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bfio - Binary formats I/O.

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bfio is a small, one header only library for serialization/deserialization of C/C++ objects.


  • Serialize/Deserialize C/C++ objects into/from existing binary formats. For example, you can define readers/writers for zip-archive headers, PE headers, ELF headers, etc..
  • Provide API that defines readers/writers simultaneously, so that you do not need to write code for serialization and deserialization separately, but allowing to do so if needed.
  • Provide API similar to boost serialization library
  • File I/O API agnostic and allowing reading/writing to memory buffers.

Why not boost serialization library or Cereal or others?

- The goal is not just to serialize/deserialize objects, but write and read specific (existing) binary formats.

Below presented a very simple show case for reading/writing TGA headers, you can find full example here.

For more complex examples see streams example and reading zip archive example.

Showcase. Truevision TGA header

The detailed description of the format can be found at wiki

The main header has the following structure:

Field no. Length Field name Description
1 1 byte ID length Length of the image ID field
2 1 byte Color map type Whether a color map is included
3 1 byte Image type Compression and color types
4 5 bytes Color map specification Describes the color map
5 10 bytes Image specification Image dimensions and format

Color map has the following structure:

Length Field name Description
2 byte First entry index Index of first color map entry that is included in the file
2 byte Color map length Number of entries of the color map that are included in the file
1 byte Color map entry size Number of bits per pixel

Image specification has the following structure:

Length Field name Description
2 byte X-origin absolute coordinate of lower-left corner for displays where origin is at the lower left
2 byte Y-origin as for X-origin
2 byte Image width width in pixels
2 byte Image height height in pixels
1 byte Pixel depth bits per pixel
1 byte Image descriptor bits 3-0 give the alpha channel depth, bits 5-4 give direction

Let's say, we have defined structures for main header, color-map, and image specification:

struct ColorMapSpecificatuion
    uint16_t firstEntryIndex;
    uint16_t colorMapLength;
    uint8_t colorMapEntrySize;

struct ImageSpecificatuion
    uint16_t xOrigin;
    uint16_t yOrigin;
    uint16_t width;
    uint16_t height;
    uint8_t pixelDepth;
    uint8_t imageDescriptor;

struct MainTGAHeader
    uint8_t IDLength;
    uint8_t colorMapType;
    uint8_t imageType;
    ColorMapSpecificatuion colormap;
    ImageSpecificatuion imageSpec;

Then, we should define serialization functions for each type: (Syntax is heavily inspired by boost serialization library.)

namespace bfio
    template<class RW>
    inline void Serialize(RW& io, ColorMapSpecificatuion& x)
        io & x.firstEntryIndex;
        io & x.colorMapLength;
        io & x.colorMapEntrySize;
    template<class RW>
    inline void Serialize(RW& io, ImageSpecificatuion& x)
        io & x.xOrigin;
        io & x.yOrigin;
        io & x.width;
        io & x.height;
        io & x.pixelDepth;
        io & x.imageDescriptor;
    template<class RW>
    inline void Serialize(RW& io, MainTGAHeader& x)
        io & x.IDLength;
        io & x.colorMapType;
        io & x.imageType;
        io & x.colormap;
        io & x.imageSpec;

In the case shown above, the template functions define serialization process for both, reading and writing.

Now we can use them as follows:

int main()
    // Reading image header
    FILE* f = fopen("test.tga", "rb");
    bfio::CFileStream stream(f);

    printf("Tga header size: %d\n", (int)bfio::SizeOf<MainTGAHeader>());

    MainTGAHeader tgaHeader;

    stream >> tgaHeader;

    printf("Image info:\nColormap: %s\nImage type: %d\nImage width %d\nImage height: %d\nPixel depth: %d\n"
        ,tgaHeader.colorMapType == 0 ? "No colormap" : "Has colormap"


    // Writing image header
    FILE* fout = fopen("header.bin", "wb");

    bfio::CFileStream outstream(fout);
    outstream << tgaHeader;

    return 0;


  • Provides default serialization functions for some standard containers. To enable containers, you need to define one of those:
    • BFIO_INCLUDE_VECTOR for std::vector
    • BFIO_INCLUDE_STRING for std::string
    • BFIO_INCLUDE_MAP for std::map
    • BFIO_INCLUDE_SET for std::set
    • BFIO_INCLUDE_LIST for std::list
  • Has support for glm. To enable define BFIO_INCLUDE_GLM
  • Has SizeOf function that can return size of the object to be serialized, with optimizations on it is optimized to ilined constant.
  • Has predefined streams:
    • CFileStream for working with C files
    • StaticMemoryStream for working with preallocated memory buffer
    • DynamicMemoryStream for working with dynamically growing memory buffer
  • Allows defining custom streams for working with any I/O API.


