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Comprehensive, powerful, commercial-quality CBOR encoder/ decoder that is still suited for small devices.


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QCBOR is a powerful, commercial-quality CBOR encoder-decoder that implements these RFCs:

  • RFC8949 The CBOR Standard. (Nearly everything except sorting of encoded maps)
  • RFC7049 The previous CBOR standard. Replaced by RFC 8949.
  • RFC8742 CBOR Sequences
  • RFC8943 CBOR Dates

QCBOR Characteristics

Implemented in C with minimal dependency – Dependent only on C99, <stdint.h>, <stddef.h>, <stdbool.h> and <string.h> making it highly portable. <math.h> and <fenv.h> are used too, but their use can disabled. No #ifdefs or compiler options need to be set for QCBOR to run correctly.

Focused on C / native data representation – Careful conversion of CBOR data types in to C data types, handling over and underflow, strict typing and such so the caller doesn't have to worry so much about this and so code using QCBOR passes static analyzers easier. Simpler code because there is no support for encoding/decoding to/from JSON, pretty printing, diagnostic notation... Only encoding from native C representations and decoding to native C representations is supported.

Small simple memory model – Malloc is not needed. The encode context is 176 bytes, decode context is 312 bytes and the description of decoded data item is 56 bytes. Stack use is light and there is no recursion. The caller supplies the memory to hold the encoded CBOR and encode/decode contexts so caller has full control of memory usage making it good for embedded implementations that have to run in small fixed memory.

Easy decoding of maps – The "spiffy decode" functions allow fetching map items directly by label. Detection of duplicate map items is automatically performed. This makes decoding of complex protocols much simpler, say when compared to TinyCBOR.

Supports most of RFC 8949 – With some size limits, all data types and formats in the specification are supported. Map sorting is main CBOR feature that is not supported. The same decoding API supports both definite and indefinite-length map and array decoding. Decoding indefinite length strings is supported but requires a string allocator be set up. Encoding of indefinite length strings is planned, but not yet supported.

Extensible and general – Provides a way to handle data types that are not directly supported.

Secure coding style – Uses a construct called UsefulBuf as a discipline for very safe coding and handling of binary data.

Small code size – In the smallest configuration the object code is less than 4KB on 64-bit x86 CPUs. The design is such that object code for QCBOR APIs not used is not referenced.

Clear documented public interface – The public interface is separated from the implementation. It can be put to use without reading the source.

Comprehensive test suite – Easy to verify on a new platform or OS with the test suite. The test suite dependencies are minimal and the same as the library's.

Spiffy Decode

These are functions to decode particular data types. They are an alternative to and built on top of QCBORDecode_GetNext(). They do type checking and in some cases sophisticated type conversion.

Spiffy decode supports easier map and array decoding. A map can be descended into with QCBORDecode_EnterMap(). When a map has been entered, members can be retrieved by label. Detection of duplicate map labels, an error, is automatically performed.

An internal error state is maintained. This simplifies the decode implementation as an error check is only needed at the end of the decode, rather than on every function.

An outcome is that decoding implementations are simple and involve many fewer lines of code. They also tend to parallel the encoding implementations as seen in the following example.

 /* Encode */
 QCBOREncode_Init(&EncodeCtx, Buffer);
 QCBOREncode_AddTextToMap(&EncodeCtx, "Manufacturer", pE->Manufacturer);
 QCBOREncode_AddInt64ToMap(&EncodeCtx, "Displacement", pE->uDisplacement);
 QCBOREncode_AddInt64ToMap(&EncodeCtx, "Horsepower", pE->uHorsePower);
 uErr = QCBOREncode_Finish(&EncodeCtx, &EncodedEngine);

 /* Decode */
 QCBORDecode_Init(&DecodeCtx, EncodedEngine, QCBOR_DECODE_MODE_NORMAL);
 QCBORDecode_GetTextStringInMapSZ(&DecodeCtx, "Manufacturer", &(pE->Manufacturer));
 QCBORDecode_GetInt64InMapSZ(&DecodeCtx, "Displacement", &(pE->uDisplacement));
 QCBORDecode_GetInt64InMapSZ(&DecodeCtx, "Horsepower", &(pE->uHorsePower));
 uErr = QCBORDecode_Finish(&DecodeCtx);

The spiffy decode functions will handle definite and indefinite length maps and arrays without the caller having to do anything. This includes mixed definite and indefinte maps and arrays. (Some work remains to support map searching with indefinite length strings.)

Comparison to TinyCBOR

TinyCBOR is a popular widely used implementation. Like QCBOR, it is a solid, well-maintained commercial quality implementation. This section is for folks trying to understand the difference in the approach between QCBOR and TinyCBOR.

TinyCBOR's API is more minimalist and closer to the CBOR encoding mechanics than QCBOR's. QCBOR's API is at a somewhat higher level of abstraction.

