The Bond logo: a stylized glue gun


Bond is an extensible framework for working with schematized data. It is suitable for scenarios ranging from service communications to Big Data storage and processing.

Bond defines a rich type system and schema evolution rules which allow forward and backward compatibility. The core Bond features include high performance serialization/deserialization and a very powerful, generic data transform mechanism. The framework is highly extensible via pluggable serialization protocols, data streams, user defined type aliases and more.

By design Bond is language and platform independent and is currently supported for C++, C#, Java, and Python on Linux, macOS, and Windows.

Bond is published on GitHub at

Basic example

In Bond data schemas are defined using idl-like syntax:

namespace example

struct Record
    0: string          name;
    1: vector<double>  items;

In order to use the schema in a C++ program, it needs to be compiled using the Bond compiler gbc. This step is sometimes also referred to as code generation (or codegen) because the compilation generates C++ code corresponding to the schema definition.

gbc c++

Using the generated C++ code, we can write a simple program that will serialize and deserialize an instance of the Record schema using Compact Binary protocol:

#include "example_reflection.h"

#include <bond/core/bond.h>
#include <bond/stream/output_buffer.h>

int main()
    example::Record src; = "test";

    bond::OutputBuffer output;
    bond::CompactBinaryWriter<bond::OutputBuffer> writer(output);

    Serialize(src, writer);

    bond::InputBuffer input(output.GetBuffer());
    bond::CompactBinaryReader<bond::InputBuffer> reader(input);

    example::Record dst;

    Deserialize(reader, dst);

    return 0;


The core feature provided by Bond is the ability to serialize and deserialize instances of user-defined schemas. The serialization APIs are declared in the bond\core\bond.h header file:

template <typename T, typename Writer>
void Serialize(const T& obj, Writer& output);

template <typename T, typename Reader>
void Deserialize(Reader input, T& obj);

template <typename T, typename Reader>
T Deserialize(Reader input);

The Reader and Writer template parameters specify the serialization protocol, and are one of the layers at which Bond serialization can be customized to meet applications’ needs. The protocol defines how serialized data is encoded (e.g. binary, text). Bond ships with several built-in protocols optimized for various scenarios, and also supports user-defined protocols. By convention, protocol implementation is split between two classes implementing the reader, and the writer:

template <typename Buffer>
class CompactBinaryReader;

template <typename Buffer>
class CompactBinaryWriter;

The Buffer template parameter specifies where the serialized payload is respectively read from and written to. This constitutes the second layer of customization. Bond comes with built-in buffers implemented on top of memory blobs, InputBuffer and OutputBuffer, but applications can also define custom buffers by implementing simple stream interfaces.

The full protocol class names can be unwieldy and it is often convenient to define shorter type aliases:

typedef bond::InputBuffer Input;
typedef bond::CompactBinaryReader<Input> Reader;
typedef bond::OutputBuffer Output;
typedef bond::CompactBinaryWriter<Output> Writer;

which then can be used throughout application code:

Output output;
Writer writer(output);
Serialize(obj1, writer);

Reader reader(output.GetBuffer());
Deserialize(reader, obj2);

In storage scenarios, when untagged protocols, such as the Simple Protocol, are used, applications need to specify the payload schema during deserialization. The deserialization API has an overloaded version to accommodate this usage:

template <typename T, typename Reader>
void Deserialize(Reader input, T& obj, const RuntimeSchema& schema);

template <typename T, typename Reader>
T Deserialize(Reader input, const RuntimeSchema& schema);

Typically the runtime schema is stored together with the data, for example in a system table or a header of a data file. Since Bond may need to access the runtime schema after the Deserialize function returns (to support lazy deserialization), it is recommended that applications manage lifetime of the schema object using smart pointers:

boost::shared_ptr<bond::SchemaDef> schema(boost::make_shared<bond::SchemaDef>());

// Deserialize the runtime schema
bond::CompactBinaryReader<bond::InputBuffer> cb_reader(schema_data);
bond::Deserialize(cb_reader, *schema);

// Deserialize the object using the runtime schema
bond::SimpleBinaryReader<bond::InputBuffer> simple_reader(object_data);
Deserialize(simple_reader, obj, schema);

See examples:


Since Bond supports multiple serialization protocols, application endpoints either have to agree on a particular protocol, or include protocol metadata in the payload. Marshaling APIs provide the standard way to do the latter, by automatically adding a payload header with the protocol identifier and version.

Marshal and Unmarshal APIs are very similar to Serialize and Deserialize, except that when calling Unmarshal the application simply provides an input stream with payload data, rather than an instance of a particular protocol reader:

bond::OutputBuffer output;
bond::CompactBinaryWriter<bond::OutputBuffer> writer(output);

Marshal(src, writer);

bond::InputBuffer input(output.GetBuffer());

Unmarshal(input, dst);

See example: examples/cpp/core/marshaling.

Schema evolution

Bond does not use explicit versioning to deal with changes to schemas (and the resulting types) over time. Instead, Bond supports certain schema evolution operations which allow the producer and consumer of Bond types to evolve without lockstep coordination.

The following changes to a schema will never break compatibility across the wire:

The following changes to a type are generally safe but require some consideration about how the change is rolled out:

These following changes will break wire compatibility and are not recommended:

Some best practices and other considerations to keep in mind:

Default values

Fields of a Bond defined struct always have a default value, either explicitly specified in the .bond file, or the implicit default.

The implicit default is

There is no implicit default for enum fields: they must have an explicit default value in the .bond file.

Explicit default values (other than nothing) may not be specified for nullable or container fields. Struct and bonded fields may not have an explicit default value. They always use their implicit default values.

