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Overview of libarchive's zero-copy architecture.

Table of Contents


Libarchive is designed to minimize the copying of data internally while still providing simple interfaces. This provides both a great deal of flexibility in how input data is presented while offering very high performance.

Block-oriented input

Libarchive reads from an archive by invoking a block input function. You can provide your own such function or use any of several that are included with the library.

Each time your function is called, it provides libarchive with a pointer to the block data and the size of the block. Note that libarchive's core is completely agnostic about the size of these blocks; you are free to return any amount of data from a single byte to the full archive. This flexibility allows libarchive to gracefully handle situations where block sizes might vary (such as when reading from bursty network connections) or where the complete archive is already available in memory.

Lazy reblocking

Libarchive will always fully consume the block you provide before asking for another block. This removes any need for your input function to keep track of multiple blocks.

Of course, libarchive does sometimes need to access a piece of data---such as a filename or header---that might cross a block boundary. In these cases, libarchive will internally allocate buffer space and copy data from multiple blocks as necessary. Fortunately, this is very rarely necessary unless you are providing very small blocks.

Decompression and other input filters

If the data is compressed or encoded, libarchive will feed the data through a series of decoding filters. These decoding filters typically work by copying the data into a new buffer. For decompression filters, the output buffer used by the filter is often much larger than the input blocks, which helps to make the subsequent processing even more efficient.

File data

The primary function for obtaining data from an entry body is `archive_read_data_block()` which provides a pointer and size to a contiguous region of file data. If you are reading from an archive with uncompressed entries, then this function will provide pointers directly into the block data that was provided by the input function.

As you can see, this means that the data read into memory by your input function can then be written back out from the exact same buffers.

In order to best exploit this design, it is important that your input function provide sufficiently large blocks, since the rest of the processing will be limited by the size of the initial block. If your block size is somehow limited, it can make sense to perform multiple reads each time your input function is called and provide the total result to libarchive as a single block.

Depending on your requirements, you may want to consider using tools such as `mmap()` to provide libarchive direct access to the entire file at once, or investigate the techniques used by libarchive's own file read module, which will "cheat" by reading much larger block sizes in cases where it doesn't affect the actual behavior.