perlpacktut



PERLPACKTUT(1)         Perl Programmers Reference Guide         PERLPACKTUT(1)




NAME

       perlpacktut - tutorial on "pack" and "unpack"


DESCRIPTION

       "pack" and "unpack" are two functions for transforming data according
       to a user-defined template, between the guarded way Perl stores values
       and some well-defined representation as might be required in the envi-
       ronment of a Perl program. Unfortunately, they’re also two of the most
       misunderstood and most often overlooked functions that Perl provides.
       This tutorial will demystify them for you.


The Basic Principle

       Most programming languages don’t shelter the memory where variables are
       stored. In C, for instance, you can take the address of some variable,
       and the "sizeof" operator tells you how many bytes are allocated to the
       variable. Using the address and the size, you may access the storage to
       your heart’s content.

       In Perl, you just can’t access memory at random, but the structural and
       representational conversion provided by "pack" and "unpack" is an
       excellent alternative. The "pack" function converts values to a byte
       sequence containing representations according to a given specification,
       the so-called "template" argument. "unpack" is the reverse process,
       deriving some values from the contents of a string of bytes. (Be cau-
       tioned, however, that not all that has been packed together can be
       neatly unpacked - a very common experience as seasoned travellers are
       likely to confirm.)

       Why, you may ask, would you need a chunk of memory containing some val-
       ues in binary representation? One good reason is input and output
       accessing some file, a device, or a network connection, whereby this
       binary representation is either forced on you or will give you some
       benefit in processing. Another cause is passing data to some system
       call that is not available as a Perl function: "syscall" requires you
       to provide parameters stored in the way it happens in a C program. Even
       text processing (as shown in the next section) may be simplified with
       judicious usage of these two functions.

       To see how (un)packing works, we’ll start with a simple template code
       where the conversion is in low gear: between the contents of a byte
       sequence and a string of hexadecimal digits. Let’s use "unpack", since
       this is likely to remind you of a dump program, or some desperate last
       message unfortunate programs are wont to throw at you before they
       expire into the wild blue yonder. Assuming that the variable $mem holds
       a sequence of bytes that we’d like to inspect without assuming anything
       about its meaning, we can write

          my( $hex ) = unpack( ’H*’, $mem );
          print "$hex\n";

       whereupon we might see something like this, with each pair of hex dig-
       its corresponding to a byte:

          41204d414e204120504c414e20412043414e414c2050414e414d41

       What was in this chunk of memory? Numbers, characters, or a mixture of
       both? Assuming that we’re on a computer where ASCII (or some similar)
       encoding is used: hexadecimal values in the range 0x40 - 0x5A indicate
       an uppercase letter, and 0x20 encodes a space. So we might assume it is
       a piece of text, which some are able to read like a tabloid; but others
       will have to get hold of an ASCII table and relive that firstgrader
       feeling. Not caring too much about which way to read this, we note that
       "unpack" with the template code "H" converts the contents of a sequence
       of bytes into the customary hexadecimal notation. Since "a sequence of"
       is a pretty vague indication of quantity, "H" has been defined to con-
       vert just a single hexadecimal digit unless it is followed by a repeat
       count. An asterisk for the repeat count means to use whatever remains.

       The inverse operation - packing byte contents from a string of hexadec-
       imal digits - is just as easily written. For instance:

          my $s = pack( ’H2’ x 10, map { "3$_" } ( 0..9 ) );
          print "$s\n";

       Since we feed a list of ten 2-digit hexadecimal strings to "pack", the
       pack template should contain ten pack codes. If this is run on a com-
       puter with ASCII character coding, it will print 0123456789.


Packing Text

       Let’s suppose you’ve got to read in a data file like this:

           Date      │Description                │ Income│Expenditure
           01/24/2001 Ahmed’s Camel Emporium                  1147.99
           01/28/2001 Flea spray                                24.99
           01/29/2001 Camel rides to tourists      235.00

       How do we do it? You might think first to use "split"; however, since
       "split" collapses blank fields, you’ll never know whether a record was
       income or expenditure. Oops. Well, you could always use "substr":

           while (<>) {
               my $date   = substr($_,  0, 11);
               my $desc   = substr($_, 12, 27);
               my $income = substr($_, 40,  7);
               my $expend = substr($_, 52,  7);
               ...
           }

       It’s not really a barrel of laughs, is it? In fact, it’s worse than it
       may seem; the eagle-eyed may notice that the first field should only be
       10 characters wide, and the error has propagated right through the
       other numbers - which we’ve had to count by hand. So it’s error-prone
       as well as horribly unfriendly.

       Or maybe we could use regular expressions:

           while (<>) {
               my($date, $desc, $income, $expend) =
                   m│(\d\d/\d\d/\d{4}) (.{27}) (.{7})(.*)│;
               ...
           }

       Urgh. Well, it’s a bit better, but - well, would you want to maintain
       that?

       Hey, isn’t Perl supposed to make this sort of thing easy? Well, it
       does, if you use the right tools. "pack" and "unpack" are designed to
       help you out when dealing with fixed-width data like the above. Let’s
       have a look at a solution with "unpack":

           while (<>) {
               my($date, $desc, $income, $expend) = unpack("A10xA27xA7A*", $_);
               ...
           }

       That looks a bit nicer; but we’ve got to take apart that weird tem-
       plate.  Where did I pull that out of?

       OK, let’s have a look at some of our data again; in fact, we’ll include
       the headers, and a handy ruler so we can keep track of where we are.

