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prophy: fast data interchange format toolchain

Project description

prophy is a cross-language, cross-platform data interchange format, or protocol. It has compiler and runtime libraries and is similar in purpose to:


Prophyc requires Python 2.7.

You can install via PyPI:

pip install prophy

If you need sack mode in prophyc, you also need:

  • libclang, at least 3.4

  • Python libclang adapter with corresponding version


Prophy language features following built-in types:

  • i8, signed 1-byte integer,

  • i16, signed 2-byte integer,

  • i32, signed 4-byte integer,

  • i64, signed 8-byte integer,

  • u8, unsigned 1-byte integer,

  • u16, unsigned 2-byte integer,

  • u32, unsigned 4-byte integer,

  • u64, unsigned 8-byte integer,

  • float, 32-bit floating number,

  • double, 64-bit floating double-precision number,

Prophy allows to define constants:

const MY_MIN = -1
const MY_MAX = 0xFFF


typedef u32 my_new_int;


enum MyEnum
    MyEnum_1 = 1,
    MyEnum_2 = 2,
    MyEnum_3 = 3


struct MyStruct
    u32 x;

Structs may contain arrays, which can be:

  • fixed: fixed-length:

    struct MyStruct
        u32 x[10];
  • dynamic: variable-length:

    struct MyStruct
        u32 x<>;
  • limited: variable-length with maximum number of elements and fixed-length on wire:

    struct MyStruct
        u32 x<10>;
  • greedy: encoded to wire without delimiter indicating length, any struct could contain only one such array as the last field:

    struct MyStruct
        u32 x<...>;

Struct can contain bytes fields, which are byte arrays coming in the same 4 flavors:

struct MyStruct
    bytes a[10];
    bytes b<>;
    bytes c<10>;
    bytes d<...>;

Struct field can be optional:

struct MyStruct
    u32* x;

Discriminated unions, which may have hardcoded numbers, constants or enumerators as discriminators:

union MyUnion
    1: i8 a;
    2: u64 b;
    3: SomeType c;

Currently there are no includes or namespaces in the language.


prophy message wire format differs from other toolchains. There are no field tags, message delimiters and integer packing.

This protobuf message:

message Test {
    required int32 x = 1;

with x set to 150 encodes as:

08 96 01

while this prophy message:

#include <stdint.h>
struct Test {
    int32_t x;

with x set to 150 encodes as:

96 00 00 00


00 00 00 96

depending on endianness.

prophy ensures that each field in message is aligned. This allows to manipulate message directly in serialized buffer and contributes to encoding speed.

prophy supports integers, enums, arrays (fixed, dynamic and limited) and unions.


prophyc compiler is meant to process message definition files, which can be given in different formats, and generate codecs in target language. Codecs using varying platforms and languages must produce and understand the same data.

prophyc accepts following inputs:

  • prophy: dedicated language to express prophy types best

  • sack: C++ headers with struct definitions

  • isar: xml files

prophyc generates following outputs:

  • C++: structs and endianness swapping functions

  • Python: full-fledged codecs

Example of compiler usage:

prophyc --python_out . --cpp_out . my_message.prophy


Other format in which prophy message can be defined is a mix of C++ language and patches, called sack.

In this mode prophy messages are defined by C++ structs and classes, which may contain enums, typedefs and unions.

With this definition (test.hpp):

#include <stdint.h>
struct Test {
    uint32_t num_of_x;
    uint32_t x[1];

and this patch (patch.txt):

Test dynamic x num_of_x

this command:

prophyc --sack --patch patch.txt --python_out . test.hpp

creates a Python codec (

import prophy
class Test(prophy.struct):
    __metaclass__ = prophy.struct_generator
    _descriptor = [('num_of_x', prophy.u32),
                   ('x', prophy.array(prophy.u32, bound = 'num_of_x'))]

which can be used in following way:

>>> import test
>>> msg = test.Test()
>>> msg.x[:] = [1, 2]
>>> msg.encode('<')
>>> print x
x: 1
x: 2

C++ codec can be produced via:

prophyc --sack --patch patch.txt --cpp_out . test.hpp

It consists of hpp file with struct definition (test.pp.hpp):

struct Test
    uint32_t num_of_x;
    uint32_t x[1]; /// dynamic array, size in num_of_x

and cpp file with function swapping message endianness from non-native to native (test.pp.cpp):

template <>
Test* swap<Test>(Test* payload)
    return cast<Test*>(swap_n_fixed(payload->x, payload->num_of_x));


Yet another format is xml, called isar.

Isar xml may contain definitions of messages, enums, constants, typedefs and unions.

With this definition (test.xml):

    <struct name="Test">
        <member name="x" type="u32">
            <dimension isVariableSize="true"/>

this command:

prophyc --isar --python_out . --cpp_out . test.xml

generates identical codecs to ones from previous example.


Patch file may be used to change contents of prophy messages. This is needed to express all prophy features, which sack and isar modes are unable to express.

Patch file can have correct instructions and blank lines. If message is not found, compilation is still successful. If message is found but instruction does not apply, compilation fails.

There are following patch instructions:


    Changes type of message field.


    Inserts a new field in message. Index 0 puts field at the beginning, index larger than number of fields, e.g. 999 puts field at the end. Newly inserted field is a scalar, not array. Turning it into an array requires another instruction.


    Removes field from message.


    Makes field a dynamic array by associating it with a size field.


    Makes field a greedy array. Greedy array doesn’t have a size field, codecs deduce such array size by parsing message until all bytes are exhausted. There can be only one greedy field in any message as last field.


    Makes field a fixed array. Size needs to be 1 or bigger. Only fixed size types can be fixed arrays.


    Makes field a limited array, a combination of fixed and dynamic array. Field needs to be a fixed array to begin with. Limited array may have varying number of elements - up to limit - but it always has fixed size.

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