QCBOR really does implement just about everything described in RFC 8949. The main part missing is sorting of maps when encoding. TinyCBOR implements a smaller part of the standard.

No detailed code size comparison has been made, but in a spot check that encodes and decodes a single integer shows QCBOR about 25% larger. QCBOR encoding is actually smaller, but QCBOR decoding is larger. This includes the code to call the library, which is about the same for both libraries, and the code linked from the libraries. QCBOR is a bit more powerful, so you get value for the extra code brought in, especially when decoding more complex protocols.

QCBOR tracks encoding and decoding errors internally so the caller doesn't have to check the return code of every call to an encode or decode function. In many cases the error check is only needed as the last step or an encode or decode. TinyCBOR requires an error check on each call.

QCBOR provides a substantial feature that allows searching for data items in a map by label. It works for integer and text string labels (and at some point byte-string labels). This includes detection of items with duplicate labels. This makes the code for decoding CBOR simpler, similar to the encoding code and easier to read. TinyCBOR supports search by string, but no integer, nor duplicate detection.

QCBOR provides explicit support many of the registered CBOR tags. For example, QCBOR supports big numbers and decimal fractions including their conversion to floats, uint64_t and such.

Generally, QCBOR supports safe conversion of most CBOR number formats into number formats supported in C. For example, a data item can be fetched and converted to a C uint64_t whether the input CBOR is an unsigned 64-bit integer, signed 64-bit integer, floating-point number, big number, decimal fraction or a big float. The conversion is performed with full proper error detection of overflow and underflow.

QCBOR has a special feature for decoding byte-string wrapped CBOR. It treats this similar to entering an array with one item. This is particularly use for CBOR protocols like COSE that make use of byte-string wrapping. The implementation of these protocols is simpler and uses less memory.

QCBOR's test suite is written in the same portable C that QCBOR is where TinyCBOR requires Qt for its test. QCBOR's test suite is designed to be able to run on small embedded devices the same as QCBOR.

Code Status

The official current release is version 1.3. Changes over the last few years have been only minor bug fixes, minor feature additions and documentation improvements. QCBOR 1.x is highly stable.

Work on some larger feature additions is ongoing in "dev" branch. This includes more explicit support for preferred serialization and CDE (CBOR Deterministic Encoding). It will eventually be release as QCBOR 2.x.

QCBOR was originally developed by Qualcomm. It was open sourced through CAF with a permissive Linux license, September 2018 (thanks Qualcomm!).


There is a simple makefile for the UNIX style command line binary that compiles everything to run the tests. CMake is also available, please read the "Building with CMake" section for more information.

These eleven files, the contents of the src and inc directories, make up the entire implementation.

  • inc
    • UsefulBuf.h
    • qcbor_private.h
    • qcbor_common.h
    • qcbor_encode.h
    • qcbor_decode.h
    • qcbor_spiffy_decode.h
  • src
    • UsefulBuf.c
    • qcbor_encode.c
    • qcbor_decode.c
    • ieee754.h
    • ieee754.c

For most use cases you should just be able to add them to your project. Hopefully the easy portability of this implementation makes this work straight away, whatever your development environment is.

The test directory includes the tests that are nearly as portable as the main implementation. If your development environment doesn't support UNIX style command line and make, you should be able to make a simple project and add the test files to it. Then just call RunTests() to invoke them all.

While this code will run fine without configuration, there are several C pre processor macros that can be #defined in order to:

  • use a more efficient implementation
  • to reduce code size
  • to improve performance (a little)
  • remove features to reduce code size

See the comment sections on "Configuration" in inc/UsefulBuf.h and the pre processor defines that start with QCBOR_DISABLE_XXX.

Building with CMake

CMake can also be used to build QCBOR and the test application. Having the root CMakeLists.txt file, QCBOR can be easily integrated with your project's existing CMake environment. The result of the build process is a static library, to build a shared library instead you must add the -DBUILD_SHARED_LIBS=ON option at the CMake configuration step. The tests can be built into a simple command line application to run them as it was mentioned before; or it can be built as a library to be integrated with your development environment. The BUILD_QCBOR_TEST CMake option can be used for building the tests, it can have three values: APP, LIB or OFF (default, test are not included in the build).

