Skip to main content

a fast erasure codec which can be used with the command-line, C, Python, or Haskell

Project description

zfec -- efficient, portable erasure coding tool

Generate redundant blocks of information such that if some of the
blocks are lost then the original data can be recovered from the
remaining blocks. This package includes command-line tools, C API,
Python API, and Haskell API.

Intro and Licence

This package implements an "erasure code", or "forward error correction code".

You may use this package under the GNU General Public License, version 2 or, at
your option, any later version. You may use this package under the Transitive
Grace Period Public Licence, version 1.0 or, at your option, any later version.
(You may choose to use this package under the terms of either licence, at your
option.) See the file COPYING.GPL for the terms of the GNU General Public
License, version 2. See the file COPYING.TGPPL.html for the terms of the
Transitive Grace Period Public Licence, version 1.0.

The most widely known example of an erasure code is the RAID-5 algorithm which
makes it so that in the event of the loss of any one hard drive, the stored data
can be completely recovered. The algorithm in the zfec package has a similar
effect, but instead of recovering from the loss of only a single element, it can
be parameterized to choose in advance the number of elements whose loss it can

This package is largely based on the old "fec" library by Luigi Rizzo et al.,
which is a mature and optimized implementation of erasure coding. The zfec
package makes several changes from the original "fec" package, including
addition of the Python API, refactoring of the C API to support zero-copy
operation, a few clean-ups and optimizations of the core code itself, and the
addition of a command-line tool named "zfec".


This package is managed with the "setuptools" package management tool. To build
and install the package directly into your system, just run ``python ./ install``. If you prefer to keep the package limited to a specific directory so
that you can manage it yourself (perhaps by using the "GNU stow") tool, then
give it these arguments: ``python ./ install --single-version-externally-managed --record=${specificdirectory}/zfec-install.log --prefix=${specificdirectory}``

To run the self-tests, execute ``python ./ test`` (or if you have Twisted
Python installed, you can run ``trial zfec`` for nicer output and test options.)
This will run the tests of the C API, the Python API, and the command-line

To run the tests of the Haskell API: ``runhaskell haskell/test/FECTest.hs``

Note that in order to run the Haskell API tests you must have installed the
library first due to the fact that the interpreter cannot process FEC.hs as it
takes a reference to an FFI function.


The source is currently available via darcs on the web with the command:

darcs get

More information on darcs is available at

Please join the zfec mailing list and submit patches:



This package performs two operations, encoding and decoding. Encoding takes
some input data and expands its size by producing extra "check blocks", also
called "secondary blocks". Decoding takes some data -- any combination of
blocks of the original data (called "primary blocks") and "secondary blocks",
and produces the original data.

The encoding is parameterized by two integers, k and m. m is the total number
of blocks produced, and k is how many of those blocks are necessary to
reconstruct the original data. m is required to be at least 1 and at most 256,
and k is required to be at least 1 and at most m.

(Note that when k == m then there is no point in doing erasure coding -- it
degenerates to the equivalent of the Unix "split" utility which simply splits
the input into successive segments. Similarly, when k == 1 it degenerates to
the equivalent of the unix "cp" utility -- each block is a complete copy of the
input data.)

Note that each "primary block" is a segment of the original data, so its size is
1/k'th of the size of original data, and each "secondary block" is of the same
size, so the total space used by all the blocks is m/k times the size of the
original data (plus some padding to fill out the last primary block to be the
same size as all the others). In addition to the data contained in the blocks
themselves there are also a few pieces of metadata which are necessary for later
reconstruction. Those pieces are: 1. the value of K, 2. the value of M, 3.
the sharenum of each block, 4. the number of bytes of padding that were used.
The "zfec" command-line tool compresses these pieces of data and prepends them
to the beginning of each share, so each the sharefile produced by the "zfec"
command-line tool is between one and four bytes larger than the share data

The decoding step requires as input k of the blocks which were produced by the
encoding step. The decoding step produces as output the data that was earlier
input to the encoding step.

