IDV File Format

This document describes ML.NET’s Binary dataview file format, version written by the BinarySaver and BinaryLoader classes, commonly known as the .idv format.

Goal of the Format

A dataview is a collection of columns, over some number of rows. (Do not confuse column with features. Columns can be and often are vector valued, and it is expected though not required that commonly all features will be together in one vector valued column.)

The actual values are stored in blocks. A block holds values for a single column across multiple rows. Block format is dictated by a codec. There is a table-of-contents and lookup table to facilitate quasi-random access to particular blocks. (Quasi in the sense that you can only seek to a block, not to a particular within a block.)

General Data Format

Before we discuss the format itself we will establish some conventions on how individual scalar values, strings, and other data is serialized. All basic pieces of data (for example, a single number, or a single string) are encoded in ways reflecting the semantics of the .NET BinaryWriter class, those semantics being:

  • All numbers are stored as little-endian, using their natural fix-length binary encoding.
  • Strings are stored using an unsigned LEB128 number describing the number of bytes, followed by that many bytes containing the UTF-8 encoded string.

A note about this: LEB128 is a simple encoding to encode arbitrarily large integers. Each byte of 8-bits follows this convention. The most significant bit is 0 if and only if this is the end of the LEB128 encoding. The remaining 7 bits are a part of the number being encoded. The bytes are stored little-endian, that is, the first byte holds the 7 least significant bits, the second byte (if applicable) holds the next 7 least significant bits, etc., and the last byte holds the 7 most significant bits. LEB128 is used one or two places in this format. (I might tend to prefer use of LEB128 in places where we are writing values that, on balance, we expect to be relatively small, and only in cases where there is no potential for benefit for random access to the associated stream, since LEB128 is incompatible with random access. However, this is not formulated into anything approaching a definite policy.)

Table of Contents Format

The table of contents are packed entries, with there being as many entries as there are columns. The version field here indicates the versions where that entry is written. ≥ indicates the field occurred in versions after and including that version, = indicates the field occurs only in that version.

Description | Entry Type | Version ————|————|——– Column name | string | ≥ Codec loadname | string | ≥ Codec parameterization length | LEB128 integer | ≥ Codec parameterization, which must have precisely the length indicated above | arbitrary, but with specified length | ≥ Compression kind | CompressionKind (byte) | ≥ Rows per block in this column | LEB128 integer | ≥ Lookup table offset | long | ≥ Slot names offset, or 0 if this column has no slot names, if behave as if there are no slot names, with this having value 0) | long | = Slot names byte size (present only if slot names offset is greater than 0) | long | = Slot names count (present only if slot names offset is greater than 0) | int | = Metadata table of contents offset, or 0 if there is no metadata ( | long | ≥

For those working in the ML.NET codebase: The three Codec fields are handled by the CodecFactory.WriteCodec/TryReadCodec methods, with the definition stream being at the start of the codec loadname, and being at the end of the codec parameterization, both in the case of success or failure.

CompressionCodec enums are described below, and describe the compression algorithm used to compress blocks.

Compression Kind

The enum for compression kind is one byte, and follows this scheme:

Compression Kind | Code —————————————————————|—– None | 0 DEFLATE (i.e., RFC1951) | 1 zlib (i.e., RFC1950) | 2

None means no compression. DEFLATE is the default scheme. There is a tendency to conflate zlib and DEFLATE, so to be clear: zlib can be (somewhat inexactly) considered a wrapped version of DEFLATE, but it is still a distinct (but closely related) format. However, both are implemented by the zlib library, which is probably the source of the confusion.

Metadata Table of Contents Format

The metadata table of contents begins with a LEB128 integer describing the number of entries. (Should be a positive value, since if a column has no metadata the expectation is that the offset for the metadata TOC will be stored as 0.) What follows that are that many packed entries. Each entry is somewhat akin to the column table of contents entry, with some simplifications considering that there will be exactly one “block” with one item.

Description | Entry Type ——————————————————-|———— Metadata kind | string Codec loadname | string Codec parameterization length | LEB128 integer Codec parameterization, which must have precisely the length indicated above | arbitrary, but with specified length Compression kind | CompressionKind(byte) Offset of the block where the metadata item is written | long Byte length of the block | LEB128 integer

The “block” written is written in exactly same format as the main content blocks. This will be very slightly inefficient as that scheme is sometimes written to accommodate many entries, but I don’t expect that to be much of a burden.

Lookup Table Format

Each table of contents entry is associated with a lookup table starting at the indicated lookup table offset. It is written as packed binary, with each lookup entry consisting of 16 bytes. So in all, the lookup table takes 16 bytes, times the total number of blocks for this column.

Description | Entry Type ———————————————————-|———– Block offset, position in the file where the block starts | long Block length, its size in bytes in the file | int Uncompressed block length, its size in bytes if the block bytes were decompressed according to the column’s compression codec | int

Slot Names

If slot names are stored, they are stored as pairs of integer index/string pairs. As many pairs are stored as count of slot names were present in the table of contents entry. Note that this only appeared in version With and later, slot names were just considered yet another piece of metadata.

Description | Entry Type ——————|———– Index of the slot | int The slot name | string

Block Format

Columns are ordered into blocks, with each block holding the binary encoded values for one particular columns across a range of rows. So for example, if the column’s table of contents describes it as having 1000 rows per block, the first block will contain the values for the column for rows 0 through 999, second block 1000 through 1999, etc., with all blocks containing the same number of blocks, except the last block which will contain fewer items (unless the number of rows just so happens to be a multiple of the block size).

Each column is a possibly compressed sequence of bytes, compressed according to the compression type field in the table of contents. It begins and ends at the offsets indicated in the metadata entry stored in the directory. The uncompressed bytes will be stored in the format as described by the codec.