Today’s work (besides wrestling with email setup) has been defining the Basil protocols using FlatBuffers. Mainly because someone in the project I’m working on has discovered them as a (in theory) faster way of serializing and de-serializing protocol messages.

FlatBuffers were created by some engineers at Google as a faster alternative to Protocol Buffers. FlatBuffers have a much simpler schema and the serialization format lays down the data in a data natural way so, at the receiving end, the program does not need to copy the data but have just be passed a pointer to the data in the message buffer. All this while still having optional fields and downward compatibility.

The largest problem I’ve found so far is a lack of documentation. For instance, there is a ‘union’ of tables definition in the schema. This defines a field that can be one of a selection of ‘tables’ (the schema defines ‘table’s and ‘struct’s with the latter being quicker and more compact but not extensible). The receiver of a message that includes a ‘union’ must know what was put in the field so it can parse the correct table contents. Well, there is an enumeration automatically generated and a special function that is generated so the receiver can know that. But where is the documentation? No where that I found.

In the next day or two I’ll post some code examples so people Google’ing will find some working definitions and code.