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Google Releases 'Protocol Buffers' Data Language

Google's documentation claims that Protocol Buffers are 3 to 10 times smaller than comparable XML files and can be parsed 20 to 100 times faster.

Google on Monday released "Protocol Buffers," an open source data description language that the company developed for internal use. Think of it as XML's cousin, but simpler, smaller, and faster.

"It's the way we encode almost any sort of structured information which needs to be passed across the network or stored on disk," said Chris DiBona, Google's open source programs manager, in a blog post. "We thought Protocol Buffers might be useful to other people, too, so we've decided to release it as open source software."

Google software engineer Kenton Varda, in a post on the Google open source blog, said that Google uses literally thousands of different data formats, most of which are structured. Encoding these data formats on a massive scale is too much for XML, so Google developed Protocol Buffers.

Varda compares Protocol Buffers to an Interface Description Language (IDL), without the complexity. "[O]ne of Protocol Buffers' major design goals is simplicity," said Varda. "By sticking to a simple lists-and-records model that solves the majority of problems and resisting the desire to chase diminishing returns, we believe we have created something that is powerful without being bloated. And, yes, it is very fast -- at least an order of magnitude faster than XML."

Google's documentation claims that Protocol Buffers are 3 to 10 times smaller than comparable XML files and can be parsed 20 to 100 times faster.

XML remains a better choice for files like text-documents. XML is intended to be human-readable and human-editable. A Protocol Buffer requires a .proto file message definition to be understood.

The free download that Google is offering includes the complete source code for the Java, Python, and C++ protocol buffer compilers.

In the online FAQs for Protocol Buffers, Google says that it has many other software projects that it intends to release as open source. Because those projects require Protocol Buffers, the company opted to release Protocol Buffers first.

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