                    1         2         3         4         5
           1234567890123456789012345678901234567890123456789012345678
           Date      │Description                │ Income│Expenditure
           01/28/2001 Flea spray                                24.99
           01/29/2001 Camel rides to tourists      235.00

       From this, we can see that the date column stretches from column 1 to
       column 10 - ten characters wide. The "pack"-ese for "character" is "A",
       and ten of them are "A10". So if we just wanted to extract the dates,
       we could say this:

           my($date) = unpack("A10", $_);

       OK, what’s next? Between the date and the description is a blank col-
       umn; we want to skip over that. The "x" template means "skip forward",
       so we want one of those. Next, we have another batch of characters,
       from 12 to 38. That’s 27 more characters, hence "A27". (Don’t make the
       fencepost error - there are 27 characters between 12 and 38, not 26.
       Count ’em!)

       Now we skip another character and pick up the next 7 characters:

           my($date,$description,$income) = unpack("A10xA27xA7", $_);

       Now comes the clever bit. Lines in our ledger which are just income and
       not expenditure might end at column 46. Hence, we don’t want to tell
       our "unpack" pattern that we need to find another 12 characters; we’ll
       just say "if there’s anything left, take it". As you might guess from
       regular expressions, that’s what the "*" means: "use everything remain-
       ing".

       ·  Be warned, though, that unlike regular expressions, if the "unpack"
          template doesn’t match the incoming data, Perl will scream and die.

       Hence, putting it all together:

           my($date,$description,$income,$expend) = unpack("A10xA27xA7xA*", $_);

       Now, that’s our data parsed. I suppose what we might want to do now is
       total up our income and expenditure, and add another line to the end of
       our ledger - in the same format - saying how much we’ve brought in and
       how much we’ve spent:

           while (<>) {
               my($date, $desc, $income, $expend) = unpack("A10xA27xA7xA*", $_);
               $tot_income += $income;
               $tot_expend += $expend;
           }

           $tot_income = sprintf("%.2f", $tot_income); # Get them into
           $tot_expend = sprintf("%.2f", $tot_expend); # "financial" format

           $date = POSIX::strftime("%m/%d/%Y", localtime);

           # OK, let’s go:

           print pack("A10xA27xA7xA*", $date, "Totals", $tot_income, $tot_expend);

       Oh, hmm. That didn’t quite work. Let’s see what happened:

           01/24/2001 Ahmed’s Camel Emporium                   1147.99
           01/28/2001 Flea spray                                 24.99
           01/29/2001 Camel rides to tourists     1235.00
           03/23/2001Totals                     1235.001172.98

       OK, it’s a start, but what happened to the spaces? We put "x", didn’t
       we? Shouldn’t it skip forward? Let’s look at what "pack" in perlfunc
       says:

           x   A null byte.

       Urgh. No wonder. There’s a big difference between "a null byte", char-
       acter zero, and "a space", character 32. Perl’s put something between
       the date and the description - but unfortunately, we can’t see it!

       What we actually need to do is expand the width of the fields. The "A"
       format pads any non-existent characters with spaces, so we can use the
       additional spaces to line up our fields, like this:

           print pack("A11 A28 A8 A*", $date, "Totals", $tot_income, $tot_expend);

       (Note that you can put spaces in the template to make it more readable,
       but they don’t translate to spaces in the output.) Here’s what we got
       this time:

           01/24/2001 Ahmed’s Camel Emporium                   1147.99
           01/28/2001 Flea spray                                 24.99
           01/29/2001 Camel rides to tourists     1235.00
           03/23/2001 Totals                      1235.00 1172.98

       That’s a bit better, but we still have that last column which needs to
       be moved further over. There’s an easy way to fix this up: unfortu-
       nately, we can’t get "pack" to right-justify our fields, but we can get
       "sprintf" to do it:

           $tot_income = sprintf("%.2f", $tot_income);
           $tot_expend = sprintf("%12.2f", $tot_expend);
           $date = POSIX::strftime("%m/%d/%Y", localtime);
           print pack("A11 A28 A8 A*", $date, "Totals", $tot_income, $tot_expend);

       This time we get the right answer:

           01/28/2001 Flea spray                                 24.99
           01/29/2001 Camel rides to tourists     1235.00
           03/23/2001 Totals                      1235.00      1172.98

       So that’s how we consume and produce fixed-width data. Let’s recap what
       we’ve seen of "pack" and "unpack" so far:

       ·  Use "pack" to go from several pieces of data to one fixed-width ver-
          sion; use "unpack" to turn a fixed-width-format string into several
          pieces of data.

       ·  The pack format "A" means "any character"; if you’re "pack"ing and
          you’ve run out of things to pack, "pack" will fill the rest up with
          spaces.

       ·  "x" means "skip a byte" when "unpack"ing; when "pack"ing, it means
          "introduce a null byte" - that’s probably not what you mean if
          you’re dealing with plain text.

       ·  You can follow the formats with numbers to say how many characters
          should be affected by that format: "A12" means "take 12 characters";
          "x6" means "skip 6 bytes" or "character 0, 6 times".

       ·  Instead of a number, you can use "*" to mean "consume everything
          else left".

          Warning: when packing multiple pieces of data, "*" only means
          "consume all of the current piece of data". That’s to say

              pack("A*A*", $one, $two)

          packs all of $one into the first "A*" and then all of $two into the
          second. This is a general principle: each format character corre-
          sponds to one piece of data to be "pack"ed.


