[swift-users] raw buffer pointer load alignment

Kelvin Ma kelvin13ma at gmail.com
Thu Nov 9 02:30:07 CST 2017

For context, the problem I’m trying to solve is efficiently parsing JPEG
chunks. This means reading each chunk of the JPEG from a file into a raw
buffer pointer, and then parsing the chunk according to its expected
layout. For example, a frame header chunk looks like this:

0                 1                 2                 3
4                  5              6
[ precision:UInt8 |          height:UInt16            |
width:UInt16            |   Nf:UInt8   | ... ]

what I want to do is to be able to load the height and width into something
I can pass into UInt16.init(bigEndian:) without failing because of
alignment. I’ve thought of several options but none of them seem to be

1 - bind the entire buffer to UInt8.self, and then do buffer[1] <<
UInt8.bitWidth | buffer[2]. probably most straightforward, but doesn’t
generalize well at all to larger Int types.

2 - copy MemoryLayout<UInt16>.size bytes from offset 1 into the beginning
of a new raw buffer, aligned to MemoryLayout<UInt16>.alignment, and do
0, as: UInt16.self) from *that*. Seems very inefficient because you have to
allocate a new heap buffer copy everything over and then free it just to
hold the bytes in the right alignment.

3 - use withUnsafeMutablePointer(to:_:) on a local variable of type UInt16,
cast it to a raw pointer, and copy MemoryLayout<UInt16>.size bytes into it.
Like 2 it involves declaring a temporary variable which is annoying, and
also, while the default initialization isn’t that big a problem, it’s
introducing a meaningless value into the source code and can be problematic
for non-integer types. Also, wasn’t Swift supposed to be designed so that
Optional is the only thing which has a “default” value; Bool does not
default to false and Int does not default to 0. Default constructors are

On Wed, Nov 8, 2017 at 7:49 PM, Johannes Weiß <johannesweiss at apple.com>

> Hi Kelvin,
> > On 8 Nov 2017, at 5:40 pm, Kelvin Ma <kelvin13ma at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> > yikes there’s no less verbose way to do that? and if the type isn’t an
> integer there’s no way to avoid the default initialization? Can this be
> done with opaques or something?
> well, it's 5 lines for the generic case to rule all the integers. You
> could just put that in a function and never think about it again, right?
> func integerFromBuffer<T: FixedWidthInteger>(_ pointer:
> UnsafeRawBufferPointer, index: Int) -> T {
>     precondition(index >= 0)
>     precondition(index <= pointer.count - MemoryLayout<T>.size)
>     var value = T()
>     withUnsafeMutableBytes(of: &value) { valuePtr in
>         valuePtr.copyBytes(from: UnsafeRawBufferPointer(start:
> pointer.baseAddress!.advanced(by: index),
>                                                         count:
> MemoryLayout<T>.size))
>     }
>     return value
> }
> should work (untested). Also you might need to handle endianness.
> Regarding types that are not integers, what types are you thinking of? For
> normal Swift types the layout isn't guaranteed so you can't just read the
> bytes from somewhere. For C types where the layout is known you can just
> use the above code and either relax the constraint or specialise it to the
> very type you need. The only requirement of the type (besides that it's
> layout is defined) is that is has an empty constructor.

This isn’t what I’m trying to do atm but does this mean it’s not possible
to save a memory dump of a Swift struct to a file and then read it back in
from the file to reconstitute it? Also the empty constructor requirement is
problematic as explained before, especially when the type isn’t super
simple like an Int.
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