W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-script-coord@w3.org > October to December 2009

Binary Data - possible topic for joint session

From: Maciej Stachowiak <mjs@apple.com>
Date: Wed, 04 Nov 2009 16:26:36 -0800
Message-id: <307F0F6A-B5C3-40DE-B7C7-92D04FBC48F8@apple.com>
To: public-script-coord@w3.org

Many APIs being developed for the Web platform would benefit from a  
good way to store binary data. It would be useful for this to be  
specified as part of the ECMAScript language, but it's also plausible  
to make this a W3C spec that's only intended for use with Web platform  
APIs. Here is an overview of some of the APIs that could use such a  
data type, some notes on requirements and design alternatives, and a  
strawman proposal.

= If there's time, I'd like to discuss this at the joint TC-39/HTML WG/ 
Web Apps WG session.

Some APIs that could use this:

     XMLHttpRequest v2 - to receive and send binary data
     WebSocket - to receive and send binary packets
     File API - to read binary files
     Canvas - to get image data in the binary form of an image format  
(avoiding inefficiency of data: URLs)
     various storage APIs - to store and retrieve binary data (in  
combination with other APIs)
     postMessage - to send binary data cross-window and cross-thread  
(to Workers) efficiently

I suspect there's more I am not thinking of. A convenient and  
efficient way to represent binary data could also be useful for pure  
ES programs.


= Current de facto ways for Web apps to deal with binary data:

     Array of numbers with one byte per entry
     String with one byte stored per UTF-16 code unit
     String with two bytes stored per UTF-16 code unit

I hope it is obvious why these approaches are not great so I won't go  
into detail.


= Issues for the binary data API:

      Name (potential bikeshed):
          ByteArray
          ByteVector
          BinaryData
          Data

I like "Data" and similar names. Objective-C has NSData as a distinct  
type for chunks of binary data - it's not treated as a type of array.  
I think this makes sense. Often the fact that a chunk of binary data  
can be treated as an octet sequence is incidental.

==  Mutable or Immutable (or both?)

Immutable has a number of advantages:
     - Can share backing store with chunks of binary data that the UA  
already holds (e.g. in the network cache) without requiring copy-on- 
write
     - Can be passed cross-thread without copying, and without  
breaking shared-nothing semantics
     - Has the right semantics for passing cross-window (can make a  
copy in cross-process case, but avoid it in same-process case; or use  
shared memory in cross-process case without worrying about locking or  
races)
     - Follows the approach of ES strings, which are immutable

But there's some significant disadvantages too:
     - What if you actually want to mutate some piece of binary data  
you got before passing it along? How to do this efficiently?
     - What if you want to build a new binary data item from scratch?

With strings, the answer to both building and mutation is to extract  
pieces and build a new string by concatenation. But that's probably  
not efficient or convenient enough for the binary data case.

Possible solution: provide immutable Data, but have a DataBuilder  
class to allow creating new data items or mutating copies of existing  
ones, which can then give a final immutable product.


== What Operations?

Operation set could be a full set of array-like operations, absolutely  
minimal (just accessors for individual bytes), or middle ground (byte- 
level accessors plus a few bulk operations like the equivalent of  
memcpy). I like the middle ground.

== Rough API Proposal

Here's a sketch of a binary data API that's immutable (with mutable  
builder class), and provides a middle-ground set of operations. The  
basic idea is that binary data should be considered a first-class  
datatype in its own right, just as strings are, rather than being  
thought of as a kind of array.

Data -- global constructor
     When called or invoked as a constructor with a number parameter,  
return a new Data object of the specified size, filled with all zero  
bytes.

Data.prototype -- the initial Data prototype

Data.prototype.builderCopy()

     When called with a Data instance as the this parameter, return a  
new DataBuilder object starting with the same size and a copy of the  
bytes in this Data object.

Data instance properties:

     length - size of the Data object - read-only
     index properties - individual bytes of the Data (similar to array  
access) - read-only

DataBuilder -- global constructor
     When called or invoked as a constructor with a number parameter,  
return a new DataBuilder object of the specified size, filled with all  
zero bytes.

DataBuilder.prototype.builderCopy()

     When called with a DataBuilder instance as the this parameter,  
return a new DataBuilder object starting with the same size and a copy  
of the bytes in this Data object.

DataBuilder.prototype.copyRange(dstStart, srcObject, srcStart, srcEnd)

     When called with a DataBuilder instance as the this parameter,  
copy bytes from srcObject starting at offset srcStart up to offset  
srcEnd. srcObject can be a Data or a DataBuilder, and can be the same  
as the "this" object. Overlapping ranges are guaranteed to be copied  
correctly. dstStart is the offset in this DataBuilder at which to  
provide writing.

DataBuilder.prototype.fill(byte, dstStart, dstEnd)

    Fill with "byte" from dstStart to dstEnd.

DataBuilder.prototype release()

    Return a Data object of the same size and containing the same  
bytes as this DataBuilder, and at the same time reset this DataBuilder  
to 0 length. This is so that the new Data object can adopt the buffer  
of this DataBuilder without copying, which is what is commonly desired.

DataBuilder instance properties:

     length - size of the Data object - read-write
     index properties - individual bytes of the DataBuilder (similar  
to array access) - read-write


Rationale:

    - copyRange() and fill() are the only higher-level operations  
provided, because they can be implemented much more efficiently for  
large ranges in native code than in ECMAScript.

    - Data would be returned and taken by all Web APIs, its  
immutability allows binary data to be passed around without copying.

    - DataBuilder allows creation and mutation while minimizing copies  
and letting most of a system maintain the benefits of immutability.

    - DataBuilder.prototype.release() is specifically designed to let  
a program use mutation to build up a chunk of binary data, then pass  
it off to code that should not mutate it or across boundaries with  
shared-nothing semantics (like Workers), without requiring a copy  
after initially building.

Sorry that this is so sketchy, but I thought this would make a good  
starting point for discussion.

Regards,
Maciej
Received on Thursday, 5 November 2009 00:27:10 UTC

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.1 : Wednesday, 8 May 2013 19:30:02 UTC