Building the QCBOR library:

cd <QCBOR_base_folder>
# Configuring the project and generating a native build system
cmake -S . -B <build_folder>
# Building the project
cmake --build <build_folder>

Building and running the QCBOR test app:

cd <QCBOR_base_folder>
# Configuring the project and generating a native build system
cmake -S . -B <build_folder> -DBUILD_QCBOR_TEST=APP
# Building the project
cmake --build <build_folder>
# Running the test app

To enable all the compiler warnings that are used in the QCBOR release process you can use the BUILD_QCBOR_WARN option at the CMake configuration step:

cmake -S . -B <build_folder> -DBUILD_QCBOR_WARN=ON

Floating Point Support & Configuration

By default, all QCBOR floating-point features are enabled:

  • Encoding and decoding of basic float types, single and double-precision
  • Encoding and decoding of half-precision with conversion to/from single and double-precision
  • Preferred serialization of floating-point
  • Floating point dates
  • Methods that can convert big numbers, decimal fractions and other numbers to/from floating-point

If full floating-point is not needed, the following #defines can be used to reduce object code size and dependency.

See discussion in qcbor_encode.h for other details.


This removes dependency on:

  • Floating-point hardware and floating-point instructions
  • <math.h> and <fenv.h>
  • The math library (libm, -lm)

For most limited environments, this removes enough floating-point dependencies to be able to compile and run QCBOR.

Note that this does not remove use of the types double and float from QCBOR, but it limits QCBOR's use of them to converting the encoded byte stream to them and copying them. Converting and copying them usually don't require any hardware, libraries or includes. The C compiler takes care of it on its own.

QCBOR uses its own implementation of half-precision float-pointing that doesn't depend on math libraries. It uses masks and shifts instead. Thus, even with this define, half-precision encoding and decoding works.

When this is defined, the QCBOR functionality lost is minimal and only for decoding:

  • Decoding floating-point format dates are not handled
  • There is no conversion between floats and integers when decoding. For example, QCBORDecode_GetUInt64ConvertAll() will be unable to convert to and from float-point.
  • Floats will be unconverted to double when decoding.

No interfaces are disabled or removed with this define. If input that requires floating-point conversion or functions are called that request floating-point conversion, an error code like QCBOR_ERR_HW_FLOAT_DISABLED will be returned.

This saves only a small amount of object code. The primary purpose for defining this is to remove dependency on floating point hardware and libraries.


This eliminates support for half-precision and CBOR preferred serialization by disabling QCBOR's shift and mask based implementation of half-precision floating-point.

With this defined, single and double-precision floating-point numbers can still be encoded and decoded. Conversion of floating-point to and from integers, big numbers and such is also supported. Floating-point dates are still supported.

The primary reason to define this is to save object code. Roughly 900 bytes are saved, though about half of this can be saved just by not calling any functions that encode floating-point numbers.


This eliminates floating point support completely (along with related function headers). This is useful if the compiler options deny the usage of floating point operations completely, and the usage soft floating point ABI is not possible.

Compiler options

Compilers support a number of options that control which float-point related code is generated. For example, it is usually possible to give options to the compiler to avoid all floating-point hardware and instructions, to use software and replacement libraries instead. These are usually bigger and slower, but these options may still be useful in getting QCBOR to run in some environments in combination with QCBOR_DISABLE_FLOAT_HW_USE. In particular, -mfloat-abi=soft, disables use of hardware instructions for the float and double types in C for some architectures.

CMake options

If you are using CMake, it can also be used to configure the floating-point support. These options can be enabled by adding them to the CMake configuration step and setting their value to 'ON' (True). The following table shows the available options and the associated #defines.

| CMake option                      | #define                       |

Code Size

These are approximate sizes on a 64-bit x86 CPU with the -Os optimization. All QCBOR_DISABLE_XXX are set and compiler stack frame checking is disabled for smallest but not for largest. Smallest is the library functions for a protocol with strings, integers, arrays, maps and Booleans, but not floats and standard tag types.

|               | smallest | largest |
| encode only   |      850 |    2200 |
| decode only   |     1550 |   13300 |
| combined      |     2500 |   15500 |

From the table above, one can see that the amount of code pulled in from the QCBOR library varies a lot, ranging from 1KB to 15KB. The main factor is the number of QCBOR functions called and which ones they are. QCBOR minimizes internal interdependency so only code necessary for the called functions is brought in.

Encoding is simpler and smaller. An encode-only implementation may bring in only 1KB of code.

Encoding of floating-point brings in a little more code as does encoding of tagged types and encoding of bstr wrapping.

Basic decoding using QCBORDecode_GetNext() brings in 3KB.

Use of the supplied MemPool by calling QCBORDecode_SetMemPool() to setup to decode indefinite-length strings adds 0.5KB.

Basic use of spiffy decode to brings in about 3KB. Using more spiffy decode functions, such as those for tagged types bstr wrapping brings in more code.

Finally, use of all of the integer conversion functions will bring in about 5KB, though you can use the simpler ones like QCBORDecode_GetInt64() without bringing in very much code.

In addition to using fewer QCBOR functions, the following are some ways to make the code smaller.

The gcc compiler output is usually smaller than llvm because stack guards are off by default (be sure you actually have gcc and not llvm installed to be invoked by the gcc command). You can also turn off stack gaurds with llvm. It is safe to turn off stack gaurds with this code because Usefulbuf provides similar defenses and this code was carefully written to be defensive.

