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The eosio::binary_extension type

Let's fully explain what the eosio::binary_extension type is, what it does, and why we need it for contract upgrades in certain situations.

You can find the implementation of eosio::binary_extension in the eosio.cdt repository in file: eosio.cdt/libraries/eosiolib/core/eosio/binary_extension.hpp.

Our primary concern when using this type is when we are adding a new field to a smart contract's data structure that is currently utilized in an eosio::multi_index type (AKA a table), or when adding a new parameter to an action declaration.

By wrapping the new field in an eosio::binary_extension, you are enabling your contract to be backwards compatible for future use. Note that this new field/parameter MUST be appended at the end of a data structure (this is due to implementation details in eosio::multi_index, which relies on the boost::multi_index type), or at the end of the parameter list in an action declaration.

If you don't wrap the new field in an eosio::binary_extension, the eosio::multi_index table will be reformatted in such a way that disallows reads to the former datum; or in an action's case, the function will be uncallable.


But let's see how the eosio::binary_extension type works with a good example.

Take a moment to study this smart contract and its corresponding .abi.

This contract not only serves as a good example to the eosio::binary_extension type, but can also be used as a gateway for developing smart contracts on the eosio protocol.

binary_extension_contract.hpp

#include <eosio/contract.hpp>         // eosio::contract
#include <eosio/binary_extension.hpp> // eosio::binary_extension
#include <eosio/datastream.hpp>       // eosio::datastream
#include <eosio/name.hpp>             // eosio::name
#include <eosio/multi_index.hpp>      // eosio::indexed_by, eosio::multi_index
#include <eosio/print.hpp>            // eosio::print_f

class [[eosio::contract]] binary_extension_contract : public eosio::contract {
public:
   using contract::contract;
   binary_extension_contract(eosio::name receiver, eosio::name code, eosio::datastream<const char*> ds)
      : contract{receiver, code, ds}, _table{receiver, receiver.value}
   { }

   [[eosio::action]] void regpkey (eosio::name primary_key);                ///< Register primary key.
   [[eosio::action]] void printbyp(eosio::name primary_key);                ///< Print by primary key.
   [[eosio::action]] void printbys(eosio::name secondary_key);              ///< Print by secondary key.
   [[eosio::action]] void modifyp (eosio::name primary_key, eosio::name n); ///< Modify primary key by primary key.
   [[eosio::action]] void modifys (eosio::name primary_key, eosio::name n); ///< Modify secondary key by primary key.

   struct [[eosio::table]] structure {
      eosio::name _primary_key;
      eosio::name _secondary_key;
         
      uint64_t primary_key()   const { return _primary_key.value;   }
      uint64_t secondary_key() const { return _secondary_key.value; }
   };

   using index1 = eosio::indexed_by<"index1"_n, eosio::const_mem_fun<structure, uint64_t, &structure::primary_key>>;
   using index2 = eosio::indexed_by<"index2"_n, eosio::const_mem_fun<structure, uint64_t, &structure::secondary_key>>;
   using table  = eosio::multi_index<"table"_n, structure, index1, index2>;

private:
   table _table;
};

binary_extension_contract.cpp

#include "binary_extension_contract.hpp"

using eosio::name;

[[eosio::action]] void binary_extension_contract::regpkey(name primary_key) {
   eosio::print_f("`regpkey` executing.\n");
   
   auto index{_table.get_index<"index1"_n>()}; ///< `index` represents `_table` organized by `index1`.
   auto iter {index.find(primary_key.value) }; ///< Note: the type returned by `index.find` is different than the type returned by `_table.find`.
   
   if (iter == _table.get_index<"index1"_n>().end()) {
      eosio::print_f("`_primary_key`: % not found; registering.\n", primary_key.to_string());
      _table.emplace(_self, [&](auto& row) {
         row._primary_key   = primary_key;
         row._secondary_key = "nothin"_n;
      });
   }
   else {
      eosio::print_f("`_primary_key`: % found; not registering.\n", primary_key.to_string());
   }

   eosio::print_f("`regpkey` finished executing.\n");
}

[[eosio::action]] void binary_extension_contract::printbyp(eosio::name primary_key) {
   eosio::print_f("`printbyp` executing.\n");
   
   auto index{_table.get_index<"index1"_n>()};
   auto iter {index.find(primary_key.value) };
   