Packing Numbers

       So much for textual data. Let’s get onto the meaty stuff that "pack"
       and "unpack" are best at: handling binary formats for numbers. There
       is, of course, not just one binary format  - life would be too simple -
       but Perl will do all the finicky labor for you.

       Integers

       Packing and unpacking numbers implies conversion to and from some spe-
       cific binary representation. Leaving floating point numbers aside for
       the moment, the salient properties of any such representation are:

       ·   the number of bytes used for storing the integer,

       ·   whether the contents are interpreted as a signed or unsigned num-
           ber,

       ·   the byte ordering: whether the first byte is the least or most sig-
           nificant byte (or: little-endian or big-endian, respectively).

       So, for instance, to pack 20302 to a signed 16 bit integer in your com-
       puter’s representation you write

          my $ps = pack( ’s’, 20302 );

       Again, the result is a string, now containing 2 bytes. If you print
       this string (which is, generally, not recommended) you might see "ON"
       or "NO" (depending on your system’s byte ordering) - or something
       entirely different if your computer doesn’t use ASCII character encod-
       ing.  Unpacking $ps with the same template returns the original integer
       value:

          my( $s ) = unpack( ’s’, $ps );

       This is true for all numeric template codes. But don’t expect miracles:
       if the packed value exceeds the allotted byte capacity, high order bits
       are silently discarded, and unpack certainly won’t be able to pull them
       back out of some magic hat. And, when you pack using a signed template
       code such as "s", an excess value may result in the sign bit getting
       set, and unpacking this will smartly return a negative value.

       16 bits won’t get you too far with integers, but there is "l" and "L"
       for signed and unsigned 32-bit integers. And if this is not enough and
       your system supports 64 bit integers you can push the limits much
       closer to infinity with pack codes "q" and "Q". A notable exception is
       provided by pack codes "i" and "I" for signed and unsigned integers of
       the "local custom" variety: Such an integer will take up as many bytes
       as a local C compiler returns for "sizeof(int)", but it’ll use at least
       32 bits.

       Each of the integer pack codes "sSlLqQ" results in a fixed number of
       bytes, no matter where you execute your program. This may be useful for
       some applications, but it does not provide for a portable way to pass
       data structures between Perl and C programs (bound to happen when you
       call XS extensions or the Perl function "syscall"), or when you read or
       write binary files. What you’ll need in this case are template codes
       that depend on what your local C compiler compiles when you code
       "short" or "unsigned long", for instance. These codes and their
       corresponding byte lengths are shown in the table below.  Since the C
       standard leaves much leeway with respect to the relative sizes of these
       data types, actual values may vary, and that’s why the values are given
       as expressions in C and Perl. (If you’d like to use values from %Config
       in your program you have to import it with "use Config".)

          signed unsigned  byte length in C   byte length in Perl
            s!     S!      sizeof(short)      $Config{shortsize}
            i!     I!      sizeof(int)        $Config{intsize}
            l!     L!      sizeof(long)       $Config{longsize}
            q!     Q!      sizeof(long long)  $Config{longlongsize}

       The "i!" and "I!" codes aren’t different from "i" and "I"; they are
       tolerated for completeness’ sake.

       Unpacking a Stack Frame

       Requesting a particular byte ordering may be necessary when you work
       with binary data coming from some specific architecture whereas your
       program could run on a totally different system. As an example, assume
       you have 24 bytes containing a stack frame as it happens on an Intel
       8086:

             +---------+        +----+----+               +---------+
        TOS: │   IP    │  TOS+4:│ FL │ FH │ FLAGS  TOS+14:│   SI    │
             +---------+        +----+----+               +---------+
             │   CS    │        │ AL │ AH │ AX            │   DI    │
             +---------+        +----+----+               +---------+
                                │ BL │ BH │ BX            │   BP    │
                                +----+----+               +---------+
                                │ CL │ CH │ CX            │   DS    │
                                +----+----+               +---------+
                                │ DL │ DH │ DX            │   ES    │
                                +----+----+               +---------+

       First, we note that this time-honored 16-bit CPU uses little-endian
       order, and that’s why the low order byte is stored at the lower
       address. To unpack such a (signed) short we’ll have to use code "v". A
       repeat count unpacks all 12 shorts:

          my( $ip, $cs, $flags, $ax, $bx, $cd, $dx, $si, $di, $bp, $ds, $es ) =
            unpack( ’v12’, $frame );

       Alternatively, we could have used "C" to unpack the individually acces-
       sible byte registers FL, FH, AL, AH, etc.:

          my( $fl, $fh, $al, $ah, $bl, $bh, $cl, $ch, $dl, $dh ) =
            unpack( ’C10’, substr( $frame, 4, 10 ) );

       It would be nice if we could do this in one fell swoop: unpack a short,
       back up a little, and then unpack 2 bytes. Since Perl is nice, it prof-
       fers the template code "X" to back up one byte. Putting this all
       together, we may now write:

          my( $ip, $cs,
              $flags,$fl,$fh,
              $ax,$al,$ah, $bx,$bl,$bh, $cx,$cl,$ch, $dx,$dl,$dh,
              $si, $di, $bp, $ds, $es ) =
          unpack( ’v2’ . (’vXXCC’ x 5) . ’v5’, $frame );

       (The clumsy construction of the template can be avoided - just read
       on!)

       We’ve taken some pains to construct the template so that it matches the
       contents of our frame buffer. Otherwise we’d either get undefined val-
       ues, or "unpack" could not unpack all. If "pack" runs out of items, it
       will supply null strings (which are coerced into zeroes whenever the
       pack code says so).

