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1=head1 NAME
2
3perlpacktut - tutorial on C<pack> and C<unpack>
4
5=head1 DESCRIPTION
6
7C<pack> and C<unpack> are two functions for transforming data according
8to a user-defined template, between the guarded way Perl stores values
47b6252e 9and some well-defined representation as might be required in the
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10environment of a Perl program. Unfortunately, they're also two of
11the most misunderstood and most often overlooked functions that Perl
12provides. This tutorial will demystify them for you.
13
14
15=head1 The Basic Principle
16
17Most programming languages don't shelter the memory where variables are
18stored. In C, for instance, you can take the address of some variable,
19and the C<sizeof> operator tells you how many bytes are allocated to
20the variable. Using the address and the size, you may access the storage
21to your heart's content.
22
23In Perl, you just can't access memory at random, but the structural and
24representational conversion provided by C<pack> and C<unpack> is an
25excellent alternative. The C<pack> function converts values to a byte
26sequence containing representations according to a given specification,
27the so-called "template" argument. C<unpack> is the reverse process,
28deriving some values from the contents of a string of bytes. (Be cautioned,
29however, that not all that has been packed together can be neatly unpacked -
30a very common experience as seasoned travellers are likely to confirm.)
31
32Why, you may ask, would you need a chunk of memory containing some values
33in binary representation? One good reason is input and output accessing
34some file, a device, or a network connection, whereby this binary
35representation is either forced on you or will give you some benefit
36in processing. Another cause is passing data to some system call that
37is not available as a Perl function: C<syscall> requires you to provide
38parameters stored in the way it happens in a C program. Even text processing
39(as shown in the next section) may be simplified with judicious usage
40of these two functions.
41
42To see how (un)packing works, we'll start with a simple template
43code where the conversion is in low gear: between the contents of a byte
44sequence and a string of hexadecimal digits. Let's use C<unpack>, since
47b6252e 45this is likely to remind you of a dump program, or some desperate last
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46message unfortunate programs are wont to throw at you before they expire
47into the wild blue yonder. Assuming that the variable C<$mem> holds a
48sequence of bytes that we'd like to inspect without assuming anything
49about its meaning, we can write
50
51 my( $hex ) = unpack( 'H*', $mem );
52 print "$hex\n";
53
54whereupon we might see something like this, with each pair of hex digits
55corresponding to a byte:
56
57 41204d414e204120504c414e20412043414e414c2050414e414d41
58
47b6252e 59What was in this chunk of memory? Numbers, characters, or a mixture of
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60both? Assuming that we're on a computer where ASCII (or some similar)
61encoding is used: hexadecimal values in the range C<0x40> - C<0x5A>
62indicate an uppercase letter, and <0x20> encodes a space. So we might
63assume it is a piece of text, which some are able to read like a tabloid;
64but others will have to get hold of an ASCII table and relive that
65firstgrader feeling. Not caring too much about which way to read this,
66we note that C<unpack> with the template code C<H> converts the contents
67of a sequence of bytes into the customary hexadecimal notation. Since
68"a sequence of" is a pretty vague indication of quantity, C<H> has been
69defined to convert just a single hexadecimal digit unless it is followed
70by a repeat count. An asterisk for the repeat count means to use whatever
71remains.
72
73The inverse operation - packing byte contents from a string of hexadecimal
74digits - is just as easily written. For instance:
75
76 my $s = pack( 'H2' x 10, map { "3$_" } ( 0..9 ) );
77 print "$s\n";
78
79Since we feed a list of ten 2-digit hexadecimal strings to C<pack>, the
80pack template should contain ten pack codes. If this is run on a computer
81with ASCII character coding, it will print C<0123456789>.
82
83
84=head1 Packing Text
85
86Let's suppose you've got to read in a data file like this:
87
88 Date |Description | Income|Expenditure
89 01/24/2001 Ahmed's Camel Emporium 1147.99
90 01/28/2001 Flea spray 24.99
91 01/29/2001 Camel rides to tourists 235.00
92
93How do we do it? You might think first to use C<split>; however, since
94C<split> collapses blank fields, you'll never know whether a record was
95income or expenditure. Oops. Well, you could always use C<substr>:
96
97 while (<>) {
98 my $date = substr($_, 0, 11);
99 my $desc = substr($_, 12, 27);
100 my $income = substr($_, 40, 7);
101 my $expend = substr($_, 52, 7);
102 ...
103 }
104
105It's not really a barrel of laughs, is it? In fact, it's worse than it
106may seem; the eagle-eyed may notice that the first field should only be
10710 characters wide, and the error has propagated right through the other
108numbers - which we've had to count by hand. So it's error-prone as well
109as horribly unfriendly.
110
111Or maybe we could use regular expressions:
112
113 while (<>) {
114 my($date, $desc, $income, $expend) =
115 m|(\d\d/\d\d/\d{4}) (.{27}) (.{7})(.*)|;
116 ...
117 }
118
119Urgh. Well, it's a bit better, but - well, would you want to maintain
120that?
121
122Hey, isn't Perl supposed to make this sort of thing easy? Well, it does,
123if you use the right tools. C<pack> and C<unpack> are designed to help
124you out when dealing with fixed-width data like the above. Let's have a
125look at a solution with C<unpack>:
126
127 while (<>) {
128 my($date, $desc, $income, $expend) = unpack("A10xA27xA7A*", $_);
129 ...
