em Space U+2005
Six-Per-Em Space U+2006
Figure Space U+2007
Punctuation Space U+2008
Thin Space U+2009
Hair Space U+200A
Narrow No-Break Space U+202F
Medium Mathematical Space U+205F
Ideographic Space U+3000

Multi-line comments

In addition to single-line comments using //, comments can also be started with /* and ended with */. These comments can span multiple lines. They are allowed in all positions where Whitespace is allowed and can be nested.


The following characters should be treated as new lines:

Acronym Name Code Pt
CR Carriage Return U+000D
LF Line Feed U+000A
CRLF Carriage Return and Line Feed U+000D + U+000A
NEL Next Line U+0085
FF Form Feed U+000C
LS Line Separator U+2028
PS Paragraph Separator U+2029

Note that for the purpose of new lines, CRLF is considered a single newline.

Full Grammar

nodes := linespace* (node nodes?)? linespace*

node := ('/-' node-space*)? type? identifier (node-space+ node-prop-or-arg)* (node-space* node-children ws*)? node-space* node-terminator
node-prop-or-arg := ('/-' node-space*)? (prop | value)
node-children := ('/-' node-space*)? '{' nodes '}'
node-space := ws* escline ws* | ws+
node-terminator := single-line-comment | newline | ';' | eof

identifier := string | bare-identifier
bare-identifier := ((identifier-char - digit - sign) identifier-char* | sign ((identifier-char - digit) identifier-char*)?) - keyword
identifier-char := unicode - linespace - [\/(){}<>;[]=,"]
keyword := boolean | 'null'
prop := identifier '=' value
value := type? (string | number | keyword)
type := '(' identifier ')'

string := raw-string | escaped-string
escaped-string := '"' character* '"'
character := '\' escape | [^\"]
escape := ["\\/bfnrt] | 'u{' hex-digit{1, 6} '}'
hex-digit := [0-9a-fA-F]

raw-string := 'r' raw-string-hash
raw-string-hash := '#' raw-string-hash '#' | raw-string-quotes
raw-string-quotes := '"' .* '"'

number := hex | octal | binary | decimal

decimal := sign? integer ('.' integer)? exponent?
exponent := ('e' | 'E') sign? integer
integer := digit (digit | '_')*
digit := [0-9]
sign := '+' | '-'

hex := sign? '0x' hex-digit (hex-digit | '_')*
octal := sign? '0o' [0-7] [0-7_]*
binary := sign? '0b' ('0' | '1') ('0' | '1' | '_')*

boolean := 'true' | 'false'

escline := '\\' ws* (single-line-comment | newline)

linespace := newline | ws | single-line-comment

newline := See Table (All line-break white_space)

ws := bom | unicode-space | multi-line-comment

bom := '\u{FEFF}'

unicode-space := See Table (All White_Space unicode characters which are not `newline`)

single-line-comment := '//' ^newline+ (newline | eof)
multi-line-comment := '/*' commented-block
commented-block := '*/' | (multi-line-comment | '*' | '/' | [^*/]+) commented-block