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Byte-wise matching for Node.JS

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Gives a compact syntax for parsing and constructing byte buffers, derived from Erlang's bit syntax.

var bitsyntax = require('bitsyntax');
var pattern = bitsyntax.matcher('len:8/integer, str:len/binary');
var bound = pattern(new Buffer([4, 0x41, 0x42, 0x43, 0x44]));
// => <Buffer 41 42 43 44> 

A typical use of this is parsing byte streams from sockets. For example, size-prefixed frames:

var framePattern = bitsyntax.matcher('len:32/integer, frame:len/binary, rest/binary');
socket.on('data', function process(data) {
  var m;
  if (= framePattern(data)) {
    emit('frame', m.frame);
  else {

Patterns can also be used to construct byte buffers from supplied values:

var spdyDataFrame = require('bitsyntax')
  .builder('streamId:32, flags:8, length:24, data/binary');
spdyDataFrame({streamId:5, flags:0, length:bin.length, data:bin});

One or more segments of a pattern may also be supplied in multiple arguments, if that is more convenient; this makes it easier to split a long pattern over lines:

var p = bitsyntax.matcher('size:8, payload:size/binary',



Compiles a pattern as a string (or strings), to a function that will return either a map of bindings, or false, given a buffer and optionally an environment. The environment contains values for bound variables in the pattern (if there are any).

var p = bitsyntax.matcher('header:headerSize/binary, rest/binary');
var b = p(new Buffer([1, 2, 3, 4, 5]), {headerSize: 3});
// => <Buffer 01 02 03> 

A matcher will return false if the supplied buffer does not match the pattern; for example, if it has too few bytes, or a literal is not present.

var p = bitsyntax.matcher('"foo=", str/binary');
p(new Buffer("bar=humbug"));
// => false 

parse and match

When composed, equivalent to matcher; may be useful if you want to examine the internal structure of patterns.

parse takes strings as for matcher, and returns the internal representation of the pattern. match takes this representation, a buffer, and optionally an environment, and returns the bindings or false (as with matcher).

var p = bitsyntax.parse('header:headerSize/binary',
var b = bitsyntax.match(p, new Buffer([1, 2, 3, 4, 5]),
                          {headerSize: 3});
// => <Buffer 01 02 03> 


Takes a pattern and returns a function that will construct a byte buffer, given values for the variables mentioned in the pattern.

var cons = bitsyntax.builder('size:8, bin/binary');
cons({size:6, bin:new Buffer('foobar')});
// => <Buffer 06 66 6f 6f 62 61 72> 

Patterns supplied to builders are slightly different to patterns supplied for matching, as noted below.


Takes a parsed pattern and a map of variable values, and returns a buffer. As with match, may be useful to debug patterns.

var pattern = bitsyntax.parse('size:8, bin:size/binary');, {size:6, bin: new Buffer('foobar')});
// => <Buffer 06 66 6f 6f 62 61 72> 


Writes variable values into a buffer, at an offset, according to the parsed pattern given. Returns the finishing offset, i.e., the supplied offset plus the number of bytes written.

var pattern = bitsyntax.parse('size:8, bin/binary');
var buf = new Buffer(7);
bitsyntax.write(buf, 0, pattern,
                {size:6, bin: new Buffer('foobar')});
// => 7 
// => <Buffer 06 66 6f 6f 62 61 72> 


Patterns are sequences of segments, each matching a value. Segments have the general form


The size and type specifier list may be omitted, giving three extra variations:


The type specifier list is a list of keywords separated by hyphens. Type specifiers are described below.

Patterns are generally supplied as strings, with a comma-separated series of segments.

Variable or value

The first part of a segment gives a variable name or a literal value. If a variable name is given, the value matched by the segment will be bound to that variable name for the rest of the pattern. If a literal value is given, the matched value must equal that value. If a variable's value is given in the environment, the matched value must equal the provided value.

When used in a builder, the literal value will be copied into the buffer according to the type it is given. A variable name indicates a slot into which a value supplied to the builder will be copied.

The special variable name _ discards the value matched; i.e., it simply skips over the appropriate number of bits in the input. '_' is not allowed in builder patterns.

Size and unit

The size of a segment is given following the value or variable, separated with a colon:


The unit is given in the list of specifiers as `'unit' and an integer from 0..256, separated by a colon:


The size is the number of units in the value; the unit is given as a number of bits. Unit can be of use, for example, when you want to match integers of a number of bytes rather than a number of bits.

For integers and floats, the default unit is 1 bit; to keep things aligned on byte boundaries, unit * size must currently be a multiple of 8. For binaries the default unit is 8, and the unit must be a multiple of 8.

If the size is omitted and the type is integer, the size defaults to 8. If the size is omitted and the type is binary, the segment will match all remaining bytes in the input; such a segment may only be used at the end of a pattern, when matching.

The size may also be given as an integer variable matched earlier in the pattern, as in the example given at the top. When constructing, a size may be a variable referring to the supplied environment.

In builders, numbers will be rounded, masked or padded to fit the size and units given; for example, '256:8' gives the binary Buffer<00> because the lowest eight bits are 0; '255:16 gives the binary Buffer<00 ff>.

Type name specifier

One of integer, binary, string, float. If not given, the default is integer.

An integer is a big- or little-endian, signed or unsigned integer. Integers up to 32 bits are supported. Signed integers are two's complement format. In JavaScript, only integers between -(2^53) and 2^53 can be represented, and bitwise operators are only defined on 32-bit signed integers.

A binary is simply a byte buffer; usually this will result in a slice of the input buffer being returned, so beware mutation.

A string is a UTF8 string consisting of the given number of bytes.

A float is a 32- or 64-bit IEEE754 floating-point value (this is the standard JavaScript uses, as do Java and Erlang).

Endianness specifier

Integers may be big- or little-endian; this refers to which 'end' of the bytes making up the integer are most significant. In network protocols integers are usually big-endian, meaning the first (left-most) byte is the most significant, but this is not always the case.

A specifier of big means the integer will be parsed (or written into the result) as big-endian, and little means the integer will be parsed or written as little-endian. The default is big-endian.

Signedness specifier

Integer segments may include a specifier of signed or unsigned. A signed integer is parsed as two's complement format. The default is unsigned.

Signedness is ignored in builders.

Literal strings

A quoted string appearing in a pattern is a shorthand for the bytes in its UTF8 encoding. For example,

"foobar", _/binary

matches any buffer that starts with the bytes 0x66, 0x6f, 0x6f, 0x62, 0x61, 0x72.

When used in a builder, a quoted string is copied into the result as the bytes of its UTF8 encoding.


In the following the matched bytes are given in array notation for convenience. Bear in mind that match() actually takes a buffer for the bytes to match against. The phrase "returns X as Y" or "binds X as Y" means the return value is an object with value X mapped to the key Y.


Matches the single byte 54.


Matches the bytes [0,0,0,54].


Matches the bytes [54,0,0,0].


Matches the bytes [0,0,0,54].


Matches a binary of four bytes, and returns a signed 32-bit integer as int.

len:16, str:len/binary

Matches a binary of 2 + len bytes, and returns an unsigned 16-bit integer as len and a buffer of length len as str.

len:16, _:len/binary, rest/binary

Matches a binary of at least 2 + len bytes, binds an unsigned 16-bit integer as len, ignores the next len bytes, and binds the remaining (possibly zero-length) binary as rest.

s:8, key:s/binary, value/binary

When given the environment {s:6, key: "foobar"}, will match a binary starting with [6, 0x66, 0x6f, 0x6f, 0x62, 0x61, 0x72, ...].