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Please note that while I work for Blizzard Entertainment, this project was developed on my personal time before I worked for Blizzard. This project does not constitute an official documentation of the .dbc file format (or the related formats), nor is it an official mechanism by which to do data-mining. I will attempt to follow up with the people who would make the kinds of decisions who might make it otherwise, but for now, you should assume that I don't know any more than anyone who doesn't work at Blizzard, because I don't work on the Warcraft team. --@robpaveza, 1 Feb. 2016


A C# reader and explorer of World of Warcraft game data files (from .dbc and .db2 files).

There are two parts to this project:

  • DbcReader - a lightweight class library that allows developers to read .dbc files and interact with their records in a meaningful way.
  • DbcExplorer - a grid-based viewer for .dbc files that allows you to decide what columns mean.

The DBC File Format

At their core, DBC files are fixed-width rows of 4-byte columns. The file format indicates the number of columns per row as part of the header. Each column is generally one of the following broad categories:

  • 32-bit integer
  • 32-bit floating point (single-precision float)
  • String
  • Boolean
  • Flags, a variation of 32-bit integer

Each of these can be represented by a 32-bit column value, with the exception of strings. Strings are a 32-bit offset into the string table, which is found at the end of the DBC file at an offset specified in the header.

Using DbcExplorer to understand a DBC file

DbcExplorer can open a .dbc file, enumerate its columns, and observe the size of its string table. By casual inspection, a user can sometimes determine what kinds of values a column contains; if a column has many large integers of seemingly random values, it's probably a floating-point column. If it has integers that generally progress upwards by small amounts (10-100 or so per row), that's probably a string column. If a column only has 1 or 0, it's probably a Boolean column, etc. If a column frequently has the same set of seemingly-random numbers in it, it may be a flags column.

By trial and error, you can typically get reasonably good analyses of a given DBC or DB2 file. You can name the columns and give them types. Once you have done this, you can save the schema (.dbcschema) to a file, so the next time you open the file, you can also load the schema to start off.

At the time of this writing, I do not appear to have the source code that generated a DbcTable<T> entity from a .dbcschema. It is fairly straightforward to author using the System.CodeDom APIs, particularly when using the DbcReader types. The ChatProfanityRecord.cs file in the DbcReader project is an example of what is generated.

Reading DBC files from a C# program

If all you're after is reading DBC files programmatically, then you'll want to use the DbcReader project instead. It provides a base DbcTable type as well as a specialized DbcTable<T> type. The latter will dynamically compile a reader for the T type, so long as it conforms to the type system outlined above.

DbcTable<T> knows how to read the following types:

  • int (System.Int32)
  • float (System.Single)
  • string (System.String)
  • DbcReader.DbcStringReference

Again, it appears that what I have is an out-of-date version of my code. It should be trivial to extend this to support 32-bit enumerations as well.

A DbcStringReference is a lazily-evaluated string that can be turned into a .NET string as long as the DbcTable<T> from which is was read has not been garbage-collected or disposed. This allows records to be perused without immediately invoking the cost of decoding a UTF-8 string and storing it in memory.

The ChatProfanityRecord class is an example of such an entity:

public class ChatProfanityRecord
    public int ID { get; set; }
    public DbcStringReference DirtyWord;
    public int LanguageID;

The DbcRecordPosition attributes allow you to skip columns you don't know or don't care about, treating them as sparse. It can be applied to either fields or read-write properties; you can see above that ID is a property, but DirtyWord and LanguageID are fields. Both are equally acceptable.

Internally, DbcTableCompiler creates dynamic methods which internally look like the equivalent C# code had been written. For example, for a ChatProfanityRecord, a new DynamicMethod is created that might look like:

void $DbcTable$DbcReader$ChatProfanityRecord(BinaryReader reader, int row, DbcTable source, ChatProfanityRecord target)
    target.ID = reader.ReadInt32();
    target.DirtyWord = new DbcStringReference(source, reader.ReadInt32());
    target.LanguageID = reader.ReadInt32();

This makes the reading highly efficient and fast.

What can you do with it?

I used it to crawl through items to extract icons and view achievement trees. I had used that to create a WoW Character Profile app for Windows Phone (since Armory isn't there), but then the introduction of CASC was a moderate blocker. I never quite got CascLib working the same way I'd gotten StormLib working; I probably could now that some time has passed, so I may re-open that investigation.

I'd imagine that if you wanted to create a competitor to WoWhead, you'd need something like the DbcReader at the very least, because that's how you crawl the data.

What are the legal ramifications? I don't know. The DBC file format is pretty self-explanatory (there are only 5 fields in the header of the original file!), so it's not like it was mind-blowingly astonishing to reverse-engineer it. The .db2 file format is mostly the same with a few additional fields. I am not a lawyer; the fact that Blizzard allows sites like WoWhead to do what they do seems like it would be not the worst thing ever. But use the power responsibly; don't hack, and don't steal stuff.


C# viewer of World of Warcraft .dbc and .db2 files




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