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Idiomatic CBOR (de)serialization in Scala
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core Slightly improve error messages of default Decoders Mar 11, 2019
derivation/src Remove `Bytes` type parameter from all abstractions Mar 8, 2019
project Initial Commit Mar 4, 2019
scodec/src Remove `Bytes` type parameter from all abstractions Mar 8, 2019


A CBOR (de)serialization implementation in Scala sporting these features:

  • complete (supports all CBOR features, incl. "over long" integers, 16-bit half-precision floats, BigInteger and BigDecimal, custom tags and "simple values")
  • lightweight (core module has zero dependencies)
  • fast (allocation-free in the core code paths, no DOM, pull-parser style)
  • easy integration (type class-based design)
  • efficiently supports custom "byte string" abstractions (like akka.util.ByteString or scodec.bits.ByteVector)

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BORER consists of these modules:

  • borer-core, no dependencies
  • borer-derivation, (semi-)automatic codec derivation for case classes and ADTs, depends on Magnolia
  • borer-compat-akka, support for akka.util.ByteString, depends on akka-actor
  • borer-compat-scodec, support for scodec.bits.ByteVector, depends on scodec


The artifacts for BORER live on Maven Central and can be tied into your SBT-based Scala project like this:

libraryDependencies += "io.bullet" %% "borer-core" % "<version>"
libraryDependencies += "io.bullet" %% "borer-derivation" % "<version>" // for (semi-)automatic codec derivation
libraryDependencies += "io.bullet" %% "borer-compat-akka" % "<version>" // for direct `akka.util.ByteString` support
libraryDependencies += "io.bullet" %% "borer-compat-scodec" % "<version>" // for direct `scodec.bits.ByteVector` support

BORER is available for Scala 2.12 as well as scala.js 0.6.

Basic Usage

Encoding a value to a plain Array[Byte]:

import io.bullet.borer.core.Cbor

val value = List("foo", "bar", "baz") // example value

val bytes: Array[Byte] = Cbor.encode(value).toByteArray // throws on error

Decoding a plain Array[Byte] back to a certain type:

import io.bullet.borer.core.Cbor

val list: List[String] = Cbor.decode(bytes).to[List[String]].value // throws on error

If you don't want BORER to throw exceptions you can use the following variants to give you a Try instead:

val encoded: Try[Array[Byte]] = Cbor.encode(value).toByteArrayTry


val decoded: Try[List[String]] = Cbor.decode(bytes).to[List[String]].valueTry

Or, if you prefer encoding/decoding to an Either instance:

import io.bullet.borer.core.{Cbor, Output}

val encoded: Either[Cbor.Error[Output], Output] = Cbor.encode(value)


import io.bullet.borer.core.{Cbor, Input}

val decoded: Either[Cbor.Error[Input], (List[String], Input)] = Cbor.decode(bytes).to[List[String]]

Check the sources of the central BORER API entry point here for more info.

Types Supported Out-of-the-Box

BORER comes with built-in encoding and decoding support for arbitrary combinations of these types:

  • Boolean, Char, Byte, Short Int, Long, Float, Double and their boxed counterparts
  • Null
  • String
  • Array[Byte]
  • java.math.BigInteger, java.math.BigDecimal and their scala wrappers BigInt and BigDecimal
  • Option[T]
  • Array[T <: AnyRef]
  • M[T] <: Iterable[T]
  • M[A, B] <: Map[A, B]
  • Iterator[T] (encoding only!)
  • Either[A, B]
  • Tuple1[A] ... Tuple22[A, B, ... V]

All these type are encoded to exactly one CBOR data item (which may of course be an array or map consisting of other, nested data items.)

Encoding and Decoding Custom Types

In order to encode some custom type T you'll have to implicitly provide an Encoder[T], which is defined like this:

trait Encoder[T] {
  def write(w: Writer, value: T): w.type

Similarly, for decoding of T you'll have to implicitly provide Decoder[T], which is defined like this:

trait Decoder[T] {
  def read(r: Reader): T

Many times, when encoding and decoding must be available for a type it's easier to supply just a single implicit for T, rather than two. As an alternative to providing a separate Encoder[T] as well as a Decoder[T] you can also provide a Codec[T], which is defined like this:

final case class Codec[T](encoder: Encoder[T], decoder: Decoder[T])

Encoders and Decoders can be implicitly "unpacked" from a Codec.

NOTE: In order to not hinder composability Codecs should only ever be supplied, never consumed. So, if you write an Encoder, Decoder or Codec for a generic type, which itself requires implicitly available encoders and/or decoders for certain type parameters (like Encoder.forOption, for example) then you should never require an implicitly available Codec[T], but rather an Encoder[T] and Decoder[T] separately.