The default values of fields matter because this is what an application will see after deserialization for any optional field that wasn’t present in the payload (e.g. when the payload was created from an older version of the schema).

Additionally, some protocols can omit optional non-struct fields set to their default values, reducing payload size.

Default value of nothing

Sometimes it is necessary to distinguish between any of the possible values of a field and absence of a value. To support such scenarios Bond allows non-struct fields’ default values to be explicitly set to nothing 1:

struct AboutNothing
    0: uint16 n = nothing;
    1: string name = nothing;
    2: list<float> floats = nothing;

Setting a field’s default to nothing doesn’t affect the schema type of the field, however it may affect what type the field is mapped to in the generated code. The reason why is pretty obvious: some types such as uint16_t just can’t represent absence of a value. In C++ fields with default of nothing always map to bond::maybe<T>.

The fact that setting the default value of a field to nothing doesn’t affect the field’s schema type has an important consequence: the default value of the field doesn’t have a serialized representation. What this means in practice depends on whether the field is optional or required. Optional fields set to nothing are usually omitted during serialization 2, just like for any other default values. Required fields, by definition, can never be omitted. Since nothing has no serialized representation, an attempt to serialize an object with required fields set to nothing will result in a runtime exception. If a null value needs to be represented in the serialized form, then a default of nothing is the wrong choice and a nullable type should be used instead.

Nullable types

For any type in the Bond meta-schema, nullable<T> defines a nullable type. A nullable type can store all the same values as its base type plus one additional value: null.

struct Nullables
    0: nullable<bool>         b; // can be true, false, or null
    1: list<nullable<string>> l; // can be a (possibly empty) list or null

The default value for a field of a nullable type is always implicitly set to null. Explicit default values for nullable fields are not supported.

In the generated C++ code nullable types are represented by the nullable<T> class template.

Since a nullable type must represent the additional value of null, its serialized representation necessarily incurs some overhead compared to the base type. Often it is more efficient to avoid using a nullable type and instead to designate one of the normal values to handle the special case that otherwise would be represented by null. For example empty is usually a good choice for string and container types and 0 for arithmetic types. Another option that may sometimes be appropriate is setting the default value of a non-struct field to nothing. Struct fields can have neither an explicit default value nor be set to nothing, so nullable needs to be used if null semantics are needed for these fields.

The canonical scenario where a nullable type is the right choice is recursive structures. For example here’s how Bond TypeDef struct is defined:

struct TypeDef
    // Type identifier
    0: BondDataType id = BT_STRUCT;

    // Index of struct definition in SchemaDef.structs when id == BT_STRUCT
    1: uint16 struct_def = 0;

    // Type definition for:
    //  list elements (id == BT_LIST),
    //  set elements (id == BT_SET),
    //  or mapped value (id == BT_MAP)
    2: nullable<TypeDef> element;

    // Type definition for map key when id == BT_MAP
    3: nullable<TypeDef> key;

    // True if the type is bonded<T>; used only when id == BT_STRUCT
    4: bool bonded_type;

The TypeDef struct is used to represent the type of a field in a Bond schema. If the type is a container such as a list or map, the type definition becomes recursive. For example, a list type definition contains the type of the list element which of course itself can be a container of elements of some other type, and so on, until the recursion is terminated with a null value for the element and key fields.

Runtime schema

Some generic applications may need to work with Bond schemas unknown at compile-time. In order to address such scenarios Bond defines a type SchemaDef to represent schemas at runtime. Applications can obtain an instance of SchemaDef for a particular type using the GetRuntimeSchema API:

// from type T
auto schema = bond::GetRuntimeSchema<Example>();

// from an instance
auto schema = bond::GetRuntimeSchema(obj);

The value returned by GetRuntimeSchema is of type bond::RuntimeSchema, which is a thin wrapper over SchemaDef. The runtime schema object returned by the API is always self contained, including the runtime schema definitions for all nested types (if any). Note that GetRuntimeSchema returns a static object and can’t be called during module initialization (e.g. from a constructor of a static object).

SchemaDef is a Bond type, defined in, and as such can be de/serialized like any other Bond type:

Serialize(bond::GetRuntimeSchema<Example>(), writer);

A runtime schema is often used to describe the schema of a serialized payload, in particular when using an untagged protocol:

bond::SimpleBinaryReader reader(dataPayload);
auto schema = boost::make_shared<bond::SchemaDef>();

Unmarshal(schemaPayload, *schema);
Deserialize(reader, obj, schema);

The Deserialize API in the above code snippet is a thin wrapper around the generic way to describe payload with a runtime schema: bonded<void>:

bond::bonded<void> data(reader, schema);

A bonded<void> object can be used like any bonded<T>, e.g. it can be serialized/transcoded:

Serialize(data, writer);

When an application creates an instance of SchemaDef in order to use it with Bond APIs, it is strongly recommended to always dynamically allocate the object and wrap it in a boost::shared_ptr, like in the example above. There are some subtle cases when Bond may need to keep a reference to the schema beyond the scope where it was created, and using a shared_ptr provides a safe and efficient way to achieve this. In order to encourage this, the bond::RuntimeSchema wrapper used by many Bond APIs is implicitly constructable from boost::shared_ptr<SchemaDef> but only explicitly from const SchemaDef&.

A serialized representation of SchemaDef can be also obtained directly from a schema definition IDL file using bond compiler.

See example: examples/cpp/core/runtime_schema.

Compile-time schema

Bond generated C++ classes define a nested struct called Schema which describes the type’s schema. It is called compile-time schema because it supports reflection on the schema during C++ compilation, enabling various meta-programming techniques. The struct Schema has the following members:

Compile-time schema can also be defined in a non-intrusive way, e.g. for classes that can’t be modified, by specializing schema meta-function:

template <typename T, typename Enable = void> struct

For an example see the compile-time schema definition for std::tuple<T...> in bond/core/tuple.h.

Code examples:

Understanding bonded<T>

The generic type bonded<T> is a simple yet powerful abstraction which is a fundamental part of Bond APIs and enables such usage scenarios as lazy deserialization, protocol transcoding, pass-through and polymorphism.

Fundamentally, bonded<T> is used to represents a struct data, but it is much more versatile than a simple struct instance. Before we explore its capabilities, let’s first look at C++ declaration of bonded class:

template <typename T, typename Reader = ProtocolReader<T, InputBuffer>>
class bonded;

The class template has two parameters. The first one, T, represents schema (or type) of the data. Usually it is a struct defined via Bond IDL but it can also be void (see bonded<void>) if we want to work with data for which schema is not known at compile-time. The second parameter, Reader, specifies representation of the data. The default, ProtocolReader is a variant type which can hold data serialized using any of the Bond protocols, or an instance of struct T.

The bonded class defines several constructors which allow creation of bonded objects from following inputs:

using bond::bonded;

MyStruct obj;

// Copy obj by value
bonded<MyStruct> b1(obj);

// Store reference to obj
bonded<MyStruct> b2(boost::ref(obj));

// Store shared_ptr to object
auto ptr = boost::make_shared<MyStruct>();
bonded<MyStruct> b3(ptr);
bond::CompactBinaryReader<bond::InputBuffer> reader(payload);

bonded<MyStruct> b4(reader);

bonded<void> b5(reader, schema);
// Implicit up-casting
bonded<MyStructBase> b6(b4);

// Explicit down-casting
bonded<MyStruct> b7(b6);

// Explicit cast to bonded<void>
bonded<void> b8(b7);

// Explicit cast from bonded<void>
bonded<MyStruct> b9(b8);

APIs associated with bonded<T> are very simple. Given an instance of bonded<T> we can essentially perform two operations on the contained data:

Versatility of bonded<T> comes from how these two operations apply to various kinds of data.

Lazy deserialization

Because bonded<T> can store (or more accurately, refer to) data representing a serialized struct, it can be used to de facto delay deserialization of some parts of payload:

struct Example
    0: Always            m_always;
    1: bonded<Sometimes> m_sometimes;

The schema defined above contains two nested fields. When an object of type Example is deserialized, the field m_always will be fully instantiated and deserialized, but field m_sometimes, which is declared as bonded<Sometimes>, will be merely initialized with a reference to its serialized representation 4.

Example example;

Deserialize(reader, example);

// Deserialize m_sometimes only when needed
if (needSometimes)
    Sometimes sometimes;


Protocol transcoding

If bonded<T> contains data representing a serialized struct, what does it mean to serialize it? The answer to this questions is the key to understanding the power and versatility of bonded<T>. When serializing a bonded<T> object, Bond will iterate through the serialized data, decode each field and write it to target protocol writer 5. What’s more, if the source data is encoded using a tagged protocol (e.g. Compact Binary) Bond doesn’t depend on definition of struct T to know what fields the payload contains. The payload is self-described and Bond is able to preserve all fields, even those that are not part of struct T (e.g. because the payload was created using a newer version of the schema). In fact bonded<T> can be serialized even if definition of type T is not known!

// Declare Unknown; actual definition is not needed
struct Unknown;

// Transcode data from Compact Binary to JSON
bond::CompactBinary<bond::InputBuffer> reader(data);
bond::bonded<Unknown> payload(reader);

bond::OutputBuffer json;
bond::SimpleJsonWriter<bond::OutputBuffer> writer(json);

Serialize(payload, writer);

The sample code above would preserve all the fields from the source data, however it would not preserve the field names, producing JSON output looking something like this:

    "10": "Sample Konfabulator Widget",
    "30": 500,
    "40": 500

The output is sufficient to deserialize the object using Bond, but it is not particularly human-readable. If we wanted to preserve fields names in JSON output, we would need to specify the payload schema, by using either bonded of a defined Bond struct rather than Unknown, or bonded<void> with a schema provided at runtime.

// Transcode data from Compact Binary to JSON using runtime schema
bond::CompactBinary<bond::InputBuffer> reader(data);
bond::bonded<void> payload(reader, schema);

bond::OutputBuffer json;
bond::SimpleJsonWriter<bond::OutputBuffer> writer(json);

Serialize(payload, writer);

The schema object in the example above is an instance of bond::SchemaDef. With full schema information transcoded JSON output will be more human-friendly:

    "title": "Sample Konfabulator Widget",
    "width": 500,
    "height": 500

See also: examples/cpp/core/protocol_transcoding


The fact that bonded<T> preserves unknown fields is very useful when building service pipelines. Intermediary nodes often need to pass data through with full fidelity. At the same time, it is desirable that every schema change doesn’t necessitate redeployment of all the nodes in a pipeline. Using bonded<T> for pass-through is often the right solution.