Command-Line Tool

The bin/ directory contains two Unix-style, command-line tools "zfec"
and "zunfec". Execute ``zfec --help`` or ``zunfec --help`` for usage

Note: a Unix-style tool like "zfec" does only one thing -- in this
case erasure coding -- and leaves other tasks to other tools. Other
Unix-style tools that go well with zfec include `GNU tar`_ for
archiving multiple files and directories into one file, `lzip`_ for
compression, and `GNU Privacy Guard`_ for encryption or `sha256sum`_
for integrity. It is important to do things in order: first archive,
then compress, then either encrypt or integrity-check, then erasure
code. Note that if GNU Privacy Guard is used for privacy, then it
will also ensure integrity, so the use of sha256sum is unnecessary in
that case. Note also that you also need to do integrity checking (such
as with sha256sum) on the blocks that result from the erasure coding
in *addition* to doing it on the file contents! (There are two
different subtle failure modes—see "more than one file can match an
immutable file cap" on the `Hack Tahoe-LAFS!`_ Hall of Fame.)

The `Tahoe-LAFS`_ project uses zfec as part of a complete distributed
filesystem with integrated encryption, integrity, remote distribution
of the blocks, directory structure, backup of changed files or
directories, access control, immutable files and directories,
proof-of-retrievability, and repair of damaged files and directories.

.. _GNU tar:
.. _lzip:
.. _GNU Privacy Guard:
.. _sha256sum:
.. _Tahoe-LAFS:
.. _Hack Tahoe-LAFS!:


On my Athlon 64 2.4 GHz workstation (running Linux), the "zfec" command-line
tool encoded a 160 MB file with m=100, k=94 (about 6% redundancy) in 3.9
seconds, where the "par2" tool encoded the file with about 6% redundancy in 27
seconds. zfec encoded the same file with m=12, k=6 (100% redundancy) in 4.1
seconds, where par2 encoded it with about 100% redundancy in 7 minutes and 56

The underlying C library in benchmark mode encoded from a file at about 4.9
million bytes per second and decoded at about 5.8 million bytes per second.

On Peter's fancy Intel Mac laptop (2.16 GHz Core Duo), it encoded from a file at
about 6.2 million bytes per second.

On my even fancier Intel Mac laptop (2.33 GHz Core Duo), it encoded from a file
at about 6.8 million bytes per second.

On my old PowerPC G4 867 MHz Mac laptop, it encoded from a file at about 1.3
million bytes per second.

Here is a paper analyzing the performance of various erasure codes and their
implementations, including zfec:

Zfec shows good performance on different machines and with different values of
K and M. It also has a nice small memory footprint.


Each block is associated with "blocknum". The blocknum of each primary block is
its index (starting from zero), so the 0'th block is the first primary block,
which is the first few bytes of the file, the 1'st block is the next primary
block, which is the next few bytes of the file, and so on. The last primary
block has blocknum k-1. The blocknum of each secondary block is an arbitrary
integer between k and 255 inclusive. (When using the Python API, if you don't
specify which secondary blocks you want when invoking encode(), then it will by
default provide the blocks with ids from k to m-1 inclusive.)


fec_encode() takes as input an array of k pointers, where each
pointer points to a memory buffer containing the input data (i.e.,
the i'th buffer contains the i'th primary block). There is also a
second parameter which is an array of the blocknums of the secondary
blocks which are to be produced. (Each element in that array is
required to be the blocknum of a secondary block, i.e. it is
required to be >= k and < m.)

The output from fec_encode() is the requested set of secondary
blocks which are written into output buffers provided by the caller.

Note that this fec_encode() is a "low-level" API in that it requires
the input data to be provided in a set of memory buffers of exactly
the right sizes. If you are starting instead with a single buffer
containing all of the data then please see's "class
Encoder" as an example of how to split a single large buffer into
the appropriate set of input buffers for fec_encode(). If you are
starting with a file on disk, then please see's
encode_file_stringy_easyfec() for an example of how to read the data
from a file and pass it to "class Encoder". The Python interface
provides these higher-level operations, as does the Haskell
interface. If you implement functions to do these higher-level
tasks in other languages than Python or Haskell, then please send a
patch to so that your API can be included in
future releases of zfec.

fec_decode() takes as input an array of k pointers, where each
pointer points to a buffer containing a block. There is also a
separate input parameter which is an array of blocknums, indicating
the blocknum of each of the blocks which is being passed in.

