Parsing Binary Structures; Is there a better way / What is your way?

Martin P. Hellwig martin.hellwig at
Wed Aug 5 16:46:13 CEST 2009

Hi List,

On several occasions I have needed (and build) a parser that reads a 
binary piece of data with custom structure. For example (bogus one):

| Version | Command | Instruction | Data Length | Data | Filler |
Version: 6 bits
Command: 4 bits
Instruction: 5 bits
Data Length: 5 bits
Data: 0-31 bits
Filler: filling 0 bits to make the packet dividable by 8

what I usually do is read the packet in binary mode, convert the output 
to a concatenated 'binary string'(i.e. '0101011000110') and then use 
slice indeces to get the right data portions.
Depending on what I need to do with these portions I convert them to 
whatever is handy (usually an integer).

This works out fine for me. Most of the time I also put the ASCII art 
diagram of this 'protocol' as a comment in the code, making it more 

Though there are a couple of things that bothers me with my approach:
- This seems such a general problem that I think that there must be 
already a general pythonic solution.
- Using a string for binary representation takes at least 8 times more 
memory for the packet than strictly necessary.
- Seems to need a lot of prep work before doing the actual parsing.

Any suggestion is greatly appreciated.

'If consumed, best digested with added seasoning to own preference.'

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