As an example let’s imagine a simple aggregator which receives responses from upstream services and aggregates top results.

struct Response;

struct Upstream
    0: bonded<Response> response;
    1: float ranking;

struct Aggregated
    0: list<bonded<Response>> responses;

Using bonded<Response> allows the intermediary to aggregate responses, preserving their full content, even though schema of Response is not known when the aggregator is built, and thus it doesn’t need to be rebuilt or redeployed when schema of Response changes.

void ProcessResponse(const Upstream& upstream)
    if (upstream.ranking > threshold)


Bond support for polymorphism is built around the capability of bonded<T> to contain serialized struct data not limited to just fields of struct T. In particular bonded<Base> can contain serialized data for some struct Derived which inherits from Base. Together with the ability to down-cast bonded<Base> to bonded<Dervied>, this enables use of Bond schemas supporting serialization of polymorphic objects.

enum Kind

struct Shape
    0: Kind kind = none;

struct Rectangle: Shape
    0: int32 width;
    1: int32 height;

struct Circle : Shape
    0: int32 radius;

struct Example
    0: list<bonded<Shape>> shapes;

For details on implementing polymorphism see the following examples:

Bonus explainer: parallels between bonded<T> and C++ pointers

The rules of casting and slicing that apply to bonded<T> are by design very similar to the standard C++ rules for pointers:

bonded<T> C++ pointer

Slicing to base

bonded<Derived> b;
Base obj;
Derived* p;
Base obj;
obj = *p;

Assigning to base part

bonded<Base> b;
Derived obj;
Base* p;
Derived obj;
static_cast<Base&>(obj) = *p;

Implicit up-casting

void foo(bonded<Base>);
bonded<Derived> b;
void foo(Base*)
Derived* p;

Explicit down-casting

bonded<Base> b;
Derived obj;
Base* p;
Derived obj;
obj = *static_cast<Derived*>(p);

Implicit cast to void

void foo(bonded<void>);
bonded<Bar> b;
void foo(void*);
Bar* p;

Explicit cast from void

bonded<void> b(data, schema);
bonded<Bar> bb;
bb = bonded<Bar>(b);
void* p = &obj
Bar* pp;
pp = static_cast<Bar*>(p);


An important feature of Bond is the ability to preserve unknown fields (Pass-through), or even whole parts of the inheritance hierarchy (Polymorphism), when transcoding or forwarding serialized Bond payloads. The merge feature builds on these capabilities by allowing modifications to the known part of a structure and merging them with any unknown parts present in the payload.

The Merge API takes as input an instance of a Bond object and a serialized payload and writes the merged result to the specified protocol writer:

template <typename T, typename Reader, typename Writer>
void Merge(const T& obj, Reader input, Writer& output);

The Reader and Writer can be for different protocols (in other words merging can transcode payload at the same time). The type T of the object is usually somehow related to the schema of the input payload (e.g. a different version of the schema or its base). In the typical usage scenario, the object is first deserialized from the payload, and then modified and merged with original payload.

The Merge API is a thin wrapper around the Merger transform which can be applied to a bonded<T> in order to merge its payload with an instance of T, e.g.:

typedef bond::CompactBinaryWriter<bond::OutputBuffer> Writer;
T obj;
bond::bonded<T> payload;
// ...
Writer output(buffer);
Apply(bond::Merger<T, Writer>(obj, output), payload);

For fields that are present in the object’s schema, the value in the object is serialized, otherwise the value for the unknown field in the payload is preserved. Merge works recursively, merging bases and any nested structures, including structures that are elements of a container. When merging containers containing structures, lists and vectors must have the same number of elements and maps must have the same set of keys in both the object and in the payload, otherwise Merge throws an exception. Containers with non-struct types as elements are treated like regular fields.

Fields and containers of type bonded<T> are not merged and instead the value from the object is written to the output. This allows applications to selectively merge individual bonded<T> fields or elements, enabling, for example, merging of containers when elements have been added or removed.

The helper method Merge supports the common scenario where the result of merge is put back as payload of bonded<T>:

template <typename T>
template <typename X>
void bonded<T>::Merge(const X& var);

See example: examples/cpp/core/merge.

Required fields

By default, fields of a struct in Bond schemas are considered optional. This means that during deserialization, if the payload doesn’t contain a field, Bond will just use the field’s default value specified in the schema. Consequently, during serialization optional fields which are set to their default value can be omitted, resulting in a more compact payload. This behavior is fundamental to enabling forward and backward compatibility between different schema versions. As long as fields are optional, they can be freely added and removed, without breaking the ability of the old code to deserialize the new data and vice versa. In distributed systems, where we usually can’t depend on deployment order, this two-way compatibility is a critical feature. This is why optional fields are the implicit default in Bond, and why avoiding required fields is generally considered a good rule of thumb.

Required fields can be declared using the following syntax.

struct Example
    0: required int32 field;

Required fields must be present in the payload during deserialization (otherwise an exception is thrown) and consequently they are always written to the payload during serialization.

When should you use required fields? One way to think about this is that required fields are a way to explicitly break schema compatibility. Essentially, a schema with required field(s) means: a consumer using this schema is incompatible with any version of the schema, past or future, that doesn’t have the required field(s). In cases when the semantics of a field are such that the schema doesn’t make sense without it, declaring the field as required might be the right thing to do.

Specifying a field as required doesn’t mean that it can never be removed from the schema, but it does mean that all existing consumers using the schema will have to be updated first. In order to enable adding/removing required fields (or converting optional fields to required and vice versa), Bond supports an intermediary state for fields called required_optional. Fields that are marked as required_optional behave like required fields during serialization (i.e. their value is always included in the payload) and like optional fields during deserialization (i.e. if the field is not in the payload, Bond will use the default value). This allows non-breaking, deployment-order-independent schema changes that involve required fields.

required <—-> required_optional <—-> optional

Changes involving required fields take two steps. First the schema is updated to use a required_optional field (i.e. a new required_optional field is added or an existing required or optional field is converted to required_optional). These changes are non-breaking and can be deployed in any order. Once all programs using the updated schema are deployed, in the second step the required_optional field can be removed or converted to required or optional as desired. Again these changes are non-breaking.


