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Binary Serialization

Binary Serialization


Serialization can be defined as the process of storing the state of an object to a storage medium. During this process, the public and private fields of the object and the name of the class, including the assembly containing the class, are converted to a stream of bytes, which is then written to a data stream. When the object is subsequently deserialized, an exact clone of the original object is created.

When implementing a serialization mechanism in an object-oriented environment, you have to make a number of tradeoffs between ease of use and flexibility. The process can be automated to a large extent, provided you are given sufficient control over the process. For example, situations may arise where simple binary serialization is not sufficient, or there might be a specific reason to decide which fields in a class need to be serialized. The following sections examine the robust serialization mechanism provided with the .NET Framework and highlight a number of important features that allow you to customize the process to meet your needs.

Consider the following class, BookMark, which is used to stored information about web addresses and their descriptions.

Public Class BookMark

    Private pURL As String

    Private pDescription As String

    Private pNextURL As BookMark

    Private dateCreated As Date


    Sub New()

        dateCreated = Now

    End Sub


    Public Sub printIndex()


    End Sub


    Property URL()


            Return pURL

        End Get

        Set(ByVal Value)

            pURL = Value

        End Set

    End Property


    Property Description()


            Return pDescription

        End Get

        Set(ByVal Value)

            pDescription = Value

        End Set

    End Property


    Property NextURL()


            Return pNextURL

        End Get

        Set(ByVal Value)

            pNextURL = Value

        End Set

    End Property

End Class

The BookMark class contains properties as well as private variables. The NextURL property is used to link up multiple BookMark objects, much like a linked list.

Let’s create two BookMark objects and link them up:

Dim BM1 As New BookMark

Dim BM2 As New BookMark


BM1.URL = “”

BM1.Description = “ Web site”

BM1.NextURL = BM2


BM2.URL = “”

BM2.Description = “O’Reilly Web Site”

BM2.NextURL = Nothing

I will serialize the objects into a binary stream by writing the Serialize() function:

Imports System.IO

Imports System.Runtime.Serialization.Formatters.Binary


  ‘========Binary Serialization=========

  Function Serialize(ByVal BkMk As BookMark) _

                     As MemoryStream

    Dim ms As New MemoryStream

    Dim fs As New FileStream(“c:\BookMarks.dat”, _

                              FileMode.Create, _



    Dim formatter As New BinaryFormatter

    ‘ serialize to memory stream

    formatter.Serialize(ms, BkMk)

    ‘ serialize to file stream

    formatter.Serialize(fs, BkMk)

    ms.Position = 0


    Return ms

  End Function

Before you serialize an object, you need to prefix the class name with the <Serializable()> attribute:

<Serializable()> Public Class BookMark

I used the BinaryFormatter class from the System.Runtime.Serialization.Formatters.Binary namespace to serialize the BookMark object into a memory stream, as well as into a file stream. The function then returns a memory stream object representing the serialized BookMark object.

‘========Binary Serialization=========

‘—serializing an object graph into a memory stream

Dim ms As MemoryStream = Serialize(BM1)

To prove that the object is serialized correctly, I will de-serialize the memory stream and assign it back to a BookMark object:

‘—deserializing a memory stream into an object graph

Dim newBM As BookMark

newBM = Deserialize(ms)

Here is the DeSerialize() function:

Function Deserialize(ByVal ms As MemoryStream) _

                     As BookMark

  Dim formatter As New BinaryFormatter

  Return formatter.Deserialize(ms)

End Function

To display the values of the de-serialized BookMark object, I use the Print() subroutine:

Sub Print(ByVal BM As BookMark)



    Console.WriteLine(BM.URL.ToString & ” – ” & BM.Description)

    BM = BM.NextURL

  Loop Until BM Is Nothing

End Sub

You should see the following in the output window:

9/29/2003 1:11:47 AM – Web site

9/29/2003 1:12:06 AM – O’Reilly Web Site

But how does the binary stream look like? To answer this question, let’s take a look at the c:\BookMarks.dat file that we have created in the process.

To view the binary file, simply drag-and-drop it onto Visual Studio .NET. You should see something similar to what is shown in Figure 1:

Figure 1. Examining the serialized binary file

Some Observations

A few observations are worth noting at this point:

  • Private variables and properties are all serialized. In binary serialization, both the private variables and properties are serialized. This is known as deep serialization, as opposed to shallow serialization in XML serialization (which only serializes the public variables and properties). I will discuss XML serialization in the next article.
  • Object graphs are serialized. In our example, two BookMark objects are linked, and the serialization process takes care of the relationships between the two objects.

There are times that you do not want to serialize all of the data in your object. For example, if you do not wish to persist the date and time that the BookMark objects have been created, you can prefix the variable name (that you do not wish to serialize) with the <NonSerialized()> attribute:

<NonSerialized()> Private dateCreated As Date

The dateCreated variable will not be serialized.


September 18, 2008 - Posted by | Binary Serialization, Serialization, Technology | ,

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