   if (iter != _table.get_index<"index1"_n>().end()) {
      eosio::print_f("`_primary_key`: % found; printing.\n", primary_key.to_string());
      eosio::print_f("{%, %}\n", iter->_primary_key, iter->_secondary_key);
   }
   else {
      eosio::print_f("`_primary_key`: % not found; not printing.\n", primary_key.to_string());
   }

   eosio::print_f("`printbyp` finished executing.\n");
}

[[eosio::action]] void binary_extension_contract::printbys(eosio::name secondary_key) {
   eosio::print_f("`printbys` executing.\n");
   
   auto index{_table.get_index<"index2"_n>()};
   auto iter {index.find(secondary_key.value)};
   
   if (iter != _table.get_index<"index2"_n>().end()) {
      eosio::print_f("`_secondary_key`: % found; printing.\n", secondary_key.to_string());
      printbyp(iter->_primary_key);
   }
   else {
      eosio::print_f("`_secondary_key`: % not found; not printing.\n", secondary_key.to_string());
   }

   eosio::print_f("`printbys` finished executing.\n");
}

[[eosio::action]] void binary_extension_contract::modifyp(eosio::name primary_key, name n) {
   eosio::print_f("`modifyp` executing.\n");
   
   auto index{_table.get_index<"index1"_n>()};
   auto iter {index.find(primary_key.value)};
   
   if (iter != _table.get_index<"index1"_n>().end()) {
      eosio::print_f("`_primary_key`: % found; modifying `_primary_key`.\n", primary_key.to_string());
      index.modify(iter, _self, [&](auto& row) {
         row._primary_key = n;
      });
   }
   else {
      eosio::print_f("`_primary_key`: % not found; not modifying `_primary_key`.\n", primary_key.to_string());
   }

   eosio::print_f("`modifyp` finished executing.\n");
}

[[eosio::action]] void binary_extension_contract::modifys(eosio::name primary_key, name n) {
   eosio::print_f("`modifys` executing.\n");
   
   auto index{_table.get_index<"index1"_n>()};
   auto iter {index.find(primary_key.value)};
   
   if (iter != _table.get_index<"index1"_n>().end()) {
      eosio::print_f("`_primary_key`: % found; modifying `_secondary_key`.\n", primary_key.to_string());
      index.modify(iter, _self, [&](auto& row) {
         row._secondary_key = n;
      });
   }
   else {
      eosio::print_f("`_primary_key`: % not found; not modifying `_secondary_key`.\n", primary_key.to_string());
   }

   eosio::print_f("`modifys` finished executing.\n");
}

binary_extension_contract.abi

{
    "____comment": "This file was generated with eosio-abigen. DO NOT EDIT ",
    "version": "eosio::abi/1.1",
    "types": [],
    "structs": [
        {
            "name": "modifyp",
            "base": "",
            "fields": [
                {
                    "name": "primary_key",
                    "type": "name"
                },
                {
                    "name": "n",
                    "type": "name"
                }
            ]
        },
        {
            "name": "modifys",
            "base": "",
            "fields": [
                {
                    "name": "primary_key",
                    "type": "name"
                },
                {
                    "name": "n",
                    "type": "name"
                }
            ]
        },
        {
            "name": "printbyp",
            "base": "",
            "fields": [
                {
                    "name": "primary_key",
                    "type": "name"
                }
            ]
        },
        {
            "name": "printbys",
            "base": "",
            "fields": [
                {
                    "name": "secondary_key",
                    "type": "name"
                }
            ]
        },
        {
            "name": "regpkey",
            "base": "",
            "fields": [
                {
                    "name": "primary_key",
                    "type": "name"
                }
            ]
        },
        {
            "name": "structure",
            "base": "",
            "fields": [
                {
                    "name": "_primary_key",
                    "type": "name"
                },
                {
                    "name": "_secondary_key",
                    "type": "name"
                }
            ]
        }
    ],
    "actions": [
        {
            "name": "modifyp",
            "type": "modifyp",
            "ricardian_contract": ""
        },
        {
            "name": "modifys",
            "type": "modifys",
            "ricardian_contract": ""
        },
        {
            "name": "printbyp",
            "type": "printbyp",
            "ricardian_contract": ""
        },
        {
            "name": "printbys",
            "type": "printbys",
            "ricardian_contract": ""
        },
        {
            "name": "regpkey",
            "type": "regpkey",
            "ricardian_contract": ""
        }
    ],
    "tables": [
        {
            "name": "table",
            "type": "structure",
            "index_type": "i64",
            "key_names": [],
            "key_types": []
        }
    ],
    "ricardian_clauses": [],
    "variants": []
}

