Let's develop an open-source media archive standard

From: Jules Richardson <julesrichardsonuk_at_yahoo.co.uk>
Date: Wed Aug 11 09:50:08 2004

On Wed, 2004-08-11 at 13:13, Steve Thatcher wrote:

> I would encode binary data as hex to keep everything ascii. Data size would expand,
> but the data would also be compressable so things could be kept in ZIP files of
> whatever choice a person would want to for their archiving purposes.

"could be kept" in zip files, yes - but then that's no use in 50 years
time if someone stumbles across a compressed file and has no idea how to
decompress it in order to read it and see what it is :-)
Hence keeping the archive small would seem sensible so that it can be
left as-is without any compression. My wild guesstimate on archive size
would be to aim for 110 - 120% of the raw data size if possible...

> XML has become a storage format choice for a lot of different commercial
> packages. My knowledge is more based on the windows world, but I would doubt
> that other computer software houses are avoiding XML. Sun/Java certainly
> embraces it.

My background (in XML terms) is with Java - but I've not come across
software that mixes a human-readable format in with a large amount of
binary data though (whether encoded or not). Typically the metadata's
kept seperate from the binary data itself, either in parallel files (not
suitable in our case) or as seperate sections within the same file.

> I don't quite understand why representing binary as hex would affect the
> ability to have command line utilitities.

See my posting the other week when I was trying to convert ASCII-based
hex data back into binary on a Unix platform :-) There's no *standard*
utility to do it (which means there certainly isn't on Windows). If the
data within the file is raw binary, then it's just a case of using dd to
extract it even if there's no high-level utility available to do it.

> Certainly more cpu cycles are needed for conversion and image file size is
> larger, but we need a readable format

But the data describing all aspects of disk image would be readable by a
human; it's only the raw data itself that wouldn't be - for both
efficiency and for ease of use. The driving force for having
human-readable data in the archive is so that it can be reconstructed at
a later date, possibly without any reference to any spec, is it not? If
it was guaranteed that a spec was *always* going to be available, having
human-readable data at all wouldn't make much sense as it just
introduces bloat; a pure binary format would be better.

I'm not quite sure what having binary data represented as hex for the
original disk data gives you over having the raw binary data itself -
all it seems to do is make the resultant file bigger and add an extra
conversion step into the decode process.

> and I would think that cpu cycles is not as much of a concern or file size.

In terms of CPU cycles, for me, no - I can't see me ever using the
archive format except on modern hardware. I can't speak for others on
the list though.

As for file size, if encoding as hex that at least doubles the size of
your archive file compared to the original media (whatever it may be).
That's assuming no padding between hex characters. Seems like a big
waste to me :-(

> The only difference I see in the sections that were described is that
> the first one encompasses the format info and the data. My description
> had the first one as being a big block that contained the two other sections
> as well as length and CRC info to verify data consistency.
> Adding author, etc to the big block would make perfect sense.

Yep, I'm with you there. CRC's are a nice idea. Question: does it make
sense to make CRC info a compulsory section in the archive file? Does it
make sense to have it always present, given that it's *likely* that
these archive files will only ever be transferred from place to place
using modern hardware? I'm not sure. If you're spitting data across a
buggy serial link, then the CRC info is nice to have - but maybe it
should be an optional inclusion rather than mandatory, so that in a lot
of cases archive size can be kept down? (and the assumption made that
there exists source code / spec for a utility to add CRC info to an
existing archive file if desired)


Received on Wed Aug 11 2004 - 09:50:08 BST

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