       How to Eat an Egg on a Net

       The pack code for big-endian (high order byte at the lowest address) is
       "n" for 16 bit and "N" for 32 bit integers. You use these codes if you
       know that your data comes from a compliant architecture, but, surpris-
       ingly enough, you should also use these pack codes if you exchange
       binary data, across the network, with some system that you know next to
       nothing about. The simple reason is that this order has been chosen as
       the network order, and all standard-fearing programs ought to follow
       this convention. (This is, of course, a stern backing for one of the
       Lilliputian parties and may well influence the political development
       there.) So, if the protocol expects you to send a message by sending
       the length first, followed by just so many bytes, you could write:

          my $buf = pack( ’N’, length( $msg ) ) . $msg;

       or even:

          my $buf = pack( ’NA*’, length( $msg ), $msg );

       and pass $buf to your send routine. Some protocols demand that the
       count should include the length of the count itself: then just add 4 to
       the data length. (But make sure to read "Lengths and Widths" before you
       really code this!)

       Floating point Numbers

       For packing floating point numbers you have the choice between the pack
       codes "f" and "d" which pack into (or unpack from) single-precision or
       double-precision representation as it is provided by your system.
       (There is no such thing as a network representation for reals, so if
       you want to send your real numbers across computer boundaries, you’d
       better stick to ASCII representation, unless you’re absolutely sure
       what’s on the other end of the line.)


Exotic Templates

       Bit Strings

       Bits are the atoms in the memory world. Access to individual bits may
       have to be used either as a last resort or because it is the most con-
       venient way to handle your data. Bit string (un)packing converts
       between strings containing a series of 0 and 1 characters and a
       sequence of bytes each containing a group of 8 bits. This is almost as
       simple as it sounds, except that there are two ways the contents of a
       byte may be written as a bit string. Let’s have a look at an annotated
       byte:

            7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0
          +-----------------+
          │ 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 │
          +-----------------+
           MSB           LSB

       It’s egg-eating all over again: Some think that as a bit string this
       should be written "10001100" i.e. beginning with the most significant
       bit, others insist on "00110001". Well, Perl isn’t biased, so that’s
       why we have two bit string codes:

          $byte = pack( ’B8’, ’10001100’ ); # start with MSB
          $byte = pack( ’b8’, ’00110001’ ); # start with LSB

       It is not possible to pack or unpack bit fields - just integral bytes.
       "pack" always starts at the next byte boundary and "rounds up" to the
       next multiple of 8 by adding zero bits as required. (If you do want bit
       fields, there is "vec" in perlfunc. Or you could implement bit field
       handling at the character string level, using split, substr, and con-
       catenation on unpacked bit strings.)

       To illustrate unpacking for bit strings, we’ll decompose a simple sta-
       tus register (a "-" stands for a "reserved" bit):

          +-----------------+-----------------+
          │ S Z - A - P - C │ - - - - O D I T │
          +-----------------+-----------------+
           MSB           LSB MSB           LSB

       Converting these two bytes to a string can be done with the unpack tem-
       plate ’b16’. To obtain the individual bit values from the bit string we
       use "split" with the "empty" separator pattern which dissects into
       individual characters. Bit values from the "reserved" positions are
       simply assigned to "undef", a convenient notation for "I don’t care
       where this goes".

          ($carry, undef, $parity, undef, $auxcarry, undef, $zero, $sign,
           $trace, $interrupt, $direction, $overflow) =
             split( //, unpack( ’b16’, $status ) );

       We could have used an unpack template ’b12’ just as well, since the
       last 4 bits can be ignored anyway.

       Uuencoding

       Another odd-man-out in the template alphabet is "u", which packs an
       "uuencoded string". ("uu" is short for Unix-to-Unix.) Chances are that
       you won’t ever need this encoding technique which was invented to over-
       come the shortcomings of old-fashioned transmission mediums that do not
       support other than simple ASCII data. The essential recipe is simple:
       Take three bytes, or 24 bits. Split them into 4 six-packs, adding a
       space (0x20) to each. Repeat until all of the data is blended. Fold
       groups of 4 bytes into lines no longer than 60 and garnish them in
       front with the original byte count (incremented by 0x20) and a "\n" at
       the end. - The "pack" chef will prepare this for you, a la minute, when
       you select pack code "u" on the menu:

          my $uubuf = pack( ’u’, $bindat );

       A repeat count after "u" sets the number of bytes to put into an uuen-
       coded line, which is the maximum of 45 by default, but could be set to
       some (smaller) integer multiple of three. "unpack" simply ignores the
       repeat count.

       Doing Sums

       An even stranger template code is "%"<number>. First, because it’s used
       as a prefix to some other template code. Second, because it cannot be
       used in "pack" at all, and third, in "unpack", doesn’t return the data
       as defined by the template code it precedes. Instead it’ll give you an
       integer of number bits that is computed from the data value by doing
       sums. For numeric unpack codes, no big feat is achieved:

           my $buf = pack( ’iii’, 100, 20, 3 );
           print unpack( ’%32i3’, $buf ), "\n";  # prints 123

       For string values, "%" returns the sum of the byte values saving you
       the trouble of a sum loop with "substr" and "ord":

           print unpack( ’%32A*’, "\x01\x10" ), "\n";  # prints 17

       Although the "%" code is documented as returning a "checksum": don’t
       put your trust in such values! Even when applied to a small number of
       bytes, they won’t guarantee a noticeable Hamming distance.