130 }
131
132That looks a bit nicer; but we've got to take apart that weird template.
133Where did I pull that out of?
134
135OK, let's have a look at some of our data again; in fact, we'll include
136the headers, and a handy ruler so we can keep track of where we are.
137
138 1 2 3 4 5
139 1234567890123456789012345678901234567890123456789012345678
140 Date |Description | Income|Expenditure
141 01/28/2001 Flea spray 24.99
142 01/29/2001 Camel rides to tourists 235.00
143
47b6252e 144From this, we can see that the date column stretches from column 1 to
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145column 10 - ten characters wide. The C<pack>-ese for "character" is
146C<A>, and ten of them are C<A10>. So if we just wanted to extract the
147dates, we could say this:
148
149 my($date) = unpack("A10", $_);
150
151OK, what's next? Between the date and the description is a blank column;
152we want to skip over that. The C<x> template means "skip forward", so we
153want one of those. Next, we have another batch of characters, from 12 to
15438. That's 27 more characters, hence C<A27>. (Don't make the fencepost
155error - there are 27 characters between 12 and 38, not 26. Count 'em!)
156
157Now we skip another character and pick up the next 7 characters:
158
159 my($date,$description,$income) = unpack("A10xA27xA7", $_);
160
161Now comes the clever bit. Lines in our ledger which are just income and
162not expenditure might end at column 46. Hence, we don't want to tell our
163C<unpack> pattern that we B<need> to find another 12 characters; we'll
164just say "if there's anything left, take it". As you might guess from
165regular expressions, that's what the C<*> means: "use everything
166remaining".
167
168=over 3
169
170=item *
171
172Be warned, though, that unlike regular expressions, if the C<unpack>
173template doesn't match the incoming data, Perl will scream and die.
174
175=back
176
177
178Hence, putting it all together:
179
180 my($date,$description,$income,$expend) = unpack("A10xA27xA7A*", $_);
181
182Now, that's our data parsed. I suppose what we might want to do now is
183total up our income and expenditure, and add another line to the end of
184our ledger - in the same format - saying how much we've brought in and
185how much we've spent:
186
187 while (<>) {
188 my($date, $desc, $income, $expend) = unpack("A10xA27xA7xA*", $_);
189 $tot_income += $income;
190 $tot_expend += $expend;
191 }
192
193 $tot_income = sprintf("%.2f", $tot_income); # Get them into
194 $tot_expend = sprintf("%.2f", $tot_expend); # "financial" format
195
196 $date = POSIX::strftime("%m/%d/%Y", localtime);
197
198 # OK, let's go:
199
200 print pack("A10xA27xA7xA*", $date, "Totals", $tot_income, $tot_expend);
201
202Oh, hmm. That didn't quite work. Let's see what happened:
203
204 01/24/2001 Ahmed's Camel Emporium 1147.99
205 01/28/2001 Flea spray 24.99
206 01/29/2001 Camel rides to tourists 1235.00
207 03/23/2001Totals 1235.001172.98
208
209OK, it's a start, but what happened to the spaces? We put C<x>, didn't
210we? Shouldn't it skip forward? Let's look at what L<perlfunc/pack> says:
211
212 x A null byte.
213
214Urgh. No wonder. There's a big difference between "a null byte",
215character zero, and "a space", character 32. Perl's put something
216between the date and the description - but unfortunately, we can't see
217it!
218
219What we actually need to do is expand the width of the fields. The C<A>
220format pads any non-existent characters with spaces, so we can use the
221additional spaces to line up our fields, like this:
222
223 print pack("A11 A28 A8 A*", $date, "Totals", $tot_income, $tot_expend);
224
225(Note that you can put spaces in the template to make it more readable,
226but they don't translate to spaces in the output.) Here's what we got
227this time:
228
229 01/24/2001 Ahmed's Camel Emporium 1147.99
230 01/28/2001 Flea spray 24.99
231 01/29/2001 Camel rides to tourists 1235.00
232 03/23/2001 Totals 1235.00 1172.98
233
234That's a bit better, but we still have that last column which needs to
235be moved further over. There's an easy way to fix this up:
236unfortunately, we can't get C<pack> to right-justify our fields, but we
237can get C<sprintf> to do it:
238
239 $tot_income = sprintf("%.2f", $tot_income);
240 $tot_expend = sprintf("%12.2f", $tot_expend);
241 $date = POSIX::strftime("%m/%d/%Y", localtime);
242 print pack("A11 A28 A8 A*", $date, "Totals", $tot_income, $tot_expend);
243
244This time we get the right answer:
245
246 01/28/2001 Flea spray 24.99
247 01/29/2001 Camel rides to tourists 1235.00
248 03/23/2001 Totals 1235.00 1172.98
249
250So that's how we consume and produce fixed-width data. Let's recap what
251we've seen of C<pack> and C<unpack> so far:
252
253=over 3
254
255=item *
256
257Use C<pack> to go from several pieces of data to one fixed-width
258version; use C<unpack> to turn a fixed-width-format string into several
259pieces of data.