There are several ways to provide such encoders, decoders or codecs for your custom types.
The following sections outline the alternatives.

Case Classes

If T is a case class then an Encoder[T] and/or Decoder[T] can be concisely provided by via the unapply / apply methods of the T companion object:

import io.bullet.borer.core.{Encoder, Decoder, Codec}

case class Color(name: String, value: Int)

implicit val encoder = Encoder.from(Color.unapply _)
implicit val decoder = Decoder.from(Color.apply _)

// alternative: provide an Encoder and Decoder at the same time
implicit val codec = Codec.of[T](Color.unapply _, Color.apply _)

// alternative: sugar for the above 
implicit val enc = Encoder.forCaseClass[Color] 
implicit val dec = Decoder.forCaseClass[Color]

// or simply
implicit val codec = Codec.forCaseClass[Color]

The codecs created in this way always encode a case class instance to a single CBOR data item: a CBOR array with the length corresponding to the case classes arity and the member encodings forming the array elements.
There is one exception though: In order to increase encoding efficiency unary case classes, with only one parameter, have their single member written directly, without a wrapping single-element array.

If you would like your case classes to be encoded in a more JSON-esque way, as maps with each member being keyed by its member name, check out the borer-derivation module described below.

Transforming Existing Encoders / Decoders

If your type is not a case class but can somehow be constructed from or deconstructed to any available Encoder or Decoder respectively, you can rely on the compose and map methods available on Encoders / Decoders:

import io.bullet.borer.core.{Encoder, Decoder}

class Person(name: String)

// have `Person` be encoded as a simple CBOR text data item 
implicit val encoder = Encoder.forString.compose[Person](
implicit val decoder =

"Manual" Construction

For full flexibility of how your type T is to be encoded in CBOR you can of course also write the respective Encoder[T] / Decoder[T] manually. This is done by explicitly defining how your type is to be written to a Writer and read from a Reader:

import io.bullet.borer.core.{Encoder, Decoder}

class Person(name: String)

implicit val encoder: Encoder[Person] = Encoder((writer, person) => writer.writeString(
implicit val decoder: Decoder[Person] = Decoder(reader => Person(reader.readString()))

On the encoding side the Writer gives you a number of different methods for writing CBOR primitives, while the Reader offers their counterparts on the decoding side. Check out the sources of these types (Writer here and Reader here). Hopefully their APIs are somewhat self-explanatory.

While this low-level way of defining the encoding/decoding logic is the most powerful it also requires a little more care.
For performance reasons both the Writer and Reader types are mutable abstractions, which means that the order in which you call their methods matters a lot.

Also, very importantly, when deciding on an encoding logic for any type (i.e. how to represent the type with the available CBOR primitives) make sure to always encode it to exactly one CBOR data item! (Unless you know exactly, what you are doing.) All built-in encoders and decoders, e.g. for case classes, arrays, maps, etc., always assume that any object is written to exactly data item.
So, if you need to write several values, wrap them in an array or map! And rather than writing no value at all write some kind of placeholder, like null, undefined or an empty array or map!

To illustrate the point: The default codec for Option[T] for example encodes Some[T] to a single element array holding the encoding of T, and None to a zero-element (empty) array!

While BORER (by default) verifies that the CBOR created by your application is indeed valid and will thus catch any mistakes you made in this regard eventually, debugging structural problems can be a bit tedious since the error will often only be recognizable at the very end of the encoding or decoding process. Check out the section on Logging below for more info how BORER can support you in debugging (de)serialization issues.

Document Object Model (DOM)

While BORER's core design is DOM-less, writing directly to and reading directly from the respective stream of CBOR data items, it is sometimes convenient to nevertheless have access to an object structure that mirrors the structure of a CBOR message as closely as possible. (Many JSON-libraries for example solely rely on such an "AST" structure for their encoding and decoding operations.)

For such cases BORER provides you with a simple "DOM" ADT (see the respective source file here), which you can use like this:

import io.bullet.borer.core.Cbor
import io.bullet.borer.core.Dom.Element

val dom = Element.Map(
  "foo" -> Element.Array(Element.Value.Int(42), Element.Value.String("rocks")),
  "bar" -> Element.Value.Double(26.8)

val encoded = Cbor.encode(dom).toByteArray
val decoded = Cbor.decode(encoded).to[Element].value


With CBOR being a binary format debugging problems can sometimes be a bit more difficult than with text-based formats like JSON, which are immediately human-readable.

In order to help debug problems with encoding or decoding, independently of whether they are caused by your own application code or invalid / unexpected input, you can easily switch on logging of the encoding or decoding process with the .withPrintLogging() modifier.

