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ZIP Format &

About Zip Parsing Internals...

ZIP Trailer Block

The general ZIP file format is written sequentially - each file being added gets a local file header and its inflated data. When all files are written then a central directory is written - and this central directory may even span multiple disks. And each disk gets a descriptor block that contains a pointer to the start of the central directory. This descriptor is always written last and therefore we call it the "ZIP File Trailer Block".

Okay, so we know that this ZIP Trailer is always at the end of a zip file and that is has a fixed length, and a magic four-byte value at its block start. That should make it easy to detect zip files but in the real world it is not that easy - it is allowed to add a zip archive comment text after the Trailer block. It's rarely used these days but it turns out that a zip reader must be ready to search for the Trailer block starting at the end of the file and looking upwards for the Trailer magic (it's "PK\5\6" btw).

Now that's what the internal function __zip_find_disk_trailer is used for. It's somewhat optimized as we try to use mmap features of the underlying operating system. The returned structure is called zzip_disk_trailer in the library source code, and we only need two values actually: u_rootseek and u_rootsize. The first of these can be used to lseek to the place of the central directory and the second value tells us the byte size of the central directory.

ZIP Central Directory

So here we are at the central directory. The disk trailer did also tell us how many entries are there but it is not that easy to read them. Each directory entry (zzip_root_dirent type) has again a magic value up front followed by a few items but they all have some dos format - consider the timestamps, and atleast size/seek values are in intel byteorder. So we might want to parse them into a format that is easier to handle in internal code.

That is also needed for another reason - there are three items in that directory entry being size values of three variadic fields following right after the directory. That's right, three of these. The first variadic field is the filename of this directory entry. In other words, the root directory entry does not contain a seek value of where the filename starts off, the start of the filename is implicitly given with the end address of the directory entry.

The size value for the filename does simply say how long the filename is - however, and more importantly, it allows us to compute the start of the next variadic field, called the extra info field. Well, we do not need any value from that extra info block (it has unix filemode bits when packed under unix) but we can be quite sure that this field is not null either. And that was the second variadic field.

There is a third variadic field however - it's the comment field. That was pretty heavily used in the good old DOS days. We are not used to it anymore since filenames are generally self-descriptive today but in the DOS days a filename was 8+3 chars maximum - and it was in the comment field that told users what's in there. It turned out that many software archives used zip format for just that purpose as their primary distribution format - for being able to attach a comment line with each entry.

Now, these three variadic fields have each an entry in the directory entry header telling of their size. And after these three variadic fields the next directory entry follows right in. Yes, again there is no seek value here - we have to take the sum of the three field sizes and add that to the end address of the directory entry - just to be able to get to the next entry.

Internal Directory

Now, the external ZIP format is too complicated. We cut it down to the bare minimum we actually need. The fields in the entry are parsed into a format directly usable, and from the variadic fields we only keep the filename. Oh, and we ensure that the filename gets a trailing null byte, so it can surely be passed down into libc routines.

There is another trick by the way - we use the u_rootsize value to malloc a block for the internal directory. That ensures the internal root directory entries are in nearby locations, and including the filenames themselves which we put in between the dirent entries. That's not only similar to the external directory format, but when calling readdir and looking for a matching filename of an zzip_open call, this will ensure the memory is fetched in a linear fashion. Modern cpu architectures are able to burst through it.

One might think to use a more complicated internal directory format - like hash tables or something. However, they all suffer from the fact that memory access patterns will be somewhat random which eats a lot of speed. It is hardly predictable under what circumstances it gets us a benefit, but the problem is certainly not off-world: there are zzip archives with 13k+ entries. In a real filesystem people will not put 13k files into one directory, of course - but for the zip central directory all entries are listed in parallel with their subdirectory paths attached. So, if the original subtree had a number of directories, they'll end up in parallel in the zip's central directory.

File Entry

The zip directory entry has one value that is called z_off in the zziplib sources - it's the seek value to the start of the actual file data, or more correctly it points to the "local file header". Each file data block is preceded/followed with a little frame. There is not much interesting information in these framing blocks, the values are duplicates of the ones found in the zip central directory - however, we must skip the local file header (and a possible duplicate of filename and extrainfo) to arrive at the actual file data.

When the start of the actual file data, we can finally read data. The zziplib library does only know about two choices defined by the value in the z_compr field - a value of "0" means "stored" and data has been stored in uncompresed format, so that we can just copy it out of the file to the application buffer.

A value of "8" means "deflated", and here we initialize the zlib and every file data is decompressed before copying it to the application buffer. Care must be taken here since zlib input data and decompressed data may differ significantly. The zlib compression will not even obey byte boundaries - a single bit may expand to hundreds of bytes. That's why each ZZIP_FILE has a decompression buffer attached.

All the other z_compr values are only of historical meaning, the infozip unix tools will only create deflated content, and the same applies to pkzip 2.x tools. If there would be any other value than "0" or "8" then zziplib can not decompress it, simple as that.


The ZZIP_DIR internal structures stores a posix handle to the zip file, and a pointer to the parsed central directory block. One can use readdir/rewinddir to walk each entry in the central directory and compare with the filenames attached. And that's what will be done at a zzip_open call to find the file entry.

There are a few more fields in the ZZIP_DIR structure, where most of these are related to the use of this struct as a shared recource. You can use zzip_file_open to walk the preparsed central directory and return a new ZZIP_FILE handle for that entry.

That ZZIP_FILE handle contains a back pointer its ZZIP_DIR that it was made from - and the back pointer also serves as flag that the ZZIP_FILE handle points to a file within a ZIP file as opposed to wrapping a real file in the real directory tree. Each ZZIP_FILE will increment a shared counter, so that the next dir_close will be deferred until all ZZIP_FILE have been destroyed.

Another optmization is the cache-pointer in the ZZIP_DIR. It is quite common to read data entries sequentially, as that the zip directory is scanned for files matching a specific pattern, and when a match is seen, that file is openened. However, each ZZIP_FILE needs a decompression buffer, and we keep a cache of the last one freed so that it can be picked up right away for the next zzip_file_open.

Note that using multiple zzip_open() directly, each will open and parse a zip directory of its own. That's bloat both in terms of memory consumption and execution speed. One should try to take advantage of the feature that multiple ZZIP_FILE's can share a common ZZIP_DIR with a common preparsed copy of the zip's central directory. That can be done directly with using zzip_file_open to use a ZZIP_DIR as a factory for ZZIP_FILE, but also zzip_freopen can be used to reuse the old internal central directory, instead of parsing it again.

And while zzip_freopen would release the old ZZIP_FILE handle only resuing the ZZIP_DIR attached, one can use another routine directly called zzip_open_shared that will create a ZZIP_FILE from an existing ZZIP_FILE. Oh, and not need to worry about problems when a filepath given to zzip_freopen() happens to be in another place, another directory, another zip archive. In that case, the old zzip's internal directory is freed and the others directory read - the preparsed central directory is only used if that is actually possible. 17. December 2002