260
261=item *
262
263The pack format C<A> means "any character"; if you're C<pack>ing and
264you've run out of things to pack, C<pack> will fill the rest up with
265spaces.
266
267=item *
268
269C<x> means "skip a byte" when C<unpack>ing; when C<pack>ing, it means
270"introduce a null byte" - that's probably not what you mean if you're
271dealing with plain text.
272
273=item *
274
275You can follow the formats with numbers to say how many characters
276should be affected by that format: C<A12> means "take 12 characters";
277C<x6> means "skip 6 bytes" or "character 0, 6 times".
278
279=item *
280
281Instead of a number, you can use C<*> to mean "consume everything else
282left".
283
284B<Warning>: when packing multiple pieces of data, C<*> only means
285"consume all of the current piece of data". That's to say
286
287 pack("A*A*", $one, $two)
288
289packs all of C<$one> into the first C<A*> and then all of C<$two> into
290the second. This is a general principle: each format character
291corresponds to one piece of data to be C<pack>ed.
292
293=back
294
295
296
297=head1 Packing Numbers
298
299So much for textual data. Let's get onto the meaty stuff that C<pack>
300and C<unpack> are best at: handling binary formats for numbers. There is,
301of course, not just one binary format - life would be too simple - but
302Perl will do all the finicky labor for you.
303
304
305=head2 Integers
306
307Packing and unpacking numbers implies conversion to and from some
308I<specific> binary representation. Leaving floating point numbers
309aside for the moment, the salient properties of any such representation
310are:
311
312=over 4
313
314=item *
315
316the number of bytes used for storing the integer,
317
318=item *
319
320whether the contents are interpreted as a signed or unsigned number,
321
322=item *
323
324the byte ordering: whether the first byte is the least or most
325significant byte (or: little-endian or big-endian, respectively).
326
327=back
328
329So, for instance, to pack 20302 to a signed 16 bit integer in your
330computer's representation you write
331
332 my $ps = pack( 's', 20302 );
333
334Again, the result is a string, now containing 2 bytes. If you print
335this string (which is, generally, not recommended) you might see
336C<ON> or C<NO> (depending on your system's byte ordering) - or something
337entirely different if your computer doesn't use ASCII character encoding.
338Unpacking C<$ps> with the same template returns the original integer value:
339
340 my( $s ) = unpack( 's', $ps );
341
342This is true for all numeric template codes. But don't expect miracles:
47b6252e 343if the packed value exceeds the allotted byte capacity, high order bits
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344are silently discarded, and unpack certainly won't be able to pull them
345back out of some magic hat. And, when you pack using a signed template
346code such as C<s>, an excess value may result in the sign bit
347getting set, and unpacking this will smartly return a negative value.
348
34916 bits won't get you too far with integers, but there is C<l> and C<L>
350for signed and unsigned 32-bit integers. And if this is not enough and
351your system supports 64 bit integers you can push the limits much closer
352to infinity with pack codes C<q> and C<Q>. A notable exception is provided
353by pack codes C<i> and C<I> for signed and unsigned integers of the
354"local custom" variety: Such an integer will take up as many bytes as
355a local C compiler returns for C<sizeof(int)>, but it'll use I<at least>
35632 bits.
357
358Each of the integer pack codes C<sSlLqQ> results in a fixed number of bytes,
359no matter where you execute your program. This may be useful for some
360applications, but it does not provide for a portable way to pass data
361structures between Perl and C programs (bound to happen when you call
362XS extensions or the Perl function C<syscall>), or when you read or
363write binary files. What you'll need in this case are template codes that
364depend on what your local C compiler compiles when you code C<short> or
365C<unsigned long>, for instance. These codes and their corresponding
366byte lengths are shown in the table below. Since the C standard leaves
367much leeway with respect to the relative sizes of these data types, actual
368values may vary, and that's why the values are given as expressions in
369C and Perl. (If you'd like to use values from C<%Config> in your program
370you have to import it with C<use Config>.)
371
372 signed unsigned byte length in C byte length in Perl
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373 s! S! sizeof(short) $Config{shortsize}
374 i! I! sizeof(int) $Config{intsize}
375 l! L! sizeof(long) $Config{longsize}
376 q! Q! sizeof(longlong) $Config{longlongsize}
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377
378The C<i!> and C<I!> codes aren't different from C<i> and C<I>; they are
379tolerated for completeness' sake.