Bond can de/serialize instances of std::tuple<T…> as if they were regular Bond-defined structs. For example the following tuple instance:

std::tuple<std::string, double, std::vector<uint32_t>>

is equivalent to this Bond schema:

struct tuple
    0: string item0;
    1: double item1;
    2: vector<uint32> item2;

Field ordinals used for Bond serialization are the same as tuple item identifiers used with std::get function. Field names are itemN where is N is the item identifier. The schema/struct name for a tuple instance is tuple<parameters>.

Since field ordinals are implicitly assigned based on the order in which items are defined, tuples don’t offer the same versioning flexibility as explicitly defined Bond schemas. In particular, adding or removing any tuple item other than the last is a breaking change because it offsets ordinals of all subsequent items.

Tuple instances can be used with all Bond APIs that accept regular Bond defined structs, e.g:

auto obj = std::tuple<string, double>;

Serialize(obj, writer);
Deserialize(reader, obj);
auto schema = bond::GetRuntimeSchema(obj);

Bond provides helper functions Pack and Unpack which can be used respectively to create/serialize a tuple from several values and deserialize fields into several variables.

std::string str;
Pack(writer, str, 10);

int n;
std::string str2;
Unpack(reader, str2, n);

If the payload contains more fields than variables provided to Unpack the tail fields are ignored. The special object std::ignore can be passed as an argument to Pack and Unpack in order to ignore field(s) at particular position(s). For example:

Pack(writer, std::ignore, 10);

will serialize a struct/tuple containing one field with ordinal 1 and type int. Similarly:

Unpack(reader, std::ignore, n);

will ignore the field with ordinal 0, if any, and deserialize the field with ordinal 1 into the variable n.



Bond transform are a powerful mechanism which enables writing generic, schema-independent, type-safe and high performance code operating on instances of Bond generated classes and their serialized representation. As transforms are flexible and have good performance characteristics, the core APIs like Serialize and Deserialize are in fact implemented as applications of transforms.

// Serialize and Deserialize APIs as defined in bond.h

template <typename T, typename Writer>
inline void Serialize(const T& obj, Writer& output)
    Apply(Serializer<Writer>(output), obj);

template <typename T, typename Reader>
inline void Deserialize(Reader input, T& obj)
    Apply(To<T>(obj), bonded<T, Reader&>(input));

Transforms are an instance of the visitor pattern. A transform class implements methods which are called by a Bond parser for the fields of a Bond type instance or its serialized representation. The name transform comes from the fact that they usually perform transformation of Bond objects or payloads. For example the Serializer transform can be applied to an object and output its serialized representation, or it may be applied to a payload encoded in one protocol and transcode it into another protocol.

Transforms are applied using the bond::Apply API. The first argument to Apply is always a const reference to an instance of transform class, and the second argument is an object the transform should be applied to. There are essentially three overloads of Apply API 6:

template <typename Transform, typename T, typename Reader>
bool Apply(const Transform& transform, const bonded<T, Reader>& bonded);

template <typename Transform, typename T, typename Reader>
void Apply(const Transform& transform, const value<T, Reader>& value);

template <typename Transform, typename T>
bool Apply(const Transform& transform, T& value);

A transform class must inherit from one of the following classes:

The base indicates the type of transformation performed by the class, and what kind of object it can be applied to. A serializing transform can be applied to an object or a serialized payload and usually outputs serialized payload. A deserializing transform can only be applied to a serialized payload. A modifying transform can only be applied to a non-const object and usually modifies the object.

Transform concept

A transform class has to implement the following concept:

struct Transform
    // All transforms
    void Begin(const bond::Metadata& metadata) const;

    void End() const;

    template <typename T>
    bool Base(const T& value) const;

    template <typename T>
    bool Field(uint16_t id, const bond::Metadata& metadata, T& value) const;

    // Only serializing and deserializing transforms
    void UnknownEnd() const;

    template <typename T>
    bool UnknownField(uint16_t id, T& value) const;

    bool OmittedField(uint16_t id, const bond::Metadata& metadata, bond::BondDataType type) const;

    // Only serializing transforms
    template <typename T>
    void Container(const T& element, uint32_t size) const;

    template <typename Key, typename T>
    void Container(const Key& key, const T& value, uint32_t size) const;

The type T of the values visited by a transform depends on what the transform is applied to. If it is applied to an instance of a Bond type, the visited values will be references to the object’s fields and/or its base object (if any). If a transform is applied to a serialized payload, the visited values will represent the serialized fields, elements of a container and/or base (if any). The serialized data is represented by one of two types: bond::bonded<T, Reader> or bond::value<T, Reader>. The former represents a serialized Bond object and the latter a serialized value of a basic type or a container.

A transform can generally do one of two things with the serialized values:

  1. Deserialize using the Deserialize method
template <typename T, typename Reader>
typename boost::enable_if<bond::is_basic_type<T>>::type
Field(uint16_t, const bond::Metadata&, const bond::value<T, Reader>& value) const
    T x;
    return false;
  1. Recursively apply the transform
template <typename T>
bool Base(const T& value) const
    return Apply(MyTransform(), value);

Recursive application of transforms is a key technique which enables transformations of arbitrary complex/nested schemas/containers. By creating and applying an new instance of its class, a transform class can easily implement management of per-hierarchy-level state. For example a transform creating a text output such as XML, could store the indentation level in its data member and create a new instance with increased indentation to be applied to nested fields.

Transforms are a deep topic and by necessity this article only touches on the most basic concepts. Users writing their own custom transforms are encouraged to study the implementation of built in transforms in transfroms.h, in particular the Serializer<Writer> and To<T> transforms.

Code examples:


See compile-time schema and transforms.


Bond protocols are pluggable, allowing application to choose the most appropriate encoding format. Bond supports three kinds of protocols:

Compact Binary

A binary, tagged protocol using variable integer encoding and compact field header. A good choice, along with Fast Binary, for RPC scenarios.

