# ABSTRACT: IOD (INI On Drugs) file format specification



=encoding UTF-8

=head1 NAME

IOD - IOD (INI On Drugs) file format specification



=head1 VERSION

This document describes version 0.9.12 of IOD (from Perl distribution IOD), released on 2017-08-17.

=head1 STATUS

Specification is still rather in flux. Backwards compatibility is not guaranteed
between 0.9.x releases.


IOD (short for INI On Drugs) is a configuration file format that is mostly
backward-compatible with the popular INI format. It adds a few extensions to
make configuration more powerful but still lets the configuration parseable by a
regular INI parser (albeit the parse result might differ, sometimes
significantly so, but it can be exactly the same for simple cases). An
implementation can turn off some or all of these extensions to make the
configuration closer to a regular INI file.

IOD is meant to be a general configuration format for applications.


"SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be
interpreted as described in RFC 2119.


A general configuration file format needs to be simple for computers as well as
users to read and write. Users mostly need to write configuration, while
computers need to read but increasingly nowadays also write to configuration
(for automation tasks). INI is chosen as the basis format for several reasons:
popularity, simplicity, and ease of round-trip parsing. These features satisfy
the aforementioned requirements.

Popularity: INI format is popular on Windows as well as Unix. This makes it easy
for new users to get started with the configuration.

Simplicity: INI format is simple and very straightforward. It is essentially
assignments of key names and values, with sections.

Round-trip parsing: Round-trip parsing means preserving everything in the file
through the parsing process, including comments and formatting (indentations,
whitespaces). Most serialization format do not have round-trip parsers: after a
read and write process, original formatting and comments are lost. Round-trip
parsing means that if one loads an INI file, modifies a key value, and saves it
again, everything that is not modified will still be the same (including
whitespaces and comments). If no keys are modified, the saved file will be
identical with the original.

Round-trip parsing is desirable in a configuration because oftentimes valuable
information is contained in the formatting/indentation (grouping of keys) as
well as comments (user explaining why she sets a key to a certain value, dates,
other notes). Software modifying a configuration should not destroy all these.

=head2 INI vs ...

B<YAML>. Although YAML looks nice and has many features, it lacks round-trip
parsers and has complex rules that can trip beginners or non-programmers, e.g.
significant indentation, significant whitespace in some places (for example
after colon in mapping), etc. YAML 1.2 (2009) improves on some parts of this
aspect but at the time of this writing (2017) many implementations are still
stuck at version 1.0/1.1 of the specification.

B<JSON>. Although JSON is popular and simple, most parsers are not round-trip.
And even if the parser were round-trip, the format itself lacks some things that
are desirable in a configuration, e.g. comments. (Note: The documentation for
L<JSON> Perl module mentions the phrase "round-trip", but it uses the phrase to
mean integrity of values, not preserving comments/whitespaces.)

Note that IOD uses JSON in places.

B<Apache-webserver-style> lacks round-trip parsers.

B<XML>. Most parsers are not round-trip. The format is not convenient for humans
to read and write.

=head2 Why not plain INI?

First, the INI format is ill-defined. There is no single standard, thus various
implementations behave differently and there are various variants of the format.
This specification intends to describe the IOD format more precisely.

Second, INI lacks some features that I like/need, like: variable
substitution/expression, inclusion of other files, and merging between sections.
Most of these features make writing configuration less repetitive.


A configuration is a text file containing a sequence of lines. Encoding MUST be
UTF-8. Each line is either a blank line, a comment line, a key line, a section
line, or a directive line. Parsing is done line-by-line and in a single pass.

=head2 Blank line

A blank line is a line containing zero or more whitespaces only. It is ignored.

=head2 Comment line

A comment line begins with C<;> or C<#> as it's first nonblank character (note
that some INI parsers do not allow indented comment; some only recognizes C<;>
as the comment starter character). The use of C<;> is preferred.

