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Python Binary File Read: Python Explained

Table of Contents

Binary files are files that are written in a binary representation of data. These representations are usually composed of bytes in a certain order and pattern. By reading binary files, you can convert the bytes into meaningful values. This article will explain the basics of reading and writing binary files with Python and provide a comprehensive overview.

What is a Binary File?

A binary file is a computer file that is stored in a binary representation of data. Binary files are generally composed of bytes, which are short sequences of 0’s and 1’s of various specific lengths. In order for an application to be able to read and write to these files, the application needs to understand the specific binary representation of the data.

Binary files can be used to store all kinds of information, including images, text, music, and other types of data. They are often used to store large amounts of data because they are more efficient and faster to process than more traditional text-based formats. However, they also require more complex tools and techniques to read and write correctly.

Binary files are also used to store executable programs, which are programs that can be run directly by the computer. These programs are written in a specific language that the computer can understand, and the binary file is the compiled version of the program that can be executed. Binary files are also used to store data that is not meant to be read by humans, such as data used by a computer program to store its internal state.

Benefits of Reading Binary Files with Python

There are several benefits to be gained from using Python to read binary files. Python is a powerful language that is versatile and relatively easy to use. It also provides access to many libraries and tools that can help make binary file management easier. Because Python provides a high-level abstraction of the binary data, it simplifies the process of reading and writing binary files significantly.

Python is also well-suited for working with binary files, since it includes many modules specifically designed for this purpose. The ‘struct’ module, for instance, makes it easy to manipulate binary data directly. With Python, you can take advantage of advanced techniques such as buffering, compression, and streaming that can help you manage large binary files more efficiently.

How to Read Binary Files in Python

The first step in reading binary files with Python is opening the file. To open a binary file in Python, you must use the ‘open’ function. This function takes two parameters: a filename and a flag that specifies the type of access to the file (read, write, etc.). For example, if you want to open a file for reading in binary mode you would use ‘rb’ as the flag.

Once the file is opened, the rest of the process is handled by the the ‘read’ method. This method takes an optional parameter, which specifies how many bytes to read. If no parameter is specified, the entire contents are read. Depending on what type of file you are working with, you can use the contents to perform various tasks such as extracting images or text from a PDF, transforming data from one format to another, or validating data from an unknown source.

Using the ‘open’ Function To Read Binary Files

The ‘open’ function can be used in Python to open binary files for both reading and writing. To open a file for reading in binary mode, the ‘rb’ flag must be used when calling the ‘open’ function. For example:

with open('file.bin', 'rb') as f:   # Read a byte from the file   byte = f.read(1)

When ‘open’ is called with the ‘rb’ flag, it creates a bytes object that can be read from or written to using either methods provided by the bytes object itself or methods provided by the file object returned by ‘open’.

Reading and Writing Binary Data with the ‘struct’ Module

The ‘struct’ module provides functions and classes for working with binary data in Python. This module allows you to read and write data in various formats, including integers, floats, and strings. It can also be used for encoding and decoding data from various file formats.

The ‘struct’ module provides several functions for packing and unpacking data. The ‘pack’ function allows you to pack data into a binary format, and the ‘unpack’ function allows you to unpack data from a binary format. The struct module also provides classes that can be used for easier access to binary data, such as the Struct class that allows you to define how data should be packed and unpacked using simple declarations.

Manipulating Binary Data with the ‘struct’ Module

The ‘struct’ module provides functions for manipulating binary data directly. The ‘pack’ and ‘unpack’ functions allow you to write and read data from binary files in specific formats. For example, if you have an integer value that is stored in 4 bytes, you can use the ‘pack’ function to read those 4 bytes from a file and convert them into an integer.

The ‘struct’ module also provides several other functions that can be used to manipulate binary data. These include functions for copying, comparing, and converting data between different types of formats. By using these functions, you can manipulate binary data without needing to understand the exact representation of the data.

Working with Bytes Objects in Python

Python provides an object called bytes which supports operations related to reading and writing binary files. The bytes object stores sequence of bytes in an immutable manner. It can be used to represent data in encoded formats such as hexadecimal or base64. Bytes objects also support various operations such as slicing and indexing.

In Python 3, bytes objects are supported by all of the common string methods (such as upper() or strip()). This makes it easy to manipulate bytes objects with string-handling functions. For example, if you have a bytes object containing a hexadecimal representation of a character you can use the string method upper() to convert all of the characters to upper-case.

Advanced Techniques for Reading and Writing Binary Files

In addition to ‘open’, there are several other methods provided by Python that can be used to perform advanced operations on binary files. By using these tools, you can perform complex operations such as buffering, compression, streaming, and random access on binary files more easily.

These advanced tools are especially useful when dealing with large files, as they allow you to efficiently read only parts of a file instead of having to read all of it at once. They can also be used when writing large files that need to be split across multiple disks or servers.

Common Pitfalls When Working With Binary Files

When working with binary files, it’s important to keep a few key things in mind. First, make sure that you understand the format of the file you are working with so that you don’t end up reading or writing data in incorrect formats. Second, always ensure that you close the file when you have finished with it so that any locks or network connections associated with it are released.

It’s also important to be aware of any built-in restrictions associated with your operating system or file system when working with binary files. For example, some versions of Linux place limits on the size of individual files. Make sure that you take these restrictions into account when working with large files.

Conclusion

Reading and writing binary files can be done using Python’s built-in tools and libraries. This article has explained how to use these tools to perform common tasks such as manipulating binary data directly, using advanced techniques such as buffering and streaming, and avoiding common pitfalls when writing large binary files.

Sarang Sharma

Sarang Sharma

Sarang Sharma is Software Engineer at Bito with a robust background in distributed systems, chatbots, large language models (LLMs), and SaaS technologies. With over six years of experience, Sarang has demonstrated expertise as a lead software engineer and backend engineer, primarily focusing on software infrastructure and design. Before joining Bito, he significantly contributed to Engati, where he played a pivotal role in enhancing and developing advanced software solutions. His career began with foundational experiences as an intern, including a notable project at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, to develop an assistive website for the visually challenged.

Written by developers for developers

This article was handcrafted with by the Bito team.

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