Implemented in CompactBinaryReader and CompactBinaryWriter classes.

Version 2 of Compact Binary adds length prefix for structs. This enables deserialization of bonded<T> and skipping of unknown fields in constant time. The trade-off is double pass encoding, resulting in up to 30% slower serialization performance. You can enable Compact Binary version 2 by instantiating the CompactBinaryReader and CompactBinaryWriter classes with their second optional constructor argument (version) set to the integer 2.

See also Compact Binary encoding reference.

Fast Binary

A binary, tagged protocol similar to Compact Binary but optimized for deserialization speed rather than payload compactness.

Implemented in FastBinaryReader and FastBinaryWriter classes.

See also Fast Binary encoding reference.

Simple Binary

A binary, untagged protocol which is a good choice for storage scenarios as it offers potential for big saving on payload size. Because Simple is an untagged protocol, it requires that the payload schema is available during deserialization. In typical storage scenario application would store runtime schema and use it during deserialization with bonded<void>. In some specific scenarios when it can be assumed that producer and consumer have exactly the same schema, Simple Protocol can be used with compile-time schema, providing unparalleled deserialization performance. One example is marshaling objects between processes or between native and managed components.

Implemented in SimpleBinaryReader and SimpleBinaryWriter classes.

Version 2 of Simple Protocol uses variable integer encoding for string and container lengths, resulting in more compact payload without measurable performance impact.

See example: examples/cpp/core/protocol_versions.

Simple JSON

The Simple JSON protocol is a simple JSON encoding implemented as a DOM protocol. The output is standard JSON and is a very good choice for interoperating with other systems or generating human readable payload.

Because the payload doesn’t include field ordinals, there are two caveats when used as a Bond serialization protocol:

Simple JSON also flattens the inheritance hierarchy which may lead to name conflicts between fields of base and derived Bond structs. It is possible to resolve such conflicts without the need to actually rename the fields by annotating fields with JsonName attribute, e.g.:

struct Base
    0: string foo;

struct Derived : Base
    0: string foo;

Note that Simple JSON is not designed to be able to read arbitrary JSON objects. Simple JSON has its own way of encoding Bond objects in JSON that differs from how other libraries would encode the same object. When interoperating with other JSON libraries, be aware of these differences:

Implemented in SimpleJsonReader and SimpleJsonWriter classes.

See examples:

Custom type mappings

Bond codegen provides a simple extensibility mechanism allowing use of custom C++ types to represent types in a Bond schema. One common scenario is replacing the default STL containers with a different implementation that is semantically identical, e.g. std::unordered_map instead of std::map. Custom type mappings can be also used to introduce completely new types which can be serialized to one of the built-in Bond schema types. For example time could be represented using the boost::posix_time::ptime class and serialized as int64.

Defining a custom type mapping involves three steps:

Codegen parameters

When generating code for a schema that uses type aliases, the user can specify a custom type to represent each alias in the generated code:

gbc c++ --using="time=boost::posix_time::ptime"

The value of the --using parameter is a custom alias mapping in the following format:


Generated code using custom types usually has to include a header file with appropriate declarations. The gbc compiler supports the --header parameter for that purpose:

gbc c++ --header="<time_alias.h>" --using="time=boost::posix_time::ptime"

The above command will add the following statement at the top of the generated header file time_types.h:

#include <time_alias.h>

Additionally --type-aliases flag can be used to generate corresponding C++ type aliases in time_types.h.

Container concept

The custom container concept defined in bond/core/container_interface.h serves as an interface between a custom container type and Bond. The concept consists of compile-time meta-function (traits) that need to be specialized for the custom container type and overloaded free functions which implement the runtime interaction with the container instances. The concept forms a non-intrusive interface, which can be provided for any type without changes to its implementation.

The first step is to identify a type as an appropriate container by specializing one of the following traits:

template <typename T> struct
    : std::false_type {};

template <typename T> struct
    : std::false_type {};

template <typename T> struct
    : std::false_type {};

For example the following specialization would allow Bond to treat std::array as a list type:

template <typename T, std::size_t N> struct
is_list_container<std::array<T, N> >
    : std::true_type {};

The second trait called element_type specifies the type of the container elements:

template <typename T> struct
    typedef typename T::value_type type;

The default implementation assumes a commonly used STL convention of using a nested value_type typedef and will likely work for many container implementations from libraries like Boost. For other containers the trait can specialized, e.g.:

template <typename T> struct
element_type<MyList<T> >
    typedef T type;

The next part of the container concept consists of free functions exposing container size and operations to add and remove elements.

template <typename T>
uint32_t container_size(const T& container);

template <typename T>
void resize_list(T& list, uint32_t size);

template <typename T>
void clear_set(T& set);

template <typename S, typename T>
void set_insert(S& set, const T& item);

template <typename T>
void clear_map(T& map);

template <typename M, typename K, typename T>
T& mapped_at(M& map, const K& key);

Note that unlike the traits which need to be specialized in the bond namespace, these function can be overloaded in the namespace of the container type.

The final part of the container concept are enumerators:

template <typename T>
class enumerator
    explicit enumerator(T& container);
    bool more() const;
    typename element_type<T>::type& next();

template <typename T>
class const_enumerator
    explicit const_enumerator(const T& container);
    bool more() const;
    const typename element_type<T>::type& next();

The const_enumerator must be implemented for any custom container while the enumerator is used only for lists. As the name indicates, the enumerators abstract iteration over elements of the container. The default implementation of const_enumerator illustrates well the simple semantics of the interface 7:

template <typename T>
class const_enumerator
    explicit const_enumerator(const T& container)
        : it(container.begin()),

    bool more() const
        return it != end;

    typename T::const_reference
        return *(it++);

    typename T::const_iterator it, end;

String concept

The custom string concept defined in bond/core/container_interface.h serves as an interface between a custom string type and Bond.