       In connection with "b" or "B", "%" simply adds bits, and this can be
       put to good use to count set bits efficiently:

           my $bitcount = unpack( ’%32b*’, $mask );

       And an even parity bit can be determined like this:

           my $evenparity = unpack( ’%1b*’, $mask );

       Unicode

       Unicode is a character set that can represent most characters in most
       of the world’s languages, providing room for over one million different
       characters. Unicode 3.1 specifies 94,140 characters: The Basic Latin
       characters are assigned to the numbers 0 - 127. The Latin-1 Supplement
       with characters that are used in several European languages is in the
       next range, up to 255. After some more Latin extensions we find the
       character sets from languages using non-Roman alphabets, interspersed
       with a variety of symbol sets such as currency symbols, Zapf Dingbats
       or Braille.  (You might want to visit www.unicode.org for a look at
       some of them - my personal favourites are Telugu and Kannada.)

       The Unicode character sets associates characters with integers. Encod-
       ing these numbers in an equal number of bytes would more than double
       the requirements for storing texts written in Latin alphabets.  The
       UTF-8 encoding avoids this by storing the most common (from a western
       point of view) characters in a single byte while encoding the rarer
       ones in three or more bytes.

       So what has this got to do with "pack"? Well, if you want to convert
       between a Unicode number and its UTF-8 representation you can do so by
       using template code "U". As an example, let’s produce the UTF-8 repre-
       sentation of the Euro currency symbol (code number 0x20AC):

          $UTF8{Euro} = pack( ’U’, 0x20AC );

       Inspecting $UTF8{Euro} shows that it contains 3 bytes: "\xe2\x82\xac".
       The round trip can be completed with "unpack":

          $Unicode{Euro} = unpack( ’U’, $UTF8{Euro} );

       Usually you’ll want to pack or unpack UTF-8 strings:

          # pack and unpack the Hebrew alphabet
          my $alefbet = pack( ’U*’, 0x05d0..0x05ea );
          my @hebrew = unpack( ’U*’, $utf );

       Another Portable Binary Encoding

       The pack code "w" has been added to support a portable binary data
       encoding scheme that goes way beyond simple integers. (Details can be
       found at Casbah.org, the Scarab project.)  A BER (Binary Encoded Repre-
       sentation) compressed unsigned integer stores base 128 digits, most
       significant digit first, with as few digits as possible.  Bit eight
       (the high bit) is set on each byte except the last. There is no size
       limit to BER encoding, but Perl won’t go to extremes.

          my $berbuf = pack( ’w*’, 1, 128, 128+1, 128*128+127 );

       A hex dump of $berbuf, with spaces inserted at the right places, shows
       01 8100 8101 81807F. Since the last byte is always less than 128,
       "unpack" knows where to stop.


Template Grouping

       Prior to Perl 5.8, repetitions of templates had to be made by "x"-mul-
       tiplication of template strings. Now there is a better way as we may
       use the pack codes "(" and ")" combined with a repeat count.  The
       "unpack" template from the Stack Frame example can simply be written
       like this:

          unpack( ’v2 (vXXCC)5 v5’, $frame )

       Let’s explore this feature a little more. We’ll begin with the equiva-
       lent of

          join( ’’, map( substr( $_, 0, 1 ), @str ) )

       which returns a string consisting of the first character from each
       string.  Using pack, we can write

          pack( ’(A)’.@str, @str )

       or, because a repeat count "*" means "repeat as often as required",
       simply

          pack( ’(A)*’, @str )

       (Note that the template "A*" would only have packed $str[0] in full
       length.)

       To pack dates stored as triplets ( day, month, year ) in an array
       @dates into a sequence of byte, byte, short integer we can write

          $pd = pack( ’(CCS)*’, map( @$_, @dates ) );

       To swap pairs of characters in a string (with even length) one could
       use several techniques. First, let’s use "x" and "X" to skip forward
       and back:

          $s = pack( ’(A)*’, unpack( ’(xAXXAx)*’, $s ) );

       We can also use "@" to jump to an offset, with 0 being the position
       where we were when the last "(" was encountered:

          $s = pack( ’(A)*’, unpack( ’(@1A @0A @2)*’, $s ) );

       Finally, there is also an entirely different approach by unpacking big
       endian shorts and packing them in the reverse byte order:

          $s = pack( ’(v)*’, unpack( ’(n)*’, $s );


Lengths and Widths

       String Lengths

       In the previous section we’ve seen a network message that was con-
       structed by prefixing the binary message length to the actual message.
       You’ll find that packing a length followed by so many bytes of data is
       a frequently used recipe since appending a null byte won’t work if a
       null byte may be part of the data. Here is an example where both tech-
       niques are used: after two null terminated strings with source and des-
       tination address, a Short Message (to a mobile phone) is sent after a
       length byte:

          my $msg = pack( ’Z*Z*CA*’, $src, $dst, length( $sm ), $sm );

       Unpacking this message can be done with the same template:

          ( $src, $dst, $len, $sm ) = unpack( ’Z*Z*CA*’, $msg );

       There’s a subtle trap lurking in the offing: Adding another field after
       the Short Message (in variable $sm) is all right when packing, but this
       cannot be unpacked naively:

          # pack a message
          my $msg = pack( ’Z*Z*CA*C’, $src, $dst, length( $sm ), $sm, $prio );

          # unpack fails - $prio remains undefined!
          ( $src, $dst, $len, $sm, $prio ) = unpack( ’Z*Z*CA*C’, $msg );

       The pack code "A*" gobbles up all remaining bytes, and $prio remains
       undefined! Before we let disappointment dampen the morale: Perl’s got
       the trump card to make this trick too, just a little further up the
       sleeve.  Watch this:

          # pack a message: ASCIIZ, ASCIIZ, length/string, byte
          my $msg = pack( ’Z* Z* C/A* C’, $src, $dst, $sm, $prio );

          # unpack
          ( $src, $dst, $sm, $prio ) = unpack( ’Z* Z* C/A* C’, $msg );

       Combining two pack codes with a slash ("/") associates them with a sin-
       gle value from the argument list. In "pack", the length of the argument
       is taken and packed according to the first code while the argument
       itself is added after being converted with the template code after the
       slash.  This saves us the trouble of inserting the "length" call, but
       it is in "unpack" where we really score: The value of the length byte
       marks the end of the string to be taken from the buffer. Since this
       combination doesn’t make sense except when the second pack code isn’t
       "a*", "A*" or "Z*", Perl won’t let you.

       The pack code preceding "/" may be anything that’s fit to represent a
       number: All the numeric binary pack codes, and even text codes such as
       "A4" or "Z*":

          # pack/unpack a string preceded by its length in ASCII
          my $buf = pack( ’A4/A*’, "Humpty-Dumpty" );
          # unpack $buf: ’13  Humpty-Dumpty’
          my $txt = unpack( ’A4/A*’, $buf );

       "/" is not implemented in Perls before 5.6, so if your code is required
       to work on older Perls you’ll need to "unpack( ’Z* Z* C’)" to get the
       length, then use it to make a new unpack string. For example

          # pack a message: ASCIIZ, ASCIIZ, length, string, byte (5.005 compatible)
          my $msg = pack( ’Z* Z* C A* C’, $src, $dst, length $sm, $sm, $prio );

          # unpack
          ( undef, undef, $len) = unpack( ’Z* Z* C’, $msg );
          ($src, $dst, $sm, $prio) = unpack ( "Z* Z* x A$len C", $msg );

       But that second "unpack" is rushing ahead. It isn’t using a simple lit-
       eral string for the template. So maybe we should introduce...

       Dynamic Templates

       So far, we’ve seen literals used as templates. If the list of pack
       items doesn’t have fixed length, an expression constructing the tem-
       plate is required (whenever, for some reason, "()*" cannot be used).
       Here’s an example: To store named string values in a way that can be
       conveniently parsed by a C program, we create a sequence of names and
       null terminated ASCII strings, with "=" between the name and the value,
       followed by an additional delimiting null byte. Here’s how:

          my $env = pack( ’(A*A*Z*)’ . keys( %Env ) . ’C’,
                          map( { ( $_, ’=’, $Env{$_} ) } keys( %Env ) ), 0 );

       Let’s examine the cogs of this byte mill, one by one. There’s the "map"
       call, creating the items we intend to stuff into the $env buffer: to
       each key (in $_) it adds the "=" separator and the hash entry value.
       Each triplet is packed with the template code sequence "A*A*Z*" that is
       repeated according to the number of keys. (Yes, that’s what the "keys"
       function returns in scalar context.) To get the very last null byte, we
       add a 0 at the end of the "pack" list, to be packed with "C".  (Atten-
       tive readers may have noticed that we could have omitted the 0.)

       For the reverse operation, we’ll have to determine the number of items
       in the buffer before we can let "unpack" rip it apart:

          my $n = $env =~ tr/\0// - 1;
          my %env = map( split( /=/, $_ ), unpack( "(Z*)$n", $env ) );

       The "tr" counts the null bytes. The "unpack" call returns a list of
       name-value pairs each of which is taken apart in the "map" block.

       Counting Repetitions

       Rather than storing a sentinel at the end of a data item (or a list of
       items), we could precede the data with a count. Again, we pack keys and
       values of a hash, preceding each with an unsigned short length count,
       and up front we store the number of pairs:

          my $env = pack( ’S(S/A* S/A*)*’, scalar keys( %Env ), %Env );

       This simplifies the reverse operation as the number of repetitions can
       be unpacked with the "/" code:

          my %env = unpack( ’S/(S/A* S/A*)’, $env );

       Note that this is one of the rare cases where you cannot use the same
       template for "pack" and "unpack" because "pack" can’t determine a
       repeat count for a "()"-group.


Packing and Unpacking C Structures

       In previous sections we have seen how to pack numbers and character
       strings. If it were not for a couple of snags we could conclude this
       section right away with the terse remark that C structures don’t con-
       tain anything else, and therefore you already know all there is to it.
       Sorry, no: read on, please.

       The Alignment Pit

       In the consideration of speed against memory requirements the balance
       has been tilted in favor of faster execution. This has influenced the
       way C compilers allocate memory for structures: On architectures where
       a 16-bit or 32-bit operand can be moved faster between places in mem-
       ory, or to or from a CPU register, if it is aligned at an even or mul-
       tiple-of-four or even at a multiple-of eight address, a C compiler will
       give you this speed benefit by stuffing extra bytes into structures.
       If you don’t cross the C shoreline this is not likely to cause you any
       grief (although you should care when you design large data structures,
       or you want your code to be portable between architectures (you do want
       that, don’t you?)).

