Sending binary pickled data through TCP

Steve Holden steve at holdenweb.com
Fri Oct 13 05:08:32 CEST 2006


David Hirschfield wrote:
> I have a pair of programs which trade python data back and forth by 
> pickling up lists of objects on one side (using 
> pickle.HIGHEST_PROTOCOL), and sending that data over a TCP socket 
> connection to the receiver, who unpickles the data and uses it.
> 
> So far this has been working fine, but I now need a way of separating 
> multiple chunks of pickled binary data in the stream being sent back and 
> forth.
> 
> Questions:
> 
> Is it safe to do what I'm doing? I didn't think there was anything 
> fundamentally wrong with sending binary pickled data, especially in the 
> closed, safe environment these programs operate under...but maybe I'm 
> making a poor assumption?
> 
If there's no chance of malevolent attackers modifying the data stream 
then you can safely ignore the otherwise dire consequences of unpickling 
arbitrary chunks of data.

> I was going to separate the chunks of pickled data with some well-formed 
> string, but couldn't that string potentially randomly appear in the 
> pickled data? Do I just pick an extremely 
> unlikely-to-be-randomly-generated string as the separator? Is there some 
> string that will definitely NEVER show up in pickled binary data?
> 
I presumed each chunk was of a know structure. Couldn't you just lead of 
with a pickled integer saying how many chunks follow?

> I thought about base64 encoding the data, and then decoding on the 
> opposite side (like what xmlrpclib does), but that turns out to be a 
> very expensive operation, which I want to avoid, speed is of the essence 
> in this situation.
> 
Yes, base64 stuffs three bytes into four (six bits per byte) giving you 
a 33% overhead. Having said that, pickle isn't all that efficient a 
representation because it's designed to be portable. If you are using 
machines of the same type there are almost certainly faster binary 
encodings.

> Is there a reliable way to determine the byte count of some pickled 
> binary data? Can I rely on len(<pickled data>) == bytes?
> 
Yes, since pickle returns a string of bytes, not a Unicode object.

If bandwidth really is becoming a limitation you might want to consider 
uses of the struct module to represent things more compactly (but this 
may be too difficult if the objects being exchanged are at all complex).

regards
  Steve
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