Take note of the action regpkey, and the struct structure in con.hpp and con.cpp; the parts of the contract we will be upgrading.

binary_extension_contract.hpp

[[eosio::action]] void regpkey (eosio::name primary_key);
struct [[eosio::table]] structure {
    eosio::name _primary_key;
    eosio::name _secondary_key;

    uint64_t primary_key()   const { return _primary_key.value;   }
    uint64_t secondary_key() const { return _secondary_key.value; }
};

binary_extension_contract.cpp

[[eosio::action]] void binary_extension_contract::regpkey(name primary_key) {
   eosio::print_f("`regpkey` executing.\n");
   
   auto index{_table.get_index<"index1"_n>()}; ///< `index` represents `_table` organized by `index1`.
   auto iter {index.find(primary_key.value) }; ///< Note: the type returned by `index.find` is different than the type returned by `_table.find`.
   
   if (iter == _table.get_index<"index1"_n>().end()) {
      eosio::print_f("`_primary_key`: % not found; registering.\n", primary_key.to_string());
      _table.emplace(_self, [&](auto& row) {
         row._primary_key   = primary_key;
         row._secondary_key = "nothin"_n;
      });
   }
   else {
      eosio::print_f("`_primary_key`: % found; not registering.\n", primary_key.to_string());
   }

   eosio::print_f("`regpkey` finished executing.\n");
}

And their corresponding sections in the .abi files:

binary_extension_contract.abi

{
    "name": "regpkey",
    "base": "",
    "fields": [
        {
            "name": "primary_key",
            "type": "name"
        }
    ]
}
{
    "name": "structure",
    "base": "",
    "fields": [
        {
            "name": "_primary_key",
            "type": "name"
        },
        {
            "name": "_secondary_key",
            "type": "name"
        }
    ]
}

Now, let's start up a blockchain instance, compile this smart contract, and test it out.

~/binary_extension_contract $ eosio-cpp binary_extension_contract.cpp -o binary_extension_contract.wasm
~/binary_extension_contract $ cleos set contract eosio ./
Reading WASM from /Users/john.debord/binary_extension_contract/binary_extension_contract.wasm...
Publishing contract...
executed transaction: 6c5c7d869a5be67611869b5f300bc452bc57d258d11755f12ced99c7d7fe154c  4160 bytes  729 us
#         eosio <= eosio::setcode               "0000000000ea30550000d7600061736d01000000018f011760000060017f0060027f7f0060037f7f7f017f6000017e60067...
#         eosio <= eosio::setabi                "0000000000ea3055d1020e656f73696f3a3a6162692f312e310006076d6f646966797000020b7072696d6172795f6b65790...
warning: transaction executed locally, but may not be confirmed by the network yet

Next, let's push some data to our contract.

~/binary_extension_contract $ cleos push action eosio regpkey '{"primary_key":"eosio.name"}' -p eosio
executed transaction: 3c708f10dcbf4412801d901eb82687e82287c2249a29a2f4e746d0116d6795f0  104 bytes  248 us
#         eosio <= eosio::regpkey               {"primary_key":"eosio.name"}
[(eosio,regpkey)->eosio]: CONSOLE OUTPUT BEGIN =====================
`regpkey` executing.
`_primary_key`: eosio.name not found; registering.
`regpkey` finished executing.
[(eosio,regpkey)->eosio]: CONSOLE OUTPUT END   =====================
warning: transaction executed locally, but may not be confirmed by the network yet

Finally, let's read back the data we have just written.

~/binary_extension_contract $ cleos push action eosio printbyp '{"primary_key":"eosio.name"}' -p eosio
executed transaction: e9b77d3cfba322a7a3a93970c0c883cb8b67e2072a26d714d46eef9d79b2f55e  104 bytes  227 us
#         eosio <= eosio::printbyp              {"primary_key":"eosio.name"}
[(eosio,printbyp)->eosio]: CONSOLE OUTPUT BEGIN =====================
`printbyp` executing.
`_primary_key`: eosio.name found; printing.
{eosio.name, nothin}
`printbyp` finished executing.
[(eosio,printbyp)->eosio]: CONSOLE OUTPUT END   =====================
warning: transaction executed locally, but may not be confirmed by the network yet