380
381
382=head2 Unpacking a Stack Frame
383
384Requesting a particular byte ordering may be necessary when you work with
385binary data coming from some specific architecture while your program could
386run on a totally different system. As an example, assume you have 24 bytes
387containing a stack frame as it happens on an Intel 8086:
388
389 +---------+ +----+----+ +---------+
390 TOS: | IP | TOS+4:| FL | FH | FLAGS TOS+14:| SI |
391 +---------+ +----+----+ +---------+
392 | CS | | AL | AH | AX | DI |
393 +---------+ +----+----+ +---------+
394 | BL | BH | BX | BP |
395 +----+----+ +---------+
396 | CL | CH | CX | DS |
397 +----+----+ +---------+
398 | DL | DH | DX | ES |
399 +----+----+ +---------+
400
401First, we note that this time-honored 16-bit CPU uses little-endian order,
402and that's why the low order byte is stored at the lower address. To
403unpack such a (signed) short we'll have to use code C<v>. A repeat
404count unpacks all 12 shorts:
405
406 my( $ip, $cs, $flags, $ax, $bx, $cd, $dx, $si, $di, $bp, $ds, $es ) =
407 unpack( 'v12', $frame );
408
409Alternatively, we could have used C<C> to unpack the individually
410accessible byte registers FL, FH, AL, AH, etc.:
411
412 my( $fl, $fh, $al, $ah, $bl, $bh, $cl, $ch, $dl, $dh ) =
413 unpack( 'C10', substr( $frame, 4, 10 ) );
414
415It would be nice if we could do this in one fell swoop: unpack a short,
416back up a little, and then unpack 2 bytes. Since Perl I<is> nice, it
417proffers the template code C<X> to back up one byte. Putting this all
418together, we may now write:
419
420 my( $ip, $cs,
421 $flags,$fl,$fh,
422 $ax,$al,$ah, $bx,$bl,$bh, $cx,$cl,$ch, $dx,$dl,$dh,
423 $si, $di, $bp, $ds, $es ) =
424 unpack( 'v2' . ('vXXCC' x 5) . 'v5', $frame );
425
426We've taken some pains to get construct the template so that it matches
427the contents of our frame buffer. Otherwise we'd either get undefined values,
428or C<unpack> could not unpack all. If C<pack> runs out of items, it will
429supply null strings.
430
431
432=head2 How to Eat an Egg on a Net
433
434The pack code for big-endian (high order byte at the lowest address) is
435C<n> for 16 bit and C<N> for 32 bit integers. You use these codes
436if you know that your data comes from a compliant architecture, but,
437surprisingly enough, you should also use these pack codes if you
438exchange binary data, across the network, with some system that you
439know next to nothing about. The simple reason is that this
440order has been chosen as the I<network order>, and all standard-fearing
441programs ought to follow this convention. (This is, of course, a stern
442backing for one of the Lilliputian parties and may well influence the
443political development there.) So, if the protocol expects you to send
444a message by sending the length first, followed by just so many bytes,
445you could write:
446
447 my $buf = pack( 'N', length( $msg ) ) . $msg;
448
449or even:
450
451 my $buf = pack( 'NA*', length( $msg ), $msg );
452
453and pass C<$buf> to your send routine. Some protocols demand that the
454count should include the length of the count itself: then just add 4
455to the data length. (But make sure to read L<"Lengths and Widths"> before
456you really code this!)
457
458
459
460=head2 Floating point Numbers
461
462For packing floating point numbers you have the choice between the
463pack codes C<f> and C<d> which pack into (or unpack from) single-precision or
464double-precision representation as it is provided by your system. (There
465is no such thing as a network representation for reals, so if you want
466to send your real numbers across computer boundaries, you'd better stick
467to ASCII representation, unless you're absolutely sure what's on the other
468end of the line.)
469
470
471
472=head1 Exotic Templates
473
474
475=head2 Bit Strings
476
477Bits are the atoms in the memory world. Access to individual bits may
478have to be used either as a last resort or because it is the most
479convenient way to handle your data. Bit string (un)packing converts
480between strings containing a series of C<0> and C<1> characters and
481a sequence of bytes each containing a group of 8 bits. This is almost
482as simple as it sounds, except that there are two ways the contents of
483a byte may be written as a bit string. Let's have a look at an annotated
484byte:
485
486 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0
487 +-----------------+
488 | 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 |
489 +-----------------+
490 MSB LSB
491
492It's egg-eating all over again: Some think that as a bit string this should
493be written "10001100" i.e. beginning with the most significant bit, others
494insist on "00110001". Well, Perl isn't biased, so that's why we have two bit
495string codes:
496
497 $byte = pack( 'B8', '10001100' ); # start with MSB
498 $byte = pack( 'b8', '00110001' ); # start with LSB
499
500It is not possible to pack or unpack bit fields - just integral bytes.
501C<pack> always starts at the next byte boundary and "rounds up" to the
502next multiple of 8 by adding zero bits as required. (If you do want bit
503fields, there is L<perlfunc/vec>. Or you could implement bit field
504handling at the character string level, using split, substr, and
505concatenation on unpacked bit strings.)
506
507To illustrate unpacking for bit strings, we'll decompose a simple
508status register (a "-" stands for a "reserved" bit):
509
510 +-----------------+-----------------+
511 | S Z - A - P - C | - - - - O D I T |
512 +-----------------+-----------------+
513 MSB LSB MSB LSB
514
515Converting these two bytes to a string can be done with the unpack
516template C<'b16'>. To obtain the individual bit values from the bit
517string we use C<split> with the "empty" separator pattern which splits
518into individual characters. Bit values from the "reserved" positions are
519simply assigned to C<undef>, a convenient notation for "I don't care where
520this goes".
521
522 ($carry, undef, $parity, undef, $auxcarry, undef, $sign,
523 $trace, $interrupt, $direction, $overflow) =
524 split( '', unpack( 'b16', $status ) );
525
526We could have used an unpack template C<'b12'> just as well, since the
527last 4 bits can be ignored anyway.
