#error-recovery #error #buffer #runtime #decoding #decoder #validation #unwrap #recovery #protocols


Protofish is a decoder focused on decoding arbitrary protocol buffer messages with error recovery

14 unstable releases (4 breaking)

0.5.2 Jan 27, 2022
0.5.1 Dec 6, 2021
0.4.0 Jun 6, 2021
0.3.1 Feb 17, 2021
0.1.1 May 22, 2020

#148 in Parser implementations

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Used in fewer than 6 crates




proto-file parser and arbitrary Protocol Buffer message decoder

crates.io Docs

Protofish is a decoder focused on decoding arbitrary protocol buffer messages with error recovery. Its primary use case is decoding gRPC mesages in proxide based on .proto-files supplied by the user at runtime.

use protofish::{Context, Value, UnknownValue};
use bytes::Bytes;

let context = Context::parse(&[r#"
  syntax = "proto3";
  package Proto;

  message Request { string kind = 1; }
  message Response { int32 distance = 1; }
  service Fish {
    rpc Swim( Request ) returns ( Response );

let service = context.get_service("Proto.Fish").unwrap();
let rpc = service.rpc_by_name("Swim").unwrap();

let input = rpc.input.message.decode(b"\x0a\x05Perch", &context);
assert_eq!(input.fields[0].number, 1);
assert_eq!(input.fields[0].value, Value::String(String::from("Perch")));

let output = rpc.output.message.decode(b"\x08\xa9\x46", &context);
assert_eq!(output.fields[0].number, 1);
assert_eq!(output.fields[0].value, Value::Int32(9001));


  • Protocol Buffers Version 3 support.
  • Standalone proto-file parser that does not depend on protoc.
  • Ability to decode partial and invalid Protocol Buffer messages.

Explicitly not goals

  • Extremely blazingly fast for MAXIMUM PERFORMANCE.
    • Speed is great, but correctness, error recovery and maintainability have higher priority.
    • Applies especially to parsing the proto-files.
  • Protocol Buffers Version 2 support.
    • Not needed for decoding gRPC. Not opposed to including support, if doing so doesn't compromise maintainability.
  • Code generation
    • There are few other crates that already do this.
  • Validating the proto-files
    • Protofish is interested in parsing all valid proto-files. Rejecting invalid ones doesn't currently hold any value for being able to decode messages based on valid files. Validation isn't completely out of scope, but it's not a priority currently.


There are couple of other crate in the Rust ecosystem for handling Protocol Buffer messages. Most of these crates focus on compile time code generation for generating message types for runtime serialization. Most of these crates also depend on protoc for the actual proto-file parsing.

The quick-protobuf project has a stand-alone proto-file parser: pb-rs. Unfortunately that parser is missing support for the full proto-file syntax (at least stream requests and responses were unsupported in rpc definitions at the time of writing this README).

Protofish uses PEG based on the published Protocol Buffers Version 3 Language Specification. While that specification is slightly inaccurate, writing the grammar based on the official EBNF syntax provided an easy way to build a comprehensive parser.

A hand crafted Nom-based parser might be faster, but in most cases there is no need for high performance when reading proto-files. Proxide for example does this once at program startup.

Missing features

Handling import statements.. or not

Protofish ignores import statements in the proto-files. Building a comprehensive decoding context depends on processing all files that contain the required types. This means whichever files the import statements refer to need to be passed to protofish for parsing anyway. As a result there's little need to parse the import statements early.

Handling custom options

The extends syntax is not part of the published Protocol Buffers Version 3 Language Specification (which shows just how wrong that specification is). For this reason the extends syntax used with custom options is not supported by the parser.

Since protofish doesn't validate the options anyway, there will probably be initial support for skipping the extends definitions in the near future.


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