 <ws>* ";"|"#" <COMMENT>


 ; this is a comment
 # this is also a comment

=head2 Key line

This line sets key name and value:

 <ws>* <NAME> <ws>* "=" <ws>* <VALUE> [<ws>* ";"|"#" <COMMENT>]

C<NAME> can contain anything but newline or the equal sign (C<=>). C<VALUE> is
either: 1) zero or more non-newline characters with optional encoding prefix, or
a JSON string with double quotes, or a JSON array started with "[", or a JSON
hash (object) started with "{". Encoding prefix is C<!> followed by encoding
name, followed by at least one space. Known encodings are: C<j> or C<json>, C<h>
or C<hex>, C<base64>, C<e> or C<expr>, C<path>, C<paths>, and C<none>. See
L</"Encoding"> for more details about encoding.


 foo bar=baz
 foo = bar baz ; whitespace around the equal sign will be removed
 foo=!base64 YmFyIGJheg== ; bar baz
 foo=!hex 00ff00 ; 3-byte binary data
 foo="a JSON string\nwith newline" ; comment
 foo=!j "a JSON string\nwith newline"
 foo=["a json array", "because it's started", "with ["]
 foo=!json [1,2,3]
 foo={"a json hash":1, "because it's started":2, "with {":3}
 foo=!json {"a":1,"b":2}
 foo=~/logs              ; will become e.g. /home/ujang/logs
 foo=~budi/Pictures      ; will become e.g. /home/budi/Pictures
 foo="~/logs"            ; a JSON-encoded string with value "~/logs"
 foo=!none [             ; a single open brace character

Specifying several keys with the same name will create an array value. Example:


will result in (in JSON):

 {"a": [1,2]}

To specify expression, use the C<!e> or C<!expr> encoding. Example:

 z=!e $x+$y ; 8

See L</"Expression"> for more details on expressions.

Normally a key line should occur below section line, so that key belongs to the
section. But a key line is also allowed before section line, in which it will
belong to section called C<GLOBAL> (configurable via the parser's
B<default_section> attribute).

=head2 Section line

A section line introduces a section:

 <ws>* "[" <ws>* <NAME> <ws>* "]" [<ws>* ";"|"#" <COMMENT>]

C<NAME> is one or more non-newline characters that are not C<]>.


 [Section Name]
 [foo.bar.baz]  ; a comment

Non-contiguous sections are allowed, they will be assumed to be set/add keys as
if the section were written contiguously, e.g.:




will result in C<sect1> containing C<a> as C<[1, 2]> and C<b> as C<3>. However,


 ;!merge sect1



C<sect2> will contain C<< {"a":1, "d":4} >> since at the point of parsing
C<sect2>, C<sect1> only contains C<< {"a":1} >>. However, C<sect3> will contain
C<< {"a":1, "b":2, "c":3} >> since at the point of parsing C<sect3>, C<sect1>
already becomes C<< {"a":1, "b":2} >>.

=head2 Directive line

A directive line is an unindented comment line using the C<;> comment character.
The comment starts with an exclamation mark (C<!>), a directive name (a word
matching regular expression C</\w+/>, and zero or more arguments separated by
whitespaces. Since it is a common error to write C<!> instead of C<:!>, the
parser can have a configuration to allow C<;> to become optional (though note
that this will result in an invalid INI file).

 (";")? <ws>* "!" <ws>* <NAME> <ws>+ [ARGUMENTS]

An invalid directive will cause parsing to fail.