       To see how this affects "pack" and "unpack", we’ll compare these two C
       structures:

          typedef struct {
            char     c1;
            short    s;
            char     c2;
            long     l;
          } gappy_t;

          typedef struct {
            long     l;
            short    s;
            char     c1;
            char     c2;
          } dense_t;

       Typically, a C compiler allocates 12 bytes to a "gappy_t" variable, but
       requires only 8 bytes for a "dense_t". After investigating this fur-
       ther, we can draw memory maps, showing where the extra 4 bytes are hid-
       den:

          0           +4          +8          +12
          +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+
          │c1│xx│  s  │c2│xx│xx│xx│     l     │    xx = fill byte
          +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+
          gappy_t

          0           +4          +8
          +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+
          │     l     │  h  │c1│c2│
          +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+
          dense_t

       And that’s where the first quirk strikes: "pack" and "unpack" templates
       have to be stuffed with "x" codes to get those extra fill bytes.

       The natural question: "Why can’t Perl compensate for the gaps?" war-
       rants an answer. One good reason is that C compilers might provide
       (non-ANSI) extensions permitting all sorts of fancy control over the
       way structures are aligned, even at the level of an individual struc-
       ture field. And, if this were not enough, there is an insidious thing
       called "union" where the amount of fill bytes cannot be derived from
       the alignment of the next item alone.

       OK, so let’s bite the bullet. Here’s one way to get the alignment right
       by inserting template codes "x", which don’t take a corresponding item
       from the list:

         my $gappy = pack( ’cxs cxxx l!’, $c1, $s, $c2, $l );

       Note the "!" after "l": We want to make sure that we pack a long inte-
       ger as it is compiled by our C compiler. And even now, it will only
       work for the platforms where the compiler aligns things as above.  And
       somebody somewhere has a platform where it doesn’t.  [Probably a Cray,
       where "short"s, "int"s and "long"s are all 8 bytes. :-)]

       Counting bytes and watching alignments in lengthy structures is bound
       to be a drag. Isn’t there a way we can create the template with a sim-
       ple program? Here’s a C program that does the trick:

          #include <stdio.h>
          #include <stddef.h>

          typedef struct {
            char     fc1;
            short    fs;
            char     fc2;
            long     fl;
          } gappy_t;

          #define Pt(struct,field,tchar) \
            printf( "@%d%s ", offsetof(struct,field), # tchar );

          int main() {
            Pt( gappy_t, fc1, c  );
            Pt( gappy_t, fs,  s! );
            Pt( gappy_t, fc2, c  );
            Pt( gappy_t, fl,  l! );
            printf( "\n" );
          }

       The output line can be used as a template in a "pack" or "unpack" call:

         my $gappy = pack( ’@0c @2s! @4c @8l!’, $c1, $s, $c2, $l );

       Gee, yet another template code - as if we hadn’t plenty. But "@" saves
       our day by enabling us to specify the offset from the beginning of the
       pack buffer to the next item: This is just the value the "offsetof"
       macro (defined in "<stddef.h>") returns when given a "struct" type and
       one of its field names ("member-designator" in C standardese).

       Neither using offsets nor adding "x"’s to bridge the gaps is satisfac-
       tory.  (Just imagine what happens if the structure changes.) What we
       really need is a way of saying "skip as many bytes as required to the
       next multiple of N".  In fluent Templatese, you say this with "x!N"
       where N is replaced by the appropriate value. Here’s the next version
       of our struct packaging:

         my $gappy = pack( ’c x!2 s c x!4 l!’, $c1, $s, $c2, $l );

       That’s certainly better, but we still have to know how long all the
       integers are, and portability is far away. Rather than 2, for instance,
       we want to say "however long a short is". But this can be done by
       enclosing the appropriate pack code in brackets: "[s]". So, here’s the
       very best we can do:

         my $gappy = pack( ’c x![s] s c x![l!] l!’, $c1, $s, $c2, $l );

       Alignment, Take 2

       I’m afraid that we’re not quite through with the alignment catch yet.
       The hydra raises another ugly head when you pack arrays of structures:

          typedef struct {
            short    count;
            char     glyph;
          } cell_t;

          typedef cell_t buffer_t[BUFLEN];

       Where’s the catch? Padding is neither required before the first field
       "count", nor between this and the next field "glyph", so why can’t we
       simply pack like this:

          # something goes wrong here:
          pack( ’s!a’ x @buffer,
                map{ ( $_->{count}, $_->{glyph} ) } @buffer );

       This packs "3*@buffer" bytes, but it turns out that the size of
       "buffer_t" is four times "BUFLEN"! The moral of the story is that the
       required alignment of a structure or array is propagated to the next
       higher level where we have to consider padding at the end of each com-
       ponent as well. Thus the correct template is:

          pack( ’s!ax’ x @buffer,
                map{ ( $_->{count}, $_->{glyph} ) } @buffer );

       Alignment, Take 3

       And even if you take all the above into account, ANSI still lets this:

          typedef struct {
            char     foo[2];
          } foo_t;

       vary in size. The alignment constraint of the structure can be greater
       than any of its elements. [And if you think that this doesn’t affect
       anything common, dismember the next cellphone that you see. Many have
       ARM cores, and the ARM structure rules make "sizeof (foo_t)" == 4]

       Pointers for How to Use Them

       The title of this section indicates the second problem you may run into
       sooner or later when you pack C structures. If the function you intend
       to call expects a, say, "void *" value, you cannot simply take a refer-
       ence to a Perl variable. (Although that value certainly is a memory
       address, it’s not the address where the variable’s contents are
       stored.)