528
529
530=head2 Uuencoding
531
532Another odd-man-out in the template alphabet is C<u>, which packs an
533"uuencoded string". ("uu" is short for Unix-to-Unix.) Chances are that
534you won't ever need this encoding technique which was invented to overcome
535the shortcomings of old-fashioned transmission mediums that do not support
536other than simple ASCII data. The essential recipe is simple: Take three
537bytes, or 24 bits. Split them into 4 six-packs, adding a space (0x20) to
538each. Repeat until all of the data is blended. Fold groups of 4 bytes into
539lines no longer than 60 and garnish them in front with the original byte count
540(incremented by 0x20) and a C<"\n"> at the end. - The C<pack> chef will
541prepare this for you, a la minute, when you select pack code C<u> on the menu:
542
543 my $uubuf = pack( 'u', $bindat );
544
545A repeat count after C<u> sets the number of bytes to put into an
546uuencoded line, which is the maximum of 45 by default, but could be
547set to some (smaller) integer multiple of three. C<unpack> simply ignores
548the repeat count.
549
550
551=head2 Doing Sums
552
553An even stranger template code is C<%>E<lt>I<number>E<gt>. First, because
554it's used as a prefix to some other template code. Second, because it
555cannot be used in C<pack> at all, and third, in C<unpack>, doesn't return the
556data as defined by the template code it precedes. Instead it'll give you an
557integer of I<number> bits that is computed from the data value by
558doing sums. For numeric unpack codes, no big feat is achieved:
559
560 my $buf = pack( 'iii', 100, 20, 3 );
561 print unpack( '%32i3', $buf ), "\n"; # prints 123
562
563For string values, C<%> returns the sum of the byte values saving
564you the trouble of a sum loop with C<substr> and C<ord>:
565
566 print unpack( '%32A*', "\x01\x10" ), "\n"; # prints 17
567
568Although the C<%> code is documented as returning a "checksum":
569don't put your trust in such values! Even when applied to a small number
570of bytes, they won't guarantee a noticeable Hamming distance.
571
572In connection with C<b> or C<B>, C<%> simply adds bits, and this can be put
573to good use to count set bits efficiently:
574
575 my $bitcount = unpack( '%32b*', $mask );
576
577And an even parity bit can be determined like this:
578
579 my $evenparity = unpack( '%1b*', $mask );
580
581
582=head2 Unicode
583
584Unicode is a character set that can represent most characters in most of
585the world's languages, providing room for over one million different
586characters. Unicode 3.1 specifies 94,140 characters: The Basic Latin
587characters are assigned to the numbers 0 - 127. The Latin-1 Supplement with
588characters that are used in several European languages is in the next
589range, up to 255. After some more Latin extensions we find the character
47b6252e 590sets from languages using non-Roman alphabets, interspersed with a
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591variety of symbol sets such as currency symbols, Zapf Dingbats or Braille.
592(You might want to visit L<www.unicode.org> for a look at some of
593them - my personal favourites are Telugu and Kannada.)
594
595The Unicode character sets associates characters with integers. Encoding
596these numbers in an equal number of bytes would more than double the
47b6252e 597requirements for storing texts written in Latin alphabets.
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598The UTF-8 encoding avoids this by storing the most common (from a western
599point of view) characters in a single byte while encoding the rarer
600ones in three or more bytes.
601
602So what has this got to do with C<pack>? Well, if you want to convert
603between a Unicode number and its UTF-8 representation you can do so by
604using template code C<U>. As an example, let's produce the UTF-8
605representation of the Euro currency symbol (code number 0x20AC):
606
607 $UTF8{Euro} = pack( 'U', 0x20AC );
608
609Inspecting C<$UTF8{Euro}> shows that it contains 3 bytes: "\xe2\x82\xac". The
610round trip can be completed with C<unpack>:
611
612 $Unicode{Euro} = unpack( 'U', $UTF8{Euro} );
613
614Usually you'll want to pack or unpack UTF-8 strings:
615
616 # pack and unpack the Hebrew alphabet
617 my $alefbet = pack( 'U*', 0x05d0..0x05ea );
618 my @hebrew = unpack( 'U*', $utf );
619
620
621
622=head1 Lengths and Widths
623
624=head2 String Lengths
625
626In the previous section we've seen a network message that was constructed
627by prefixing the binary message length to the actual message. You'll find
628that packing a length followed by so many bytes of data is a
629frequently used recipe since appending a null byte won't work
47b6252e 630if a null byte may be part of the data. Here is an example where both
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631techniques are used: after two null terminated strings with source and
632destination address, a Short Message (to a mobile phone) is sent after
633a length byte:
634
635 my $msg = pack( 'Z*Z*CA*', $src, $dst, length( $sm ), $sm );
636
637Unpacking this message can be done with the same template:
638
639 ( $src, $dst, $len, $sm ) = unpack( 'Z*Z*CA*', $msg );
640
47b6252e 641There's a subtle trap lurking in the offing: Adding another field after
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642the Short Message (in variable C<$sm>) is all right when packing, but this
643cannot be unpacked naively:
644
645 # pack a message
646 my $msg = pack( 'Z*Z*CA*C', $src, $dst, length( $sm ), $sm, $prio );
647
648 # unpack fails - $prio remains undefined!