Examples of valid directives:

 ;!include somefile.iod

This directive is invalid because it uses C<#> instead of C<;>:

 #!include blah

This directive is invalid because it is indented:

 ;start of line
   ;!include foo

This directive is invalid because of invalid directive name:

 ;!include! somefile.iod

This directive is invalid because it is unknown:


This directive is invalid because of unbalanced quotes:

 ;!include "somefile.ini

This directive is invalid because of missing required argument:


B<Argument>. An argument is a sequence of one or more non-whitespace,
non-newline characters, or a JSON string. Examples:

 "argument as JSON string"

Below is the list of known directives (C<< <foo> >> signifies required
arguments, C<[foo]> signifies optional arguments):

=head3 !include <PATH>

Include another file, as if the content of the included file is the next lines
in the current file. An included file might contain another C<!include>
directive. If C<PATH> is not absolute, it is assumed to be relative to the
current file. A circular include will cause the parser to die with an error.

File C<dir1/a.ini>:

 ;!include ../dir2/b.ini
 ;!include ../dir2/b3.ini

File C<dir2/b.ini>:

 ;!include b2.ini

File C<dir2/b2.ini>:

 c = 3
 ;!include b3.ini

File C<dir2/b3.ini>:


When C<dir1/a.ini> is parsed, the result will be (in JSON):

   "sectionA": {
     "sub1": {
       "a": 1,
       "b": 2,
       "c": [3, 4]
   "sectionB": {
     "c": 1

=head3 !merge [SECTION] ...

Specify that from now on (meaning, from the I<current> section, not the I<next>
session), section will merge the specified section(s), in order. The specified
sections to be merged must be predeclared. To stop merging, specify the
directive without any argument.




 !merge defaults s1



will result in (in pseudo-JSON):

   "defaults": {"d":4},
   "s1"      : {"a":1,  "b":2},
   "s2"      : {"a":10, "b":2, "c":30, "d":4},
   "s3"      : {"a":1,  "b":2,         "d":4},
   "s4"      : {"a":20}, // no more merging

=head3 !noop ...

Directive that does nothing and will be ignored. For testing.

=head2 Encoding


=item * json (j)

JSON encoding.

This encoding will automatically be assumed when the value starts with C<">
(double quote, signifying a JSON string), C<[> (opening brace parenthesis,
signifying a JSON array), C<{> (opening curly brace parenthesis, signifying a
JSON hash (object).

=item * hex (h)

Hex encoding, e.g.:

 key = !hex 48

will set C<key> to a literal C<H> (ASCII code for C<H> is 0x48). Another

 key = !h 480a

will set C<key> to C<"H\n"> (a literal C<H> followed by newline character).

=item * base64

Base64 encoding, e.g.:

 foo = !base64 YmFyIGJheg==

will set C<foo> to C<bar baz>.

=item * expr (e)

Currently not specified.

=item * path

EXPERIMENTAL. A literal string, except that C<~> or C<~USER> prefix will be
replaced with the home directory of current user, or specified user,
respectively. An extra C</> suffix is also allowed for directory and will be

When an unknown user is specified, the parser should die.

For example:

 log_dir = !path ~/logs

C<log_dir> will be set to e.g C</home/ujang/logs>.

If the first character of the value is C<~> (tilde), the path encoding is
implicitly assumed unless there is an explicit encoding specification. So
actually the previous example could just be written as:

 log_dir = ~/logs

To prevent the translation of C<~>, you can use C<!none> or double quote (JSON

 log_dir = !none ~/logs
 log_dir = "~/logs"

=item * paths

EXPERIMENTAL. A literal string, except that like in C<!path> C<~> or C<USER>
prefix will be substituted with user home directory. In addition to that,
wildcard characters like C<*>, C<?> will be interpreted. Wildcard expansion is
currently left to the implementation. The result will be an array of strings.

When wildcard does not match any file (e.g. C<!paths foo*> where there are no
files in the current directory that begins with C<foo>), an empty array should
be returned. When an unknown user or unknown path is given (e.g. C<!paths
/var/zzz/*> when there is no directory named C</var/zzz/>) or there is an error
during expansion (e.g. C<!paths /root/a*> when the current user does not have
sufficient permission to look into C</root>), the parser should die.


 dist_dirs = !paths ~/repos/perl-*

Without the C<!paths> encoding, C<dist_dirs> will be set to a literal string
C<~/repos/perl-*> without the C<~> translated and wildcard expanded. With the
C<!paths> encoding, C<dist_dirs> will be set to an array of strings.