       Template code "P" promises to pack a "pointer to a fixed length
       string".  Isn’t this what we want? Let’s try:

           # allocate some storage and pack a pointer to it
           my $memory = "\x00" x $size;
           my $memptr = pack( ’P’, $memory );

       But wait: doesn’t "pack" just return a sequence of bytes? How can we
       pass this string of bytes to some C code expecting a pointer which is,
       after all, nothing but a number? The answer is simple: We have to
       obtain the numeric address from the bytes returned by "pack".

           my $ptr = unpack( ’L!’, $memptr );

       Obviously this assumes that it is possible to typecast a pointer to an
       unsigned long and vice versa, which frequently works but should not be
       taken as a universal law. - Now that we have this pointer the next
       question is: How can we put it to good use? We need a call to some C
       function where a pointer is expected. The read(2) system call comes to
       mind:

           ssize_t read(int fd, void *buf, size_t count);

       After reading perlfunc explaining how to use "syscall" we can write
       this Perl function copying a file to standard output:

           require ’syscall.ph’;
           sub cat($){
               my $path = shift();
               my $size = -s $path;
               my $memory = "\x00" x $size;  # allocate some memory
               my $ptr = unpack( ’L’, pack( ’P’, $memory ) );
               open( F, $path ) ││ die( "$path: cannot open ($!)\n" );
               my $fd = fileno(F);
               my $res = syscall( &SYS_read, fileno(F), $ptr, $size );
               print $memory;
               close( F );
           }

       This is neither a specimen of simplicity nor a paragon of portability
       but it illustrates the point: We are able to sneak behind the scenes
       and access Perl’s otherwise well-guarded memory! (Important note:
       Perl’s "syscall" does not require you to construct pointers in this
       roundabout way. You simply pass a string variable, and Perl forwards
       the address.)

       How does "unpack" with "P" work? Imagine some pointer in the buffer
       about to be unpacked: If it isn’t the null pointer (which will smartly
       produce the "undef" value) we have a start address - but then what?
       Perl has no way of knowing how long this "fixed length string" is, so
       it’s up to you to specify the actual size as an explicit length after
       "P".

          my $mem = "abcdefghijklmn";
          print unpack( ’P5’, pack( ’P’, $mem ) ); # prints "abcde"

       As a consequence, "pack" ignores any number or "*" after "P".

       Now that we have seen "P" at work, we might as well give "p" a whirl.
       Why do we need a second template code for packing pointers at all? The
       answer lies behind the simple fact that an "unpack" with "p" promises a
       null-terminated string starting at the address taken from the buffer,
       and that implies a length for the data item to be returned:

          my $buf = pack( ’p’, "abc\x00efhijklmn" );
          print unpack( ’p’, $buf );    # prints "abc"

       Albeit this is apt to be confusing: As a consequence of the length
       being implied by the string’s length, a number after pack code "p" is a
       repeat count, not a length as after "P".

       Using "pack(..., $x)" with "P" or "p" to get the address where $x is
       actually stored must be used with circumspection. Perl’s internal
       machinery considers the relation between a variable and that address as
       its very own private matter and doesn’t really care that we have
       obtained a copy. Therefore:

       ·   Do not use "pack" with "p" or "P" to obtain the address of variable
           that’s bound to go out of scope (and thereby freeing its memory)
           before you are done with using the memory at that address.

       ·   Be very careful with Perl operations that change the value of the
           variable. Appending something to the variable, for instance, might
           require reallocation of its storage, leaving you with a pointer
           into no-man’s land.

       ·   Don’t think that you can get the address of a Perl variable when it
           is stored as an integer or double number! "pack(’P’, $x)" will
           force the variable’s internal representation to string, just as if
           you had written something like "$x .= ’’".

       It’s safe, however, to P- or p-pack a string literal, because Perl sim-
       ply allocates an anonymous variable.


Pack Recipes

       Here are a collection of (possibly) useful canned recipes for "pack"
       and "unpack":

           # Convert IP address for socket functions
           pack( "C4", split /\./, "123.4.5.6" );

           # Count the bits in a chunk of memory (e.g. a select vector)
           unpack( ’%32b*’, $mask );

           # Determine the endianness of your system
           $is_little_endian = unpack( ’c’, pack( ’s’, 1 ) );
           $is_big_endian = unpack( ’xc’, pack( ’s’, 1 ) );

           # Determine the number of bits in a native integer
           $bits = unpack( ’%32I!’, ~0 );

           # Prepare argument for the nanosleep system call
           my $timespec = pack( ’L!L!’, $secs, $nanosecs );

       For a simple memory dump we unpack some bytes into just as many pairs
       of hex digits, and use "map" to handle the traditional spacing - 16
       bytes to a line:

           my $i;
           print map( ++$i % 16 ? "$_ " : "$_\n",
                      unpack( ’H2’ x length( $mem ), $mem ) ),
                 length( $mem ) % 16 ? "\n" : ’’;


Funnies Section

           # Pulling digits out of nowhere...
           print unpack( ’C’, pack( ’x’ ) ),
                 unpack( ’%B*’, pack( ’A’ ) ),
                 unpack( ’H’, pack( ’A’ ) ),
                 unpack( ’A’, unpack( ’C’, pack( ’A’ ) ) ), "\n";

           # One for the road ;-)
           my $advice = pack( ’all u can in a van’ );


Authors

       Simon Cozens and Wolfgang Laun.



perl v5.8.6                       2004-11-05                    PERLPACKTUT(1)

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