Neutrino needs to be able to encode object graphs as dumb data, for a number of reasons: as a wire format when communicating between processes over a binary connection, as an image format for binary images, as a serialization format for “paging out” whole processes, etc.

I’m already using a format which is the output of the neutrino compiler written in Java and which is the source format used by the neutrino native compiler written in neutrino, PIB (platform-independent binary). This format, however, is lame.

Before I start implementing its replacement, plankton, I decided to write down a draft specification, which has been a good opportunity to stop and think before forging ahead with an implementation. This format is simple, general, and compact. In particular, the template mechanism means that object graphs (trees really) representing syntax trees can be encoded as something no more verbose than bytecode in a way that doesn’t require special support — it falls out of the encoding mechanism automatically.

This specification is sure to change as I implement and use this but now the basics are there.

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