Excentury Format

To be able to seamlessly adapt a piece of C++ code to a script language we need a way to communicate between C++ and the scripting language. To understand how this communication process works we must first examine the excentury file format.

Basic Types

In the C++ language there are several basic datatypes. These types help us represent integers, real numbers and characters. To be able to store information we need to be able to store the type of the object we are storing along with its value. This could have been done in several ways but for simplicity we have chosen to declare a datatype by the type of object that is being stored along with the number of bytes that it is required for it in memory.

There are several datatypes which represent integers, these are signed char, short int, int and long int. To be able to represent short int for instance we can state I2, meaning an integer of 2 bytes. The following table shows all the basic datatypes in C++ along with its excentury representation.

Type name Excentury Denotes
char C 1 character of 1 byte
unsigned char N 1 natural number of 1 byte: 0 to 255
unsigned short int N 2 natural number of 2 bytes
unsigned int N 4 natural number of 4 bytes
unsigned long int N 8 natural number of 8 bytes
signed char I 1 integer of 1 byte: -128 to 127
short int I 2 integer of 2 bytes
int I 4 integer of 4 bytes
long int I 8 integer of 8 bytes
float R 4 real number of 4 bytes
double R 8 real number of 8 bytes

These basic types are the building blocks for all possible datatypes that we might need, these help us build structures which need to be adapted to excentury in order to store them in a file.

XC files

The idea behind the excentury format is that the content of the file must contain all the information so that we may load its data into a scripting language. The following file for instance, does not contain all the necessary information to load variables into a scripting language.

-1 3.14

Here we can tell that the file contains two values, the integer -1 and the real number 3.14. This however, does not say how it was previously stored in C++. One way to correct this is to write the file as follows

a I 4 -1
b R 8 3.14

The file states that it contains two variables. The first one is an integer of 4 bytes with value -1 and it should be assigned the name a when loaded. The second variable is a real number of 8 bytes of value 3.14 and should be named b.


To store structures we need to find a way of serializing the object with the minimum amount of information. Suppose that we wish to store two structures, a Point and a Line.

class Point {
    double x, y;
    Point(): x(1), y(1){}
    Point(double a1, double b2): x(a1), y(b2){}

class Line {
    Point a, b;
    Line(): a(0, 0), b(1, 1) {}
    Line(int a1, double b1, int a2, double b2):
        a(a1, b1), b(a2, b2) {}

For the moment, let us assume that we have taught excentury how these two structures need to be serialized. A file containing a Point named point_obj and a Line named line_obj may possibly look as follows

Point x R 8 y R 8
Line a S Point b S Point
point_obj S Point 100.0 200.0
line_obj S Line 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0

This file states that there are 2 structure definitions. The first one is for Point. To read a definition we simply read pairs of tokens: name and type. For a Point we have that its first member is x and it is a real number of 8 bytes (R 8). The second member is y and it is a real number of 8 bytes. Here we have to rely on the new line character to know that there are no other members for Point. Similarly, for the Line definition we have that its first member is named a and it is a Point structure (S Point) while its second member is a Point structure named b. This first section we just described is the dictionary for the file. This part contains all the definitions of structures stored in the file.

The second part contains the actual data. Here we can see that the file contains 2 objects. The first one is called point_obj. This is a structure of type Point. Since we now know the definition for a Point we now know that we expect two values: a real number x and a real number y. In this case these values are 100 and 200. The second object we have a Line structure. This one is made up of two points. So we must first the first point a which has members x and y, thus the member a has member x of value 1 and member y of value 2. Similarly for the member b we have values 3 and 4.

To store a structure we first need to tell Excentury how to store it. This however, will be covered in a later section. For now, we must mention one last object that is essential to the excentury format.

Tensors: Multidimensional Arrays

Arrays are essential to every programming language. Here we will give a brief introduction on how we decided to store them in the excentury format.

To store an array of integers of 4 bytes we could state the variable name followed by A I 4 followed by the number of elements in the array and their values. For instance

array_name A I 4 3 1 2 3

This was the original idea on how to store arrays. Similarly for matrices we would use the letter M but this time we would use two values to store its dimension.

matrix_name M I 4 2 3 1 2 3 4 5 6

One problem with this notation is that we assumed that the information was stored in column major form. That is the matrix in the previous file is

\[\begin{split}\left[ \begin{array}{cc} 1 & 4 \\ 2 & 5 \\ 3 & 6 \end{array} \right]\end{split}\]

We can overcome this problem by adding a 0 if we want column major or 1 if we want row major. The main problem when storing arrays and matrices however is that if we continue naming these structures we will soon find that we run out of names. For instance, an array is simply a sequence of objects. An array of arrays is called a matrix. An array of matrices is, well, a tensor of dimension 3. A multidimensional array is a tensor.

To specify a tensor we can use T <type> where type is either a basic type, a structure or a tensor. After that we must specify if it is row major or column major followed by the number of dimensions of the tensor and its dimensions. Finally we write the data.

To specify the previous array and matrix we would write the following excentury file

0 2
array_name T I 4 0 1 3 1 2 3
matrix_name T I 4 0 2 2 3 1 2 3 4 5 6

There is one type of array which is special that treating it as a tensor may be considered a waste of resources. A sequence of characters is usually known as a string. This type of array is special in excentury and it has been given the type W. For instance to store the string "hello world" we can use:

0 1
str_obj W 11 hello world

This says that str_obj is a word (W) of 11 characters.


The excentury file format takes the following form

<number of definition>
<structure name> [<member name> <type>] ...
<number of objects>
<variable name> <type> <data>
<variable name> T <type> <row major:1, column major: 0> <dimension> <dimensions> <data>
<variable name> W <string size> <data>

To write this file format we can use C++, Python or MATLAB. See each of their sections for more information and examples on how to do it.