Now, let's upgrade the smart contract by adding a new field to the table and a new parameter to an action while NOT wrapping the new field/parameter in an eosio::binary_extension type and see what happens:

binary_extension_contract.hpp

+[[eosio::action]] void regpkey (eosio::name primary_key, eosio::name secondary_key);
-[[eosio::action]] void regpkey (eosio::name primary_key);
struct [[eosio::table]] structure {
    eosio::name _primary_key;
    eosio::name _secondary_key;
+   eosio::name _non_binary_extension_key;

    uint64_t primary_key()   const { return _primary_key.value;   }
    uint64_t secondary_key() const { return _secondary_key.value; }
};

binary_extension_contract.cpp

+[[eosio::action]] void binary_extension_contract::regpkey(name primary_key, name secondary_key) {
-[[eosio::action]] void binary_extension_contract::regpkey(name primary_key) {
   eosio::print_f("`regpkey` executing.\n");
   
   auto index{_table.get_index<"index1"_n>()}; ///< `index` represents `_table` organized by `index1`.
   auto iter {index.find(primary_key.value) }; ///< Note: the type returned by `index.find` is different than the type returned by `_table.find`.
   
   if (iter == _table.get_index<"index1"_n>().end()) {
      eosio::print_f("`_primary_key`: % not found; registering.\n", primary_key.to_string());
      _table.emplace(_self, [&](auto& row) {
         row._primary_key   = primary_key;
+        if (secondary_key) {
+           row._secondary_key = secondary_key;
+         }
+         else {
            row._secondary_key = "nothin"_n;
+         }
      });
   }
   else {
      eosio::print_f("`_primary_key`: % found; not registering.\n", primary_key.to_string());
   }

   eosio::print_f("`regpkey` finished executing.\n");
}

binary_extension_contract.abi

{
    "name": "regpkey",
    "base": "",
    "fields": [
        {
            "name": "primary_key",
            "type": "name"
+       },
+       {
+           "name": "secondary_key",
+           "type": "name"
        }
    ]
}
{
    "name": "structure",
    "base": "",
    "fields": [
        {
            "name": "_primary_key",
            "type": "name"
        },
        {
            "name": "_secondary_key",
            "type": "name"
+       },
+	{
+           "name": "_non_binary_extension_key",
+           "type": "name"
        }
    ]
}

Next, let's upgrade the contract and try to read from our table and write to our table the original way:

~/binary_extension_contract $ eosio-cpp binary_extension_contract.cpp -o binary_extension_contract.wasm
~/binary_extension_contract $ cleos set contract eosio ./
Reading WASM from /Users/john.debord/binary_extension_contract/binary_extension_contract.wasm...
Publishing contract...
executed transaction: b8ea485842fa5645e61d35edd97e78858e062409efcd0a4099d69385d9bc6b3e  4408 bytes  664 us
#         eosio <= eosio::setcode               "0000000000ea30550000a2660061736d01000000018f011760000060017f0060027f7f0060037f7f7f017f6000017e60067...
#         eosio <= eosio::setabi                "0000000000ea305583030e656f73696f3a3a6162692f312e310006076d6f646966797000020b7072696d6172795f6b65790...
warning: transaction executed locally, but may not be confirmed by the network yet
~/binary_extension_contract $ cleos push action eosio printbyp '{"primary_key":"eosio.name"}' -p eosio
Error 3050003: eosio_assert_message assertion failure
Error Details:
assertion failure with message: read

Whoops! We aren't able to read the data we've previously written to our table!

~/binary_extension_contract $ cleos push action eosio regpkey '{"primary_key":"eosio.name2"}' -p eosio
Error 3015014: Pack data exception
Error Details:
Missing field 'secondary_key' in input object while processing struct 'regpkey'

Whoops! We aren't able to write to our table the original way with the upgraded action either!


Ok, let's back up and wrap the new field and the new action parameter in an eosio::binary_extension type:

binary_extension_contract.hpp

+[[eosio::action]] void regpkey (eosio::name primary_key. eosio::binary_extension<eosio::name> secondary_key);
-[[eosio::action]] void regpkey (eosio::name primary_key, eosio::name secondary_key);
struct [[eosio::table]] structure {
    eosio::name                          _primary_key;
    eosio::name                          _secondary_key;
+   eosio::binary_extension<eosio::name> _binary_extension_key;
-   eosio::name                          _non_binary_extension_key;

    uint64_t primary_key()   const { return _primary_key.value;   }
    uint64_t secondary_key() const { return _secondary_key.value; }
};

binary_extension_contract.cpp

+[[eosio::action]] void binary_extension_contract::regpkey(name primary_key, binary_extension<name> secondary_key) {
-[[eosio::action]] void binary_extension_contract::regpkey(name primary_key, name secondary_key) {
   eosio::print_f("`regpkey` executing.\n");
   
   auto index{_table.get_index<"index1"_n>()}; ///< `index` represents `_table` organized by `index1`.
   auto iter {index.find(primary_key.value) }; ///< Note: the type returned by `index.find` is different than the type returned by `_table.find`.
   
