Protocol Buffers with Kenton Varda

When engineers are writing code, they are manipulating objects. You might have a user object represented on your computer, and that user object has several different fields—a name, a gender, and an age.

When you want to send that object across the network to a different computer, the object needs to be turned into a sequence of 1s and 0s that will travel efficiently across the network. This is known as “serialization.”

As the user object sits on your computer, it is represented in 1s and 0s. You could just send that same representation over the wire. But we use efficient serialization to send it over the network in a more compact format. We also have to make sure that when we send that object to another service, the other service knows how to deserialize it, and turn it back into a format that we can operate on at the application level.

Protocol buffers are a serialization protocol that originated at Google. Protocol buffers created a standardized interface for efficiently passing data between services. When Kenton Varda worked at Google, he was the tech lead for protocol buffers, and he joins the show to explain how protobufs work—and a newer serialization protocol that Kenton led: Cap’n Proto.

You can expect to walk away from this episode with an understanding of how serialization protocols work, and the design tradeoffs you can make when creating a serialization protocol.

We also touched on a startup that Kenton founded, called Sandstorm, and how he eventually found himself at Cloudflare, where he works on Cloudflare workers. With these topics, we did not go as deep as I would have liked, and I look forward to having Kenton back on in the near future.


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