649 ( $src, $dst, $len, $sm, $prio ) = unpack( 'Z*Z*CA*C', $msg );
650
651The pack code C<A*> gobbles up all remaining bytes, and C<$prio> remains
652undefined! Before we let disappointment dampen the morale: Perl's got
653the trump card to make this trick too, just a little further up the sleeve.
654Watch this:
655
656 # pack a message: ASCIIZ, ASCIIZ, length/string, byte
657 my $msg = pack( 'Z* Z* C/A* C', $src, $dst, $sm, $prio );
658
659 # unpack
660 ( $src, $dst, $sm, $prio ) = unpack( 'Z* Z* C/A* C', $msg );
661
662Combining two pack codes with a slash (C</>) associates them with a single
663value from the argument list. In C<pack>, the length of the argument is
664taken and packed according to the first code while the argument itself
665is added after being converted with the template code after the slash.
666This saves us the trouble of inserting the C<length> call, but it is
667in C<unpack> where we really score: The value of the length byte marks the
668end of the string to be taken from the buffer. Since this combination
f8b4d74f 669doesn't make sense except when the second pack code isn't C<a*>, C<A*>
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670or C<Z*>, Perl won't let you.
671
672The pack code preceding C</> may be anything that's fit to represent a
673number: All the numeric binary pack codes, and even text codes such as
674C<A4> or C<Z*>:
675
676 # pack/unpack a string preceded by its length in ASCII
677 my $buf = pack( 'A4/A*', "Humpty-Dumpty" );
678 # unpack $buf: '13 Humpty-Dumpty'
679 my $txt = unpack( 'A4/A*', $buf );
680
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681C</> is not implemented in Perls before 5.6, so if your code is required to
682work on older Perls you'll need to C<unpack( 'Z* Z* C')> to get the length,
683then use it to make a new unpack string. For example
684
685 # pack a message: ASCIIZ, ASCIIZ, length, string, byte (5.005 compatible)
686 my $msg = pack( 'Z* Z* C A* C', $src, $dst, length $sm, $sm, $prio );
687
688 # unpack
689 ( undef, undef, $len) = unpack( 'Z* Z* C', $msg );
690 ($src, $dst, $sm, $prio) = unpack ( "Z* Z* x A$len C", $msg );
691
692But that second C<unpack> is rushing ahead. It isn't using a simple literal
693string for the template. So maybe we should introduce...
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694
695=head2 Dynamic Templates
696
697So far, we've seen literals used as templates. If the list of pack
698items doesn't have fixed length, an expression constructing the
699template has to be used. Here's an example:
700To store named string values in a way that can be conveniently parsed
701by a C program, we create a sequence of names and null terminated ASCII
702strings, with C<=> between the name and the value, followed by an
703additional delimiting null byte. Here's how:
704
705 my $env = pack( 'A*A*Z*' x keys( %Env ) . 'C',
706 map{ ( $_, '=', $Env{$_} ) } keys( %Env ), 0 );
707
708For the reverse operation, we'll have to determine the number of items
709in the buffer before we can let C<unpack> rip it apart:
710
47b6252e 711 my $n = $env =~ tr/\0// - 1;
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712 my %env = map { split( '=', $_ ) } unpack( 'Z*' x $n, $env );
713
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714The C<tr> counts the null bytes. The C<unpack> call returns a list of
715name-value pairs each of which is taken apart in the C<map> block.
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716
717
718=head2 Another Portable Binary Encoding
719
720The pack code C<w> has been added to support a portable binary data
721encoding scheme that goes way beyond simple integers. (Details can
722be found at L<Casbah.org>, the Scarab project.) A BER (Binary Encoded
723Representation) compressed unsigned integer stores base 128
724digits, most significant digit first, with as few digits as possible.
725Bit eight (the high bit) is set on each byte except the last. There
726is no size limit to BER encoding, but Perl won't go to extremes.
727
728 my $berbuf = pack( 'w*', 1, 128, 128+1, 128*128+127 );
729
730A hex dump of C<$berbuf>, with spaces inserted at the right places,
731shows 01 8100 8101 81807F. Since the last byte is always less than
732128, C<unpack> knows where to stop.
733
734
735=head1 Packing and Unpacking C Structures
736
737In previous sections we have seen how to pack numbers and character
738strings. If it were not for a couple of snags we could conclude this
739section right away with the terse remark that C structures don't
740contain anything else, and therefore you already know all there is to it.
741Sorry, no: read on, please.
742
743=head2 The Alignment Pit
744
745In the consideration of speed against memory requirements the balance
746has been tilted in favor of faster execution. This has influenced the
747way C compilers allocate memory for structures: On architectures
748where a 16-bit or 32-bit operand can be moved faster between places in
749memory, or to or from a CPU register, if it is aligned at an even or
750multiple-of-four or even at a multiple-of eight address, a C compiler
751will give you this speed benefit by stuffing extra bytes into structures.
752If you don't cross the C shoreline this is not likely to cause you any
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753grief (although you should care when you design large data structures,
754or you want your code to be portable between architectures (you do want
755that, don't you?)).
