Hachoir3 for developers

Download code and run tests

To clone Git repository, type:

git clone https://github.com/haypo/hachoir3

Enter hachoir3 directory:

cd hachoir3

To run tests, type tox:


If tox is not already installed, install tox:

python3 -m pip install tox

See also Hachoir3 on the Travis CI.

Why using Hachoir parsers?

Why using slow Python code instead of fast hardcoded C code? Hachoir has many interesting features:

  • Autofix: Hachoir is able to open invalid / truncated files
  • Lazy: Open a file is very fast since no information is read from file, data are read and/or computed when the user ask for it
  • Types: Hachoir has many predefined field types (integer, bit, string, etc.) and supports string with charset (ISO-8859-1, UTF-8, UTF-16, ...)
  • Addresses and sizes are stored in bit, so flags are stored as classic fields
  • Endian: You have to set endian once, and then number are converted in the right endian
  • Editor: Using Hachoir representation of data, you can edit, insert, remove data and then save in a new file.

Hachoir Metadata Example

hachoir-metadata example:

from hachoir.parser import createParser
from hachoir.metadata import extractMetadata
from sys import argv, stderr, exit

if len(argv) != 2:
    print("usage: %s filename" % argv[0], file=stderr)
filename = argv[1]
parser = createParser(filename)
if not parser:
    print("Unable to parse file", file=stderr)

with parser:
        metadata = extractMetadata(parser)
    except Exception as err:
        print("Metadata extraction error: %s" % err)
        metadata = None
if not metadata:
    print("Unable to extract metadata")

for line in metadata.exportPlaintext():

hachoir.stream: Stream manipulation

To split data we first need is to get data :-) So this section presents the “hachoir.stream” API.

In most cases we work on files using the FileInputStream function. This function takes one argument: a Unicode filename. But for practical reasons we will use StringInputStream function in this documentation:

>>> data = b"point\0\3\0\2\0"
>>> from hachoir.stream import StringInputStream, LITTLE_ENDIAN
>>> stream = StringInputStream(data)
>>> stream.source
>>> len(data), stream.size
(10, 80)
>>> data[1:6], stream.readBytes(8, 5)
(b'oint\x00', b'oint\x00')
>>> data[6:8], stream.readBits(6*8, 16, LITTLE_ENDIAN)
(b'\x03\x00', 3)
>>> data[8:10], stream.readBits(8*8, 16, LITTLE_ENDIAN)
(b'\x02\x00', 2)

First big difference between a string and a Hachoir stream is that sizes and addresses are written in bits and not bytes. The difference is a factor of eight, that’s why we write “6*8” to get the sixth byte for example. You don’t need to know anything else to use Hachoir, so let’s play with fields!

hachoir.field: Field manipulation

Basic parser

We will parse the data used in the last section:

>>> from hachoir.field import Parser, CString, UInt16
>>> class Point(Parser):
...     endian = LITTLE_ENDIAN
...     def createFields(self):
...         yield CString(self, "name", "Point name")
...         yield UInt16(self, "x", "X coordinate")
...         yield UInt16(self, "y", "Y coordinate")
>>> point = Point(stream)
>>> for field in point:
...     print("%s) %s=%s" % (field.address, field.name, field.display))
0) name="point"
48) x=3
64) y=2

point is a the root of our field tree. This tree is really simple, it just has one level and three fields: name, x and y. Hachoir stores a lot of information in each field. In this example we just show the address, name and display attributes. But a field has more attributes:

>>> x = point["x"]
>>> "%s = %s" % (x.path, x.value)
'/x = 3'
>>> x.parent == point
>>> x.description
'X coordinate'
>>> x.index
>>> x.address, x.absolute_address
(48, 48)

The index is not the index of a field in a parent field list, ‘1’ means that it’s the second since the index starts at zero.

Parser with sub-field sets

After learning basic API, let’s see a more complex parser: parser with sub-field sets:

>>> from hachoir.field import FieldSet, UInt8, Character, String
>>> class Entry(FieldSet):
...     def createFields(self):
...         yield Character(self, "letter")
...         yield UInt8(self, "code")
>>> class MyFormat(Parser):
...     endian = LITTLE_ENDIAN
...     def createFields(self):
...         yield String(self, "signature", 3, charset="ASCII")
...         yield UInt8(self, "count")
...         for index in range(self["count"].value):
...             yield Entry(self, "point[]")
>>> data = b"MYF\3a\0b\2c\0"
>>> stream = StringInputStream(data)
>>> root = MyFormat(stream)

This example presents many interesting features of Hachoir. First of all, you can see that you can have two or more levels of fields. Here we have a tree with two levels:

>>> def displayTree(parent):
...     for field in parent:
...         print(field.path)
...         if field.is_field_set: displayTree(field)
>>> displayTree(root)

A field set is also a field, so it has the same attributes than another field (name, address, size, path, etc.) but has some new attributes like stream or root.

Lazy feature

Hachoir is written in Python so it should be slow and eat a lot of CPU and memory, and it does. But in most cases, you don’t need to explore an entire field set and read all values; you just need to read some values of some specific fields. Hachoir is really lazy: no field is parsed before you ask for it, no value is read from stream before you read a value, etc. To inspect this behaviour, you can watch “current_length” (number of read fields) and “current_size” (current size in bits of a field set):

>>> root = MyFormat(stream)  # Rebuild our parser
>>> (root.current_length, root.current_size)
(0, 0)
>>> print(root["signature"].display)
>>> (root.current_length, root.current_size, root["signature"].size)
(1, 24, 24)

Just after its creation, a parser is empty (0 fields). When we read the first field, its size becomes the size of the first field. Some operations requires to read more fields:

>>> print(root["point[0]/letter"].display)
>>> (root.current_length, root.current_size)
(3, 48)

Reading point[0] needs to read field “count”. So root now contains three fields.