For example, this snippet:

import io.bullet.borer.core.Cbot

val value =
    "foo"  Left(42),
    "bar"  Right(List("For", "the", "King!"))
val encoded = Cbor.encode(value).toByteArray

val decoded = 
    .withPrintLogging() // just insert this line to enable logging
    .to[Map[String, Either[Int, List[String]]]]

produces this logging output to the console:

1: {
    1/2: "foo"
    1/2: -> {
        1/1: 0
        1/1: -> 42
    1/2: }
    2/2: "bar"
    2/2: -> {
        1/1: 1
        1/1: -> [
            1/3: "For"
            2/3: "the"
            3/3: "King!"
        1/1: ]
    2/2: }
1: }
2: END

which makes it very easy to see, what exactly the decoding input consists of. Also, in case of any exception the log will break off exactly at the point where the exception got thrown, which is often a great help in locating the problem.


The borer-core module by itself only provides relatively limited support for case classes and no support for sealed Abstract Data Types (ADT) hierarchies.

When you include the borer-derivation module as a dependency (see Installation above) BORER can (semi-automatically) provide encoders and decoders for case classes and ADTs by deriving them with the help of Magnolia.

There are two basic alternatives to choose from: Array-Based Codecs or Map-Based Codecs.

Array-Based Codecs

Array-Based Codec derivation is enabled with this import:

import io.bullet.borer.derivation.ArrayBasedCodecs._

This brings the three methods deriveEncoder[T], deriveDecoder[T] and deriveCodec[T] in scope, which you can use to derive the respective type classes for case classes and ADTs.

Here is an example:

import io.bullet.borer.derivation.TypeId
import io.bullet.borer.derivation.ArrayBasedCodecs._

sealed trait Animal
case class Dog(age: Int, name: String)                                        extends Animal
@TypeId("TheCAT") case class Cat(weight: Double, color: String, home: String) extends Animal
@TypeId(42) case class Mouse(tail: Boolean)                                   extends Animal

implicit val dogCodec = deriveCodec[Dog]
implicit val catCodec = deriveCodec[Cat]
implicit val mouseCodec = deriveCodec[Mouse]

implicit val animalCodec = deriveCodec[Animal]

With these codecs case classes are written to CBOR in exactly the same fashion as with the case class support in borer-core module (see above), i.e. to simple arrays (or the unwrapped member encoding if the case classes has arity 1).

An Abstract Data Type (ADT) is encoded as a CBOR array of length two, with the first element holding the type id and the second holding the instance's encoding (i.e. an array or single element).

The type id is required to allow the decoder to determine which ADT sub-type to decode into. By default BORER will use type's short class name as a (textual) type id. If you want to customize this you can use the @TypeId annotation to do so. Check out the @TypeId sources here for more info.

Map-Based Codecs

Map-Based Codec derivation is enabled with this import:

import io.bullet.borer.derivation.MapBasedCodecs._

With these codecs case classes are encoded as CBOR maps with the member name as key, much as you would normally expect a JSON codec to do it.

ADTs, however, are encoded in exactly the same way as with the Array-Based Codecs described above, i.e. as two-element arrays with the type id as first element and the map as second.

Derivation Gotchas

Since BORER derivation relies on Magnolia for doing the dirty macro work behind the scenes there are a few gotchas to be aware off.

First, BORER derivation is intentionally not fully automatic, i.e. codecs are not created implicitly but require you to write one line per type. The best-practice here is to cache the created codec in an implicit val or implicit lazy val (in case there are circular dependencies between the types).

Without this explicit caching (i.e. when Magnolia provides the codecs implicitly, on demand) the code created for recursive ADT hierarchies can quickly become enormous and make compilation as well as runtime unusually slow or even fail. (See Magnolia issues 79 and 114 for more info.)

When you cache the individual codecs in their own respective vals (or lazy vals) Magnolia's derivation is fast and efficient.

Akka Support

The borer-core module by itself only knows how to encode to and decode from plain byte arrays (Array[Byte]). When you include the borer-compat-akka module as a dependency (see Installation above) and

import io.bullet.borer.compat.akka._

you also get full "zero-copy" support for encoding to and decoding from akka.util.ByteString as well as an implicit Encoder[ByteString] and Decoder[ByteString].

Scodec Support

The borer-core module by itself only knows how to encode to and decode from plain byte arrays (Array[Byte]). When you include the borer-compat-scodec module as a dependency (see Installation above) and

import io.bullet.borer.compat.scodec._

you also get full "zero-copy" support for encoding to and decoding from scodec.bits.ByteVector as well as an implicit Encoder[ByteVector] and Decoder[ByteVector].


BORER is released under the MPL 2.0.

Contributions are always welcome!

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