   if (iter == _table.get_index<"index1"_n>().end()) {
      eosio::print_f("`_primary_key`: % not found; registering.\n", primary_key.to_string());
      _table.emplace(_self, [&](auto& row) {
         row._primary_key   = primary_key;
         if (secondary_key) {
+           row._secondary_key = secondary_key.value();
-           row._secondary_key = secondary_key;
          }
          else {
            row._secondary_key = "nothin"_n;
          }
      });
   }
   else {
      eosio::print_f("`_primary_key`: % found; not registering.\n", primary_key.to_string());
   }

   eosio::print_f("`regpkey` finished executing.\n");
}

binary_extension_contract.abi

{
    "name": "regpkey",
    "base": "",
    "fields": [
        {
            "name": "primary_key",
            "type": "name"
        },
        {
            "name": "secondary_key",
+           "type": "name$"
-           "type": "name"
        }
    ]
}
{
    "name": "structure",
    "base": "",
    "fields": [
        {
            "name": "_primary_key",
            "type": "name"
        },
        {
            "name": "_secondary_key",
            "type": "name"
        },
	{
+           "name": "_binary_extension_key",
+           "type": "name$"
-           "name": "_non_binary_extension_key",
-           "type": "name"
        }
    ]
}

Note the $ after the types now; this indicates that this type is an eosio::binary_extension type field.

{
    "name": "secondary_key",
+   "type": "name$"
-   "type": "name"
}
{
    "name": "_binary_extension_key",
+   "type": "name$"
-   "type": "name"
}

Now, let's upgrade the contract again and try to read/write from/to our table:

~/binary_extension_contract $ cleos set contract eosio ./
Reading WASM from /Users/john.debord/binary_extension_contract/binary_extension_contract.wasm...
Publishing contract...
executed transaction: 497584d4e43ec114dbef83c134570492893f49eacb555d0cd47d08ea4a3a72f7  4696 bytes  648 us
#         eosio <= eosio::setcode               "0000000000ea30550000cb6a0061736d01000000018f011760000060017f0060027f7f0060037f7f7f017f6000017e60017...
#         eosio <= eosio::setabi                "0000000000ea305581030e656f73696f3a3a6162692f312e310006076d6f646966797000020b7072696d6172795f6b65790...
warning: transaction executed locally, but may not be confirmed by the network yet
~/binary_extension_contract $ cleos push action eosio printbyp '{"primary_key":"eosio.name"}' -p eosio
executed transaction: 6108f3206e1824fe3a1fdcbc2fe733f38dc07ae3d411a1ccf777ecef56ddec97  104 bytes  224 us
#         eosio <= eosio::printbyp              {"primary_key":"eosio.name"}
[(eosio,printbyp)->eosio]: CONSOLE OUTPUT BEGIN =====================
`printbyp` executing.
`_primary_key`: eosio.name found; printing.
{eosio.name, nothin}
`printbyp` finished executing.
[(eosio,printbyp)->eosio]: CONSOLE OUTPUT END   =====================
warning: transaction executed locally, but may not be confirmed by the network yet
~/binary_extension_contract $ cleos push action eosio regpkey '{"primary_key":"eosio.name2"}' -p eosio
executed transaction: 75a135d1279a9c967078b0ebe337dc0cd58e1ccd07e370a899d9769391509afc  104 bytes  227 us
#         eosio <= eosio::regpkey               {"primary_key":"eosio.name2"}
[(eosio,regpkey)->eosio]: CONSOLE OUTPUT BEGIN =====================
`regpkey` executing.
`_primary_key`: eosio.name2 not found; registering.
`regpkey` finished executing.
[(eosio,regpkey)->eosio]: CONSOLE OUTPUT END   =====================
warning: transaction executed locally, but may not be confirmed by the network yet

Nice! The smart contract is now backwards compatible for the future use of its tables and/or actions.


Just keep these simple rules in mind when upgrading a smart contract. If you are adding a new field to a struct currently in use by a eosio::multi_index be SURE to:

  • add the field at the end of the struct.
  • wrap the type using an eosio::binary_extension type.