List of field types


  • Bit: one bit (True/False) ;
  • Bits: unsigned number with a size in bits ;
  • Bytes: vector of know bytes (e.g. file signature) ;
  • UInt8, UInt16, UInt24, UInt32, UInt64: unsigned number (size: 8, 16, ... bits) ;
  • Int8, Int16, Int24, Int32, Int64: signed number (size: 8, 16, ... bits) ;
  • Float32, Float64, Float80: IEEE 754 floating point number (32, 64, 80 bits) ;


  • Character: 8 bits ASCII character ;
  • String: fixed length string ;
  • CString: string ending with nul byte (“\0”) ;
  • UnixLine: string ending with new line character (“\n”) ;
  • PascalString8, PascalString16 and PascalString32: string prefixed with length in a unsigned 8 / 16 / 32 bits integer (use parent endian) ;

Timestamp (date and time):

  • TimestampUnix32, TimestampUnix64: 32/64 bits UNIX, number of seconds since the January 1st 1970 ;
  • TimestampMac32: 32-bit Mac, number of seconds since the January 1st 1904 ;
  • TimestampWin64: 64-bit Windows, number of 1/10 microseconds since the January 1st 1600 ;
  • DateTimeMSDOS32 and TimeDateMSDOS32: 32-bit MS-DOS structure, since the January 1st 1980.

Timedelta (duration):

  • TimedeltaWin64: 64-bit Windows, number of 1/10 microseconds

Padding and raw bytes:

  • PaddingBits/PaddingBytes: padding with a size in bits/bytes ;
  • NullBits/NullBytes: null padding with a size in bits/bytes ;
  • RawBits/RawBytes: unknown content with a size in bits/bytes.
  • SubFile: a file contained in the stream ;

To create your own type, you can use:

  • GenericInteger: integer ;
  • GenericString: string ;
  • FieldSet: Set of other fields ;
  • Parser: The main class to parse a stream.

Field class

Read only attributes:

  • name (str): Name of the field, is unique in parent field set
  • address (long): address in bits relative to parent address
  • absolute_address (long): address in bits relative to input stream
  • parent (GenericFieldSet): parent field (is a field set)
  • is_field_set (bool) <~~~ can be replaced: the field contains other fields?
  • index (int): index of the field in parent field set (first index is 0)

Read only and lazy attributes:

  • size (long), cached: size of the field in bits
  • description (str|unicode), cached: informal description
  • display (unicode): value with human representation as unicode string
  • raw_display (unicode): value with raw representation as unicode string
  • path (str): concatenation with slash separator of all field name from the root field

Method that can be replaced:

  • createDescription(): create value of ‘description’ attribute
  • createValue(): create value of ‘value’ attribute
  • createDisplay(): create value of ‘display’ attribute
  • _createInputStream(): create an InputStream containing the field content

Aliases (method):

  • __str__() <=> read display attribute
  • __unicode__() <=> read display attribute
  • __getitem__(key): alias to getField(key, False)

Other methods:

  • static_size: helper to compute field size. If the value is an integer, the type has constant size. If it’s a function, the size depends of the arguments.
  • hasValue(): check if the field has a value or not (default: self.value is not None)
  • getField(key, const=True): get the field with specified key, if const is True the field set will not be changed
  • __contains__(key)
  • getSubIStream(): return a tagged InputStream containing the field content
  • setSubIStream(): helper to replace _createInputStream (the old one is passed to the new one to allow chaining)

Field set class

Read only attributes:

  • endian: value is BIG_ENDIAN or LITTLE_ENDIAN, the way the bits are written in input stream <~~ can be replaced
  • stream (InputStream): input stream
  • root (FieldSet): root of all fields
  • eof (bool): End Of File: are we at the end of the input stream?
  • done (bool): The parser is done or not?

Read only and lazy attributes:

  • current_size (long): Current size in bits
  • current_length (long): Current number of children


  • connectEvent(event, handler, local=True): connect an handler to an event
  • raiseEvent(event, *args): raise an event
  • reset(): clear all caches but keep its size if we know it
  • setUniqueFieldName(): for field with name ending with “[]”, replaces “[]” with an unique identifier like, “item[]” => “item[0]”.
  • seekBit(address, ...): create a field to seek to specified address or returns None if we are already there
  • seekByte(address, ...): create a field to seek to specified address or returns None if we are already there
  • replaceField(name, fields): replace a field with one or more fields <~~~ I don’t like this method :-(
  • getFieldByAddress(address, feed=True): get the field at the specified address
  • writeFieldsIn(old, address, new): helper for replaceField() <~~~ can be an helper?
  • getFieldType(): get the field type as a short string. The type may contains extra informations like the string charset.

Lazy methods:

  • array(): create a FakeArray to easily get a field by its index (see FakeArray API to get more details)
  • __len__(): number of children in the field set
  • readFirstFields(number): read first ‘number’ fields, returns number of new fields
  • readMoreFields(number): read more ‘number’ fields, returns number of new fields
  • __iter__(): iterate over children
  • createFields(): main function of the parser, create the fields. Don’t call this function directly.