If QCBOR is installed as a shared library, then of course only one copy of the code is in memory no matter how many applications use it.

Disabling Features

Here's the list of all features that can be disabled to save object code. The amount saved is an approximation.

| #define                                 | Saves |
| ----------------------------------------| ------|
| QCBOR_DISABLE_UNCOMMON_TAGS             |   100 |
| QCBOR_DISABLE_FLOAT_HW_USE              |    50 |
| QCBOR_DISABLE_TAGS                      |   400 |
| USEFULBUF_DISABLE_ALL_FLOAT             |   950 |

QCBOR_DISABLE_ENCODE_USAGE_GUARDS affects encoding only. It doesn't disable any encoding features, just some error checking. Disable it when you are confident that an encoding implementation is complete and correct.

Indefinite lengths are a feature of CBOR that makes encoding simpler and the decoding more complex. They allow the encoder to not have to know the length of a string, map or array when they start encoding it. Their main use is when encoding has to be done on a very constrained device. Conversely when decoding on a very constrained device, it is good to prohibit use of indefinite lengths so the decoder can be smaller.

The QCBOR decode API processes both definite and indefinite lengths with the same API, except to decode indefinite-length strings a storage allocator must be configured.

To reduce the size of the decoder define QCBOR_DISABLE_INDEFINITE_LENGTH_STRINGS particularly if you are not configuring a storage allocator.

Further reduction can be by defining QCBOR_DISABLE_INDEFINITE_LENGTH_ARRAYS which will result in an error when an indefinite-length map or array arrives for decoding.

QCBOR_DISABLE_UNCOMMON_TAGS disables the decoding of explicit tags for base 64, regex, UUID and MIME data. This just disables the automatic recognition of these from a major type 6 tag.

QCBOR_DISABLE_EXP_AND_MANTISSA disables the decoding of decimal fractions and big floats.

QCBOR_DISABLE_TAGS disables all decoding of CBOR tags. If the input has a single tag, the error is unrecoverable so it is suitable only for protocols that have no tags. "Borrowed" tag content formats (e.g. an epoch-based date without the tag number), can still be processed.

QCBOR_DISABLE_NON_INTEGER_LABELS causes any label that doesn't fit in an int64_t to result in a QCBOR_ERR_MAP_LABEL_TYPE error. This also disables QCBOR_DECODE_MODE_MAP_AS_ARRAY and QCBOR_DECODE_MODE_MAP_STRINGS_ONLY. It is fairly common for CBOR-based protocols to use only small integers as labels.

See the discussion above on floating-point.

Size of spiffy decode

When creating a decode implementation, there is a choice of whether or not to use spiffy decode features or to just use QCBORDecode_GetNext().

The implementation using spiffy decode will be simpler resulting in the calling code being smaller, but the amount of code brought in from the QCBOR library will be larger. Basic use of spiffy decode brings in about 2KB of object code. If object code size is not a concern, then it is probably better to use spiffy decode because it is less work, there is less complexity and less testing to worry about.

If code size is a concern, then use of QCBORDecode_GetNext() will probably result in smaller overall code size for simpler CBOR protocols. However, if the CBOR protocol is complex then use of spiffy decode may reduce overall code size. An example of a complex protocol is one that involves decoding a lot of maps or maps that have many data items in them. The overall code may be smaller because the general purpose spiffy decode map processor is the one used for all the maps.

Other Software Using QCBOR


  • Ganesh Kanike for porting to QSEE
  • Mark Bapst for sponsorship and release as open source by Qualcomm
  • Sachin Sharma for release through CAF
  • Tamas Ban for porting to TF-M and 32-bit ARM
  • Michael Eckel for Makefile improvements
  • Jan Jongboom for indefinite length encoding
  • Peter Uiterwijk for error strings and other
  • Michael Richarson for CI set up and fixing some compiler warnings
  • Máté Tóth-Pál for float-point disabling and other
  • Dave Thaler for portability to Windows

Copyright and License

QCBOR is available under what is essentially the 3-Clause BSD License.

Files created inside Qualcomm and open-sourced through CAF (The Code Aurora Forum) have a slightly modified 3-Clause BSD License. The modification additionally disclaims NON-INFRINGEMENT.

Files created after release to CAF use the standard 3-Clause BSD License with no modification. These files have the SPDX license identifier, "SPDX-License-Identifier: BSD-3-Clause" in them.

BSD-3-Clause license

  • Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.

  • Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution.

  • Neither the name of the copyright holder nor the names of its contributors may be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission.


Copyright for this README

Copyright (c) 2018-2021, Laurence Lundblade. All rights reserved. Copyright (c) 2021-2023, Arm Limited. All rights reserved.