Custom string types are identified by specializing the appropriate trait:

template <typename T> struct
    : std::false_type {};

template <typename T> struct
    : std::false_type {};

For example the following specialization would allow Bond to treat boost::string_ref as a string type:

template <> struct
    : std::true_type {};

The operations on custom strings are exposed by overloading the following free functions:

template<typename C, typename T>
const C* string_data(const T& str);

template<typename C, typename T>
C* string_data(T& str);

template<typename T>
uint32_t string_length(const T& str);

template<typename T>
void resize_string(T& str, uint32_t size);

Scalar concept

The custom scalar type concept defined in bond/core/scalar_interface.h serves as an interface between Bond and a custom type aliasing a built-in scalar type.

The aliased_type trait is used to specify which built-in type is being aliased:

template <typename T> struct
    typedef void type;

For example the following specialization would tell Bond to treat boost::posix_time::ptime as if it were an alias of int64.

template <> struct
    typedef int64_t type;

Conversions to/from a custom type and its aliased type are implemented as a pair of free function:

template <typename T>
void set_aliased_value(T& var, typename aliased_type<T>::type value);

template <typename T>
typename aliased_type<T>::type get_aliased_value(const T& value);

Custom allocators

The Bond compiler flag --allocator can be used to generate schema structs such that all containers are declared to use a custom allocator type:

gbc c++ --allocator=my::arena

If the allocator is stateful, the application can pass a const reference to an allocator instance to the struct constructor. The allocator will then be passed to constructors of all container fields and nested structs. During deserialization Bond will also make sure that any container elements are constructed using the same allocator.

The generated structs can use any allocator which implements the C++ Standard Library allocator concept.

Additionally --alloc-ctors flag can be passed in order to generate additional copy and move constructors for the struct that would accept an allocator argument. In order to simplify the allocator instance propagation to string and container fields, --scoped-alloc flag will take advantage of std::scoped_allocator_adaptor.

Bond APIs which allocate memory also allow use of custom allocators. In particular bond::OutputMemoryStream, which can be used as output stream for Bond serialization, can allocate the memory blobs for serialized payload with a user specified allocator.

typedef bond::OutputMemoryStream<my::arena> Output;

my::arena arena;
Output output(arena);
bond::CompactBinaryWriter<Output> writer(output);

See example examples/cpp/core/output_stream_allocator.

Custom streams

Applications can define custom buffers used for writing/reading data during de/serialization.

An input stream class implements the following input stream concept 8:

class InputStream
    // Read overload(s) for arithmetic types
    template <typename T>
    void Read(T& value);

    // Read into a memory buffer
    void Read(void *buffer, uint32_t size);

    // Read into a memory blob
    void Read(bond::blob& blob, uint32_t size);

An output stream class implements the following output stream concept:

class OutputStream
    // Write overload(s) for arithmetic types
    template<typename T>
    void Write(const T& value);

    // Write a memory buffer
    void Write(const void* value, uint32_t size);

    // Write a memory blob
    void Write(const bond::blob& blob);

Scoped enumerations

Bond provides a standard-compliant solution for scoped enumerations in C++ that overcomes the limitations of normal C++ enumeration types. Usually enumerations are part of a schema used with library Bond APIs. However applications can use the following technique to defined standalone enum types.

Define your enumerations in a .bond file. You can use the same identifiers for constants in different enumerations in the same namespace scope.

namespace example

enum Fruit
    Orange = 1,
    Apple = 2

enum Color
    Green = 1,
    Orange = 7

Use the --enum-header gbc compiler option to generate a standalone filename_enum.h header file that you can include for scoped enumerations.

#include "enumerations_enum.h"

int main()
    example::Fruit fruit;
    example::Color color;

    fruit = example::Fruit::Orange;
    fruit = example::Apple;

    color = example::Green;
    color = example::Color::Orange;

    return 0;

This solution uses the Bond compiler to generate the code that you use but your code does not take a dependency on the Bond library.

See example: examples/cpp/core/enumerations.


Bond uses C++ exceptions to communicate errors. All exceptions derive from std::exception and implement the what() method which returns a human readable description of the error. The following exceptions can be thrown during calls to Bond APIs:


Bond-specific errors are reported using exceptions derived from bond::Exception which itself derives from std::exception. The following exception types are defined:


Failure to allocate memory. For example, this exception can be thrown if the payload being deserialized contains a container with more elements than can be fit into available memory.


The standard library throws this exception to report errors that are consequence of attempt to exceed implementation-defined lengths for objects such as std::string or std::vector.


The standard library std::wstring_convert::from_bytes and std::wstring_convert::to_bytes which are used by Bond JSON de/serializer throw this exception to indicate an invalid string encoding.

Integrating Bond into your build

To consume Bond, you will need to integrate it into your build somehow. If you are using one of these C++ package managers, Bond is available as a package that you can consume:

What follows are build-system agnostic instructions for consuming C++ Bond.

These instructions assume that you have used Bond’s CMake-based build to compile and install (make install/cmake --build . --target INSTALL) Bond into your development environment somewhere. The CMake variable CMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX can be used to control where the install target places the output files.

(The Bond CMake files can’t currently be consumed by another CMake project via add_directory. Contributions encouraged to help improve this situation.)

After you’ve built and installed Bond, you can use whatever build system you need by

  1. teaching it how to automatically run code generation on .bond files;
  2. configuring your C++ compiler’s #include search path to point at Boost and Bond; and
  3. configuring your linker’s library path to have the Boost and Bond libraries on its search path.