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756
757To see how this affects C<pack> and C<unpack>, we'll compare these two
758C structures:
759
760 typedef struct {
761 char c1;
762 short s;
763 char c2;
764 long l;
765 } gappy_t;
766
767 typedef struct {
768 long l;
769 short s;
770 char c1;
771 char c2;
772 } dense_t;
773
774Typically, a C compiler allocates 12 bytes to a C<gappy_t> variable, but
775requires only 8 bytes for a C<dense_t>. After investigating this further,
776we can draw memory maps, showing where the extra 4 bytes are hidden:
777
778 0 +4 +8 +12
779 +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+
780 |c1|xx| s |c2|xx|xx|xx| l | xx = fill byte
781 +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+
782 gappy_t
783
784 0 +4 +8
785 +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+
786 | l | h |c1|c2|
787 +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+
788 dense_t
789
790And that's where the first quirk strikes: C<pack> and C<unpack>
791templates have to be stuffed with C<x> codes to get those extra fill bytes.
792
793The natural question: "Why can't Perl compensate for the gaps?" warrants
794an answer. One good reason is that C compilers might provide (non-ANSI)
795extensions permitting all sorts of fancy control over the way structures
796are aligned, even at the level of an individual structure field. And, if
797this were not enough, there is an insidious thing called C<union> where
798the amount of fill bytes cannot be derived from the alignment of the next
799item alone.
800
801OK, so let's bite the bullet. Here's one way to get the alignment right
802by inserting template codes C<x>, which don't take a corresponding item
803from the list:
804
805 my $gappy = pack( 'cxs cxxx l!', $c1, $s, $c2, $l );
806
807Note the C<!> after C<l>: We want to make sure that we pack a long
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808integer as it is compiled by our C compiler. And even now, it will only
809work for the platforms where the compiler aligns things as above.
810And somebody somewhere has a platform where it doesn't.
811[Probably a Cray, where C<short>s, C<int>s and C<long>s are all 8 bytes. :-)]
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812
813Counting bytes and watching alignments in lengthy structures is bound to
814be a drag. Isn't there a way we can create the template with a simple
815program? Here's a C program that does the trick:
816
817 #include <stdio.h>
818 #include <stddef.h>
819
820 typedef struct {
821 char fc1;
822 short fs;
823 char fc2;
824 long fl;
825 } gappy_t;
826
827 #define Pt(struct,field,tchar) \
828 printf( "@%d%s ", offsetof(struct,field), # tchar );
829
830 int main(){
831 Pt( gappy_t, fc1, c );
832 Pt( gappy_t, fs, s! );
833 Pt( gappy_t, fc2, c );
834 Pt( gappy_t, fl, l! );
835 printf( "\n" );
836 }
837
838The output line can be used as a template in a C<pack> or C<unpack> call:
839
840 my $gappy = pack( '@0c @2s! @4c @8l!', $c1, $s, $c2, $l );
841
842Gee, yet another template code - as if we hadn't plenty. But
843C<@> saves our day by enabling us to specify the offset from the beginning
844of the pack buffer to the next item: This is just the value
845the C<offsetof> macro (defined in C<E<lt>stddef.hE<gt>>) returns when
846given a C<struct> type and one of its field names ("member-designator" in
847C standardese).
848
849
850=head2 Alignment, Take 2
851
852I'm afraid that we're not quite through with the alignment catch yet. The
853hydra raises another ugly head when you pack arrays of structures:
854
855 typedef struct {
856 short count;
857 char glyph;
858 } cell_t;
859
860 typedef cell_t buffer_t[BUFLEN];
861
862Where's the catch? Padding is neither required before the first field C<count>,
863nor between this and the next field C<glyph>, so why can't we simply pack
864like this:
865
866 # something goes wrong here:
867 pack( 's!a' x @buffer,
868 map{ ( $_->{count}, $_->{glyph} ) } @buffer );
869
870This packs C<3*@buffer> bytes, but it turns out that the size of
871C<buffer_t> is four times C<BUFLEN>! The moral of the story is that
872the required alignment of a structure or array is propagated to the
873next higher level where we have to consider padding I<at the end>
874of each component as well. Thus the correct template is:
875
876 pack( 's!ax' x @buffer,
877 map{ ( $_->{count}, $_->{glyph} ) } @buffer );
878
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879=head2 Alignment, Take 3
880
881And even if you take all the above into account, ANSI still lets this:
882
883 typedef struct {
884 char foo[2];
885 } foo_t;
34babc16 886
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887vary in size. The alignment constraint of the structure can be greater than
888any of its elements. [And if you think that this doesn't affect anything
889common, dismember the next cellphone that you see. Many have ARM cores, and
890the ARM structure rules make C<sizeof (foo_t)> == 4]
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891
892=head2 Pointers for How to Use Them
893
894The title of this section indicates the second problem you may run into
895sooner or later when you pack C structures. If the function you intend
896to call expects a, say, C<void *> value, you I<cannot> simply take
897a reference to a Perl variable. (Although that value certainly is a
898memory address, it's not the address where the variable's contents are
899stored.)
900
901Template code C<P> promises to pack a "pointer to a fixed length string".
