Forward error correction of ByteStrings http://allmydata.org/source/zfec
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This package implements an "erasure code", or "forward error correction code".
You may use this package under the GNU General Public License, version 2 or, at
your option, any later version. You may use this package under the Transitive
Grace Period Public Licence, version 1.0. (You may choose to use this package
under the terms of either licence, at your option.) See the file COPYING.GPL
for the terms of the GNU General Public License, version 2. See the file
COPYING.TGPPL.html for the terms of the Transitive Grace Period Public Licence,
The most widely known example of an erasure code is the RAID-5 algorithm which
makes it so that in the event of the loss of any one hard drive, the stored data
can be completely recovered. The algorithm in the zfec package has a similar
effect, but instead of recovering from the loss of only a single element, it can
be parameterized to choose in advance the number of elements whose loss it can
This package is largely based on the old "fec" library by Luigi Rizzo et al.,
which is a mature and optimized implementation of erasure coding. The zfec
package makes several changes from the original "fec" package, including
addition of the Python API, refactoring of the C API to support zero-copy
operation, a few clean-ups and optimizations of the core code itself, and the
addition of a command-line tool named "zfec".
This package is managed with the "setuptools" package management tool. To build
and install the package directly into your system, just run "python ./setup.py
install". If you prefer to keep the package limited to a specific directory so
that you can manage it yourself (perhaps by using the "GNU stow") tool, then
give it these arguments: "python ./setup.py install
To run the self-tests, execute "python ./setup.py test" (or if you have Twisted
Python installed, you can run "trial zfec" for nicer output and test options.)
This will run the tests of the C API, the Python API, and the command-line
To run the tests of the Haskell API:
% runhaskell haskell/test/FECTest.hs
Note that you must have installed the library first in order for this to work
due to the fact that the interpreter cannot process FEC.hs as it takes a
reference to an FFI function.
The source is currently available via darcs on the web with the command:
darcs get http://allmydata.org/source/zfec
More information on darcs is available at http://darcs.net
Please join the zfec mailing list and submit patches:
This package performs two operations, encoding and decoding. Encoding takes
some input data and expands its size by producing extra "check blocks", also
called "secondary blocks". Decoding takes some data -- any combination of
blocks of the original data (called "primary blocks") and "secondary blocks",
and produces the original data.
The encoding is parameterized by two integers, k and m. m is the total number
of blocks produced, and k is how many of those blocks are necessary to
reconstruct the original data. m is required to be at least 1 and at most 256,
and k is required to be at least 1 and at most m.
(Note that when k == m then there is no point in doing erasure coding -- it
degenerates to the equivalent of the Unix "split" utility which simply splits
the input into successive segments. Similarly, when k == 1 it degenerates to
the equivalent of the unix "cp" utility -- each block is a complete copy of the
input data. The "zfec" command-line tool does not implement these degenerate
Note that each "primary block" is a segment of the original data, so its size is
1/k'th of the size of original data, and each "secondary block" is of the same
size, so the total space used by all the blocks is m/k times the size of the
original data (plus some padding to fill out the last primary block to be the
same size as all the others). In addition to the data contained in the blocks
themselves there are also a few pieces of metadata which are necessary for later
reconstruction. Those pieces are: 1. the value of K, 2. the value of M, 3.
the sharenum of each block, 4. the number of bytes of padding that were used.
The "zfec" command-line tool compresses these pieces of data and prepends them
to the beginning of each share, so each the sharefile produced by the "zfec"
command-line tool is between one and four bytes larger than the share data
The decoding step requires as input k of the blocks which were produced by the
encoding step. The decoding step produces as output the data that was earlier
input to the encoding step.
* Command-Line Tool
NOTE: the format of the sharefiles was changed in zfec v1.1 to allow K == 1 and
K == M. This change of the format of sharefiles means that zfec >= v1.1 cannot
read sharefiles produced by zfec < v1.1.
The bin/ directory contains two Unix-style, command-line tools "zfec" and
"zunfec". Execute "zfec --help" or "zunfec --help" for usage instructions.
Note: a Unix-style tool like "zfec" does only one thing -- in this case erasure
coding -- and leaves other tasks to other tools. Other Unix-style tools that go
well with zfec include "GNU tar" for archiving multiple files and directories
into one file, "rzip" or "lrzip" for compression, and "GNU Privacy Guard" for
encryption or "sha256sum" for integrity. It is important to do things in order:
first archive, then compress, then either encrypt or sha256sum, then erasure
code. Note that if GNU Privacy Guard is used for privacy, then it will also
ensure integrity, so the use of sha256sum is unnecessary in that case.
* Performance Measurements
On my Athlon 64 2.4 GHz workstation (running Linux), the "zfec" command-line
tool encoded a 160 MB file with m=100, k=94 (about 6% redundancy) in 3.9
seconds, where the "par2" tool encoded the file with about 6% redundancy in 27
seconds. zfec encoded the same file with m=12, k=6 (100% redundancy) in 4.1
seconds, where par2 encoded it with about 100% redundancy in 7 minutes and 56
The underlying C library in benchmark mode encoded from a file at about 4.9
million bytes per second and decoded at about 5.8 million bytes per second.
On Peter's fancy Intel Mac laptop (2.16 GHz Core Duo), it encoded from a file at
about 6.2 million bytes per second.
On my even fancier Intel Mac laptop (2.33 GHz Core Duo), it encoded from a file
at about 6.8 million bytes per second.
On my old PowerPC G4 867 MHz Mac laptop, it encoded from a file at about 1.3
million bytes per second.
Each block is associated with "blocknum". The blocknum of each primary block is
its index (starting from zero), so the 0'th block is the first primary block,
which is the first few bytes of the file, the 1'st block is the next primary
block, which is the next few bytes of the file, and so on. The last primary
block has blocknum k-1. The blocknum of each secondary block is an arbitrary
integer between k and 255 inclusive. (When using the Python API, if you don't
specify which blocknums you want for your secondary blocks when invoking
encode(), then it will by default provide the blocks with ids from k to m-1
** C API
fec_encode() takes as input an array of k pointers, where each pointer points to
a memory buffer containing the input data (i.e., the i'th buffer contains the
i'th primary block). There is also a second parameter which is an array of the
blocknums of the secondary blocks which are to be produced. (Each element in
that array is required to be the blocknum of a secondary block, i.e. it is
required to be >= k and < m.)
The output from fec_encode() is the requested set of secondary blocks which are
written into output buffers provided by the caller.
fec_decode() takes as input an array of k pointers, where each pointer points to
a buffer containing a block. There is also a separate input parameter which is
an array of blocknums, indicating the blocknum of each of the blocks which is
being passed in.
The output from fec_decode() is the set of primary blocks which were missing
from the input and had to be reconstructed. These reconstructed blocks are
written into output buffers provided by the caller.
** Python API
encode() and decode() take as input a sequence of k buffers, where a "sequence"
is any object that implements the Python sequence protocol (such as a list or
tuple) and a "buffer" is any object that implements the Python buffer protocol
(such as a string or array). The contents that are required to be present in
these buffers are the same as for the C API.
encode() also takes a list of desired blocknums. Unlike the C API, the Python
API accepts blocknums of primary blocks as well as secondary blocks in its list
of desired blocknums. encode() returns a list of buffer objects which contain
the blocks requested. For each requested block which is a primary block, the
resulting list contains a reference to the apppropriate primary block from the
input list. For each requested block which is a secondary block, the list
contains a newly created string object containing that block.
decode() also takes a list of integers indicating the blocknums of the blocks
being passed int. decode() returns a list of buffer objects which contain all
of the primary blocks of the original data (in order). For each primary block
which was present in the input list, then the result list simply contains a
reference to the object that was passed in the input list. For each primary
block which was not present in the input, the result list contains a newly
created string object containing that primary block.
Beware of a "gotcha" that can result from the combination of mutable data and
the fact that the Python API returns references to inputs when possible.
Returning references to its inputs is efficient since it avoids making an
unnecessary copy of the data, but if the object which was passed as input is
mutable and if that object is mutated after the call to zfec returns, then the
result from zfec -- which is just a reference to that same object -- will also
be mutated. This subtlety is the price you pay for avoiding data copying. If
you don't want to have to worry about this then you can simply use immutable
objects (e.g. Python strings) to hold the data that you pass to zfec.
** Haskell API
The Haskell code is fully Haddocked, to generate the documentation, run
% runhaskell Setup.lhs haddock
The filefec.py module has a utility function for efficiently reading a file and
encoding it piece by piece. This module is used by the "zfec" and "zunfec"
command-line tools from the bin/ directory.
A C compiler is required. To use the Python API or the command-line tools a
Python interpreter is also required. We have tested it with Python v2.4 and
v2.5. For the Haskell interface, GHC >= 6.8.1 is required.
Thanks to the author of the original fec lib, Luigi Rizzo, and the folks that
contributed to it: Phil Karn, Robert Morelos-Zaragoza, Hari Thirumoorthy, and
Dan Rubenstein. Thanks to the Mnet hackers who wrote an earlier Python wrapper,
especially Myers Carpenter and Hauke Johannknecht. Thanks to Brian Warner and
Amber O'Whielacronx for help with the API, documentation, debugging,
compression, and unit tests. Thanks to Adam Langley for improving the C API and
contributing the Haskell API. Thanks to the creators of GCC (starting with
Richard M. Stallman) and Valgrind (starting with Julian Seward) for a pair of
excellent tools. Thanks to my coworkers at Allmydata -- http://allmydata.com --
Fabrice Grinda, Peter Secor, Rob Kinninmont, Brian Warner, Zandr Milewski,
Justin Boreta, Mark Meras for sponsoring this work and releasing it under a Free