FIDL API Readability Rubric

General Advice

This section contains some general advice about defining interfaces in the Fuchsia Interface Definition Language.

Protocols not objects

FIDL is a language for defining interprocess communication protocols. Although the syntax resembles a definition of an object-oriented interface, the design considerations are more akin to network protocols than to object systems. For example, to design a high-quality interface, you need to consider bandwidth, latency, and flow control. You should also consider that an interface is more than just a logical grouping of operations: an interface also imposes a FIFO ordering on requests and breaking an interface into two smaller interfaces means that requests made on the two different interfaces can be reordered with respect to each other.

Focus on the types

A good starting point for designing your FIDL protocol is to design the data structures your protocol will use. For example, a FIDL protocol about networking would likely contain data structures for various types of IP addresses and a FIDL protocol about graphics would likely contain data structures for various geometric concepts. You should be able to look at the type names and have some intuition about the concepts the protocol manipulates and how the interfaces for manipulating those concepts might be structured.

Language neutrality

There are FIDL backends for many different languages. You should avoid over-specializing your FIDL definitions for any particular target language. Over time, your FIDL protocol is likely to be used by many different languages, