The FRM file format

It’s fortunate that I’m watching Veronica Mars again with a mate; a more-than-you-think amount of detective work is required to understand the relationship (and format) of the TABLE_SHARE, the FRM file and HA_CREATE_INFO. Oh, also you’ll need drizzled/base.h and drizzled/structs.h and drizzled/table_share.h is also a good one to have open.

The FRM file is really a FoRM file from UNIREG (see copies of really old mysql docs around the place or even better, the links off Sheeri‘s blog post). Also, Jan has some thoughts on FRM too and Thava has a scary frmdump php script.

I have to agree completely with Jan:

  • “the internals document is missing all the interesting parts”
    I’ve just read the source. Everything in the internals doc is easily gotten from the source, so when I finally did take a close look it was “I know all this”. I can’t fault the docs team here at all – I’d place this 3rd from the bottom in priorities. In fact, it’s better to fix it than to document it.
  • ” get the hands dirty and get into the code … it got really dirty”
    Oh yeah – and it’s only gotten worse with things added to it.

It contains interesting nuggets like unireg_check (or unireg_type, depending on where you read) that does:


But really only the timestamp things… which should be default magic, but it’s somewhere tied in (Jay had thoughts last time I spoke to him… hopefully going away soon). A bunch of these aren’t ever used and are just relics from UNIREG. In fact… I went and removed what wasn’t needed and just ended up with:

  enum utype  { NONE,

Which does seem a bit nicer. The  fact that TIMESTAMP_OLD_FIELD is used as in interim value is, wel, scary. At least with a smaller set of possiblities it will be easier to convert into the proto format.

A hint of a brighter future is in the comment there:

    We use three additional unireg types for TIMESTAMP to overcome limitation
    of current binary format of .frm file. We'd like to be able to support
    NOW() as default and on update value for such fields but unable to hold
    this info anywhere except unireg_check field. This issue will be resolved
    in more clean way with transition to new text based .frm format.
    See also comment for Field_timestamp::Field_timestamp().

Hrrm… a text based FRM? That would be much nicer to read the code for. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really exist. Some FRMs are text in MySQL, but not ones to do with tables. You can look at the FRM for a VIEW in a text editor and see the SQL quite easily (the file format is text).

So I can’t go look at any nice text based format code – it’s all uint2korr() and friends. Yes folks, this is about the only place left in the code with function names in Swedish. What does korr mean? “accurate, correct, correctly”. If you look at korr.h, you’ll see that it’s just for storing in machine independent format: low byte first.

My favourite korr functions:

  • uint3korr
    which reads 4 bytes, so remember to alloc it, initialise it or Valgrind will make you its bitch.
  • uint5korr
    err… 5 bytes of course
  • uint6korr
    6 bytes (getting the pattern now)
  • uint7korr
    which doesn’t actually exist. Nobody loves Seven – George Costanza was wrong.

It also (as Jan showed) does the whole layout on a 80 column terminal for you! This functionality is going, going gone in Drizzle and won’t be coming back.

There’s also an “empty record on start of formfile” (see make_empty_rec in This bit is going to cause me some pain relatively soon. Not so much for writing something like it out (default values can be easily put in the proto) but by then constructing it on open (with some careful footing around the issue of the egg coming before the chicken).

Incidently, when discussing with Daniel Stone about this (and explaining all the weirdness) it did cause him to exclaim “omg, it’s XKB!” – so that probably helps the X hackers in the room to relate.

The biggest test in moving from FRM to proto is to only rewrite this part of the code – the TABLE_SHARE, field, Create_foo etc have sooo many bits I want to change/fix. Going down the rat-hole into an endless cycle of fixing is always a possibility. Sometimes (like with unireg_type) the cleanup lets me really discover what the code is doing, so that’s being done (but will go away “soon”).

4 thoughts on “The FRM file format

  1. not at all. although with Drizzle Table protobuf, you can use the google protobuf library to convert to and from a textual representation.

  2. Pingback: Past, Present and future of MySQL and variants Part 1: Ghosts of MySQL Past | Ramblings

  3. Pingback: Beyond the FRM: ideas for a native MySQL Data Dictionary | InsideMySQL

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