Step #1 is very build system dependent. Contributions of these build systems rules to the Bond repository will be happily accepted.

When building the library/executable that is going to use Bond, you’ll need to set your compiler’s #include search path to point to:

If you use any types from (e.g., by using an import statement in your .bond file or by using the C++ RuntimeSchema APIs), you will also need to link the library/executable with Bond (The names may vary depending on platform/toolset.):

See also the Optimizing build time section, particularly its discussion of BOND_LIB_TYPE.

Optimizing build time

Extensive use of C++ templates in Bond may sometimes lead to long compilation times. In order to optimize build speed for projects using Bond, it is important to understand how the Bond implementation in particular, and C++ templates in general, affect compilation and linking time.

At the high level, the cost of compiling template heavy C++ code comes from template instantiation. In Bond the most expensive templates to instantiate are related to deserialization. Deserialization APIs are usually instantiated for all enabled protocols. This leads to the first obvious way to optimize build speed: enable only the protocols that are needed.

The following built-in protocols are enabled by default:

Two sets of macros control which built-in protocol are enabled.

It is critical that these macros are always defined the same way for all compilation units that will be linked into a particular executable. Failure to do so may lead to violation of the C++ One Definition rule 9. To avoid this problem the recommended way to set these macros is via the C++ compiler command line flags in the makefile, e.g.:


C++ templates are instantiated separately in every compilation unit. This means that building an application which has calls to Bond APIs deserializing a particular schema in multiple .cpp files will result in repeated instantiation of the same templates, unnecessarily increasing build time. In order to mitigate this problem, the Bond compiler generates two additional files for each schema file: filename_apply.h and filename_apply.cpp. Using these files is optional but for most non-trivial applications it will result in significant improvement of build time. The _apply.cpp can be built as part of the application project itself, but often it is better to compile it into a separate static library. This way the static library needs to be rebuilt only when the schemas change, and otherwise applications can be quickly built and linked with the schema library. The filename_apply.h can be thought of as a header file for the schema library; it must be included in every compilation unit where Bond APIs are called for any schema defined in

The Bond compiler command line switch --apply can be use to control which protocols are included in the generated _apply files. This can be used to reduce compilation time for _apply.cpp.

gbc c++ --apply=fast

Compiling generated filename_apply.cpp results in instantiation of all the templates used by the most common APIs such a Serialize and Deserialize for all the schemas defined in For applications with very large schemas it is often beneficial to spread the schema definitions across multiple .bond files. This allows building in parallel multiple, smaller _apply.cpp files rather that one large file.

C++ templates for Bond internal schemas, such as those used to serialize runtime schema, are pre-instantiated and included in Bond static libraries. It is recommended that applications include the header file bond/core/bond_apply.h and link to the bond_apply static library in order to reuse the pre-instantiated code. The one exception are applications using custom protocols - by definition templates pre-instantiated at the time Bond library was built can’t support custom protocols.

If header-only consumption of the library is not required, then defining the BOND_LIB_TYPE macro to BOND_LIB_TYPE_STATIC will pre-compile more common code into the bond.lib/libbond.a library and will reduce the number of included headers.

When using the Microsoft Visual Studio toolchain there are two important things to be aware related to build time. First, always use 64-bit tools. In particular the 32-bit version of link.exe is not capable of linking large template-based code. It will either fail, or if you are unlucky, it will run several orders of magnitude times longer than the 64-bit version. You can force 64-bit tools using environment variables:

For Visual Studio 2012:

set _IsNativeEnvironment=true

For Visual Studio 2013:

set PreferredToolArchitecture=x64

Link-time code generation can also lead to egregiously long link times. It is strongly recommended to disable it for projects using Bond. Link-time code generation does not improve runtime performance for Bond APIs and in many cases it actually degrades it. If application code must be built with LTCG enabled, we recommend using a separate static schema library as described above, and disabling LTCG when building the library.

See example: examples/cpp/core/static_library.


C++ API reference

Bond compiler reference

C# User’s Manual

Python User’s Manual

Bond-over-gRPC overview

  1. In Bond there is no concept of a default value for structs and thus a default of nothing can’t be set for fields of struct types or bonded<T>.

  2. Some protocols might not support omitting optional fields (e.g. Simple Protocol) or omitting fields may be disabled by specializing the bond::may_omit_fields trait. In such cases an attempt to serialize an object with field(s) set to nothing will result in a runtime exception.

  3. An object of a derived type will be sliced to the type T.

  4. Cost of deserializing bonded<T> is protocol dependent. Most protocols need to parse the payload in order to find where the corresponding struct ends. Compact Binary version 2 stores length prefix for structs and thus can deserialize a bonded<T> field in constant time.

  5. As an optimization, if the data is already encoded in the target protocol Bond will simply copy the payload.

  6. Reviewing apply.h will reveal that in fact there are a few more overloads of Apply, and their signatures are more complex. However these can be considered implementation details, only defined to enable the compiler to select of the proper implementation in various scenarios. Conceptually, the Apply API can be called to apply a transform to one of three things: bonded<T>, value<T> or an instance of a Bond class.

  7. The default implementation assumes broadly used STL conventions and may work for many container implementations from libraries such as Boost. For such containers is not necessary to specialize the enumerators.

  8. Note that input/output streams are not interface classes which can be derived from. They are conceptual interfaces, a set of method signatures that need to be implemented. Furthermore, the Read and Write templates don’t have to be implemented as a single method template (or, for that matter, as a template at all). They merely mean that a Read/Write method overload must be defined for every arithmetic type in Bond meta-schema.

  9. Since breaking the C++ One Definition rule may lead to very unpredictable runtime behaviour, the Bond implementation has a built-in assertion mechanism to detect it.