It is a one-header library, no installation is needed. Add the path to the bfio/include to your search paths for headers. CMakeLists.txt is mainly for building examples are tests. However, you can install the library on the system by running:

mkdir build
cd build
cmake ../
make install


How to write serialization functions?

There are two ways:

  • Write a generic serialization function for both, writing and reading.
  • Write distinct functions for writing and for reading

Typically, the first option is preferred. The second option is used when you need to do some additional manipulations that are different for reading and writing.

To write a generic function, create in bfio namespace a template function Serialize of the form:

namespace bfio
    template<typename Stream, AccessType direction>
    inline void Serialize(Accessor<Stream, direction>& w, MyData& x)

Where MyData - is the type for which the serialization function is written.

The function should take a reference to the template bfio::Accessor<typename Stream, enum Direction> object and a non-const reference to your type.

Using operator & of the bfio::Accessor, you can specify which members and in which order should be serialized/deserialized.

You can write generic functions, which are templates with arguments Stream and Direction or you can create a specialization for particular direction (Reading or Writing) or specific stream types.



struct MyData
    std::map<int, std::string> m;
    std::string str;
    std::vector<std::pair<std::string, float> > v;

    int a[10];

Serialization function:

namespace bfio
    template<typename Stream, AccessType direction>
    inline void Serialize(Accessor<Stream, direction>& w, MyData& x)
        w & x.m;
        w & x.str;
        w & x.v;
        w & x.a;

Or in shortened form:

namespace bfio
    template<typename A>
    inline void Serialize(A& w, MyData& x)
        w & x.m;
        w & x.str;
        w & x.v;
        w & x.a;

The second way is to specify functions for reading/writing separately. To do so, you need to specify bfio::Accessor with template arguments of:

  • Stream type. Intended to be a template argument. However, you can create a specialization for particular stream types.
  • Direction. bfio::AccessType::Reading or bfio::AccessType::Writing


namespace bfio
    template<typename Stream>
    inline void Serialize(Accessor<Stream, Writing>& w, MyData& x)
        printf("Hello from writer!");
        w & x.m;
        w & x.str;
        w & x.v;
        w & x.a;

    template<typename Stream>
    inline void Serialize(Accessor<Stream, Reading>& r, MyData& x)
        printf("Hello from reader!");
        r & x.m;
        r & x.str;
        r & x.v;
        r & x.a;

How to use streams?

Streams are classes derived from bfio::Stream class and implement the following functions:

    bool Write(const void* src, size_t size);
    bool Read(void* dst, size_t size);

Class bfio::Stream defines operators << and >> for serialization and deserialization. There are three default streams:

  • CFileStream - for access to fread and fwrite from standard c library.
  • StaticMemoryStream - for reading/writing to the preallocated memory buffer.
  • DynamicMemoryStream - for reading/writing to dynamic, growing memory buffer.

You can create your streams by subclassing from bfio::Stream.

CFileStream as an example:

    class CFileStream : public Stream<CFileStream>
        CFileStream(FILE* f) : file(f)

        bool Write(const void* src, size_t size)
            return fwrite(src, size, 1, file) == size;
        bool Read(void* dst, size_t size)
            return fread(dst, size, 1, file) == size;

        FILE* file;


CFileStream is a small wrapper for reading/writing using fread and fwrite functions from C standard library.


    FILE* f = fopen("test.bin", "wb");
    CFileStream(f) << mydata;


This stream type takes a pointer to preallocated memory buffer and size of the buffer in its constructor. This stream does not copy data from the buffer and does not delete it. You should use this stream with caution and make sure the stream is not used after the memory is freed.


    char* data = new char[512];
    bfio::StaticMemoryStream stearm(data, 512);
    stearm << mydata;

It won't read/write beyond the buffer boundaries, the access operators (<<, >>) will return false for this case.

Provides additional member functions:

  • size_t StaticMemoryStream::GetSize() const Returns size of the buffer associated with the stream.
  • char StaticMemoryStream::Data()* Returns pointer to the buffer.
  • const char StaticMemoryStream::DataConst() const* Return const pointer to the buffer.
  • void StaticMemoryStream::Seek(size_t position) Sets internal offset pointer to the given position.
  • size_t StaticMemoryStream::Tell() const Returns internal offset pointer.


This stream creates internal memory buffer that can grow. If in constructor specified a pointer to a memory block and size, this memory buffer will be copied to the internal buffer and thus can be freed after the construction of the DynamicMemoryStream.

Internal buffer grows when the data to be written goes beyond the internal buffer size.


    char* data = new char[512];
    bfio::StaticMemoryStream stearm(data, 512);
    stearm << mydata;

Provides all member functions of StaticMemoryStream plus additional member function:

  • bool StaticMemoryStream::Resize(size_t newSize) Chanes the size of internal buffer.

For more references see examples


One-header library for defining writing and reading procedures of C/C++ objects to/from specific binary formats.





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