The output from fec_decode() is the set of primary blocks which were
missing from the input and had to be reconstructed. These
reconstructed blocks are written into output buffers provided by the

- Python API

encode() and decode() take as input a sequence of k buffers, where a
"sequence" is any object that implements the Python sequence
protocol (such as a list or tuple) and a "buffer" is any object that
implements the Python buffer protocol (such as a string or array).
The contents that are required to be present in these buffers are
the same as for the C API.

encode() also takes a list of desired blocknums. Unlike the C API,
the Python API accepts blocknums of primary blocks as well as
secondary blocks in its list of desired blocknums. encode() returns
a list of buffer objects which contain the blocks requested. For
each requested block which is a primary block, the resulting list
contains a reference to the apppropriate primary block from the
input list. For each requested block which is a secondary block,
the list contains a newly created string object containing that

decode() also takes a list of integers indicating the blocknums of
the blocks being passed int. decode() returns a list of buffer
objects which contain all of the primary blocks of the original data
(in order). For each primary block which was present in the input
list, then the result list simply contains a reference to the object
that was passed in the input list. For each primary block which was
not present in the input, the result list contains a newly created
string object containing that primary block.

Beware of a "gotcha" that can result from the combination of mutable
data and the fact that the Python API returns references to inputs
when possible.

Returning references to its inputs is efficient since it avoids
making an unnecessary copy of the data, but if the object which was
passed as input is mutable and if that object is mutated after the
call to zfec returns, then the result from zfec -- which is just a
reference to that same object -- will also be mutated. This
subtlety is the price you pay for avoiding data copying. If you
don't want to have to worry about this then you can simply use
immutable objects (e.g. Python strings) to hold the data that you
pass to zfec.

- Haskell API

The Haskell code is fully Haddocked, to generate the documentation, run ``runhaskell Setup.lhs haddock``.


The module has a utility function for efficiently reading a file and
encoding it piece by piece. This module is used by the "zfec" and "zunfec"
command-line tools from the bin/ directory.


A C compiler is required. To use the Python API or the command-line
tools a Python interpreter is also required. We have tested it with
Python v2.4, v2.5, v2.6, and v2.7. For the Haskell interface, GHC >=
6.8.1 is required.


Thanks to the author of the original fec lib, Luigi Rizzo, and the folks that
contributed to it: Phil Karn, Robert Morelos-Zaragoza, Hari Thirumoorthy, and
Dan Rubenstein. Thanks to the Mnet hackers who wrote an earlier Python wrapper,
especially Myers Carpenter and Hauke Johannknecht. Thanks to Brian Warner and
Amber O'Whielacronx for help with the API, documentation, debugging,
compression, and unit tests. Thanks to Adam Langley for improving the C API and
contributing the Haskell API. Thanks to the creators of GCC (starting with
Richard M. Stallman) and Valgrind (starting with Julian Seward) for a pair of
excellent tools. Thanks to my coworkers at Allmydata -- --
Fabrice Grinda, Peter Secor, Rob Kinninmont, Brian Warner, Zandr Milewski,
Justin Boreta, Mark Meras for sponsoring this work and releasing it under a Free
Software licence. Thanks to Jack Lloyd, Samuel Neves, and David-Sarah Hopwood.


Zooko Wilcox-O'Hearn


Boulder, Colorado

Download files

Download the file for your platform. If you're not sure which to choose, learn more about installing packages.

Files for zfec, version 1.4.12
Filename, size File type Python version Upload date Hashes
Filename, size zfec-1.4.12.tar.gz (29.5 kB) File type Source Python version None Upload date Hashes View hashes

Supported by

Elastic Elastic Search Pingdom Pingdom Monitoring Google Google BigQuery Sentry Sentry Error logging AWS AWS Cloud computing DataDog DataDog Monitoring Fastly Fastly CDN SignalFx SignalFx Supporter DigiCert DigiCert EV certificate StatusPage StatusPage Status page