902Isn't this what we want? Let's try:
903
904 # allocate some storage and pack a pointer to it
905 my $memory = "\x00" x $size;
906 my $memptr = pack( 'P', $memory );
907
908But wait: doesn't C<pack> just return a sequence of bytes? How can we pass this
909string of bytes to some C code expecting a pointer which is, after all,
910nothing but a number? The answer is simple: We have to obtain the numeric
911address from the bytes returned by C<pack>.
912
913 my $ptr = unpack( 'L!', $memptr );
914
915Obviously this assumes that it is possible to typecast a pointer
916to an unsigned long and vice versa, which frequently works but should not
917be taken as a universal law. - Now that we have this pointer the next question
918is: How can we put it to good use? We need a call to some C function
919where a pointer is expected. The read(2) system call comes to mind:
920
921 ssize_t read(int fd, void *buf, size_t count);
922
923After reading L<perlfunc> explaining how to use C<syscall> we can write
924this Perl function copying a file to standard output:
925
926 require 'syscall.ph';
927 sub cat($){
928 my $path = shift();
929 my $size = -s $path;
930 my $memory = "\x00" x $size; # allocate some memory
931 my $ptr = unpack( 'L', pack( 'P', $memory ) );
932 open( F, $path ) || die( "$path: cannot open ($!)\n" );
933 my $fd = fileno(F);
934 my $res = syscall( &SYS_read, fileno(F), $ptr, $size );
935 print $memory;
936 close( F );
937 }
938
939This is neither a specimen of simplicity nor a paragon of portability but
940it illustrates the point: We are able to sneak behind the scenes and
941access Perl's otherwise well-guarded memory! (Important note: Perl's
942C<syscall> does I<not> require you to construct pointers in this roundabout
943way. You simply pass a string variable, and Perl forwards the address.)
944
945How does C<unpack> with C<P> work? Imagine some pointer in the buffer
946about to be unpacked: If it isn't the null pointer (which will smartly
947produce the C<undef> value) we have a start address - but then what?
948Perl has no way of knowing how long this "fixed length string" is, so
949it's up to you to specify the actual size as an explicit length after C<P>.
950
951 my $mem = "abcdefghijklmn";
952 print unpack( 'P5', pack( 'P', $mem ) ); # prints "abcde"
953
954As a consequence, C<pack> ignores any number or C<*> after C<P>.
955
956
957Now that we have seen C<P> at work, we might as well give C<p> a whirl.
958Why do we need a second template code for packing pointers at all? The
959answer lies behind the simple fact that an C<unpack> with C<p> promises
960a null-terminated string starting at the address taken from the buffer,
961and that implies a length for the data item to be returned:
962
963 my $buf = pack( 'p', "abc\x00efhijklmn" );
964 print unpack( 'p', $buf ); # prints "abc"
965
966
967
968Albeit this is apt to be confusing: As a consequence of the length being
969implied by the string's length, a number after pack code C<p> is a repeat
970count, not a length as after C<P>.
971
972
973Using C<pack(..., $x)> with C<P> or C<p> to get the address where C<$x> is
974actually stored must be used with circumspection. Perl's internal machinery
975considers the relation between a variable and that address as its very own
976private matter and doesn't really care that we have obtained a copy. Therefore:
977
978=over 4
979
980=item *
981
982Do not use C<pack> with C<p> or C<P> to obtain the address of variable
983that's bound to go out of scope (and thereby freeing its memory) before you
984are done with using the memory at that address.
985
986=item *
987
988Be very careful with Perl operations that change the value of the
989variable. Appending something to the variable, for instance, might require
990reallocation of its storage, leaving you with a pointer into no-man's land.
991
992=item *
993
994Don't think that you can get the address of a Perl variable
995when it is stored as an integer or double number! C<pack('P', $x)> will
996force the variable's internal representation to string, just as if you
997had written something like C<$x .= ''>.
998
999=back
1000
1001It's safe, however, to P- or p-pack a string literal, because Perl simply
1002allocates an anonymous variable.
1003
1004
1005
1006=head1 Pack Recipes
1007
1008Here are a collection of (possibly) useful canned recipes for C<pack>
1009and C<unpack>:
1010
1011 # Convert IP address for socket functions
1012 pack( "C4", split /\./, "123.4.5.6" );
1013
1014 # Count the bits in a chunk of memory (e.g. a select vector)
1015 unpack( '%32b*', $mask );
1016
1017 # Determine the endianness of your system
1018 $is_little_endian = unpack( 'c', pack( 's', 1 ) );
1019 $is_big_endian = unpack( 'xc', pack( 's', 1 ) );
1020
1021 # Determine the number of bits in a native integer
1022 $bits = unpack( '%32I!', ~0 );
1023
1024 # Prepare argument for the nanosleep system call
1025 my $timespec = pack( 'L!L!', $secs, $nanosecs );
1026
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1027For a simple memory dump we unpack some bytes into just as
1028many pairs of hex digits, and use C<map> to handle the traditional
1029spacing - 16 bytes to a line:
1030
34babc16 1031 my $i;
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1032 print map { ++$i % 16 ? "$_ " : "$_\n" }
1033 unpack( 'H2' x length( $mem ), $mem ),
1034 length( $mem ) % 16 ? "\n" : '';
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1035
1036
1037=head1 Authors
1038
1039Simon Cozens and Wolfgang Laun.
1040