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Designing File Formats

General Tips

  • Clearly document the format spec so others’ can easily adopt it
    • Define core features that all applications MUST implement
    • Define extra features that some applications MAY implement
    • Define how to handle common parsing errors or corruption
  • Release a reference parser implementation, or suggest a method for parsing the format
  • Consider adding features to allow applications to parse the file even if they may not understand all of the data

Text Formats


Binary Formats

  • Include metadata to make file traversal easier
    • Record section locations at the beginning of the file
    • Record section lengths at the beginning each section

Further Reading