=item * none

This explicitly turns off encoding and is useful when you want to disable
implicit encoding detection. For example:

 ; error, unclosed JSON string
 a = "

 ; ok, a single double-quote
 b = !none "

 ; translated to current paths under user's home directory, e.g. "/home/ujang"
 ; and "/home/ujang/Pictures"
 c = ~
 d = ~/Pictures/

 ; literal "~" and "~/Pictures"
 e = !none ~
 f = !none ~/Pictures/


=head2 Expression

Currently expression is not fully defined and left to the implementation. The
goal is to have a simple syntax that allows variable substitution using the C<$>
syntax and some arithmetics/string operations.

=head2 Unsupported features

Some INI implementations support other features, and listed below are those
unsupported by IOD, usually because the features are not popular or too
incompatible with regular INI syntax:

=over 4

=item * Line continuation for multiline value

 key=line 1 \
 line 2\
 line 3

Supported by L<Config::IniFiles>. In IOD, use JSON string or encoding:

 key="line 1 \nline 2\nline 3"

=item * Heredoc syntax for array


Supported by L<Config::IniFiles>. In IOD, use multiple assignment or JSON



 key=!j ["value1", "value2"]



Implementation can provide options to turn off some features. In general, to
make an IOD configuration file not context-dependent, a turned off feature
should cause parsing to fail to notify users that certain features are not
available. A turned off feature should not just silently makes parsing behave
differently. For example, if file inclusion is turned off, this line:

 !include somefile.ini

should make parsing fail instead of continuing (without including the file).

An exception is when an implementation provides explicit option to ignore
certain features. For example, an implementation might provide an option to
forbid expressions, or turn off expression parsing and parse it as literal.

Below are guidelines on what parsing options an implementation can provide:

=over 4

=item * whether certain encodings are recognized

=item * whether expression is allowed

=item * whether the !include directive is allowed

=item * whether the !merge directive is allowed

=item * whether discontiguous section is allowed


=head1 FAQ

=head2 Summary of differencess between INI and IOD?

IOD has more features:


=item * various encoding for key values

Using the including base64 and variable substitution/expression.

=item * merge between sections

=item * include other files


=head2 Why are blank lines allowed in IOD?

They aid reading by human. This is in line with the goal of making it easy for
human to read. Note that many INI parsers also allow blank lines.

=head2 What are the downsides of IOD format?


=item * Currently only has Perl parser (L<Config::IOD>, L<Config::IOD::Reader>)

INI parsers exist everywhere though, so some of the time you can fallback to
INI. Also, because the specification is simple, it is also relatively easy to
write implementations in other languages. The default Perl implementations
themselves are only about 400-600 lines (including blank lines, not counting



Please visit the project's homepage at L<https://metacpan.org/release/IOD>.

=head1 SOURCE

Source repository is at L<https://github.com/sharyanto/perl-IOD>.

=head1 BUGS

Please report any bugs or feature requests on the bugtracker website L<https://rt.cpan.org/Public/Dist/Display.html?Name=IOD>

When submitting a bug or request, please include a test-file or a
patch to an existing test-file that illustrates the bug or desired

=head1 SEE ALSO

INI format specification, L<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/INI_file>

TOML, a minimal configuration file format that looks like INI, but diverges
more, https://github.com/toml-lang/toml. This is similar in goal and principles
to IOD, with a few differences: more types and literals (boolean, datetime),
array and strings can span lines, section can be nested using indentation. There
are already implementations in multiple languages, and a few of them are already

=head1 AUTHOR

perlancar <perlancar@cpan.org>


This software is copyright (c) 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2012 by perlancar@cpan.org.

This is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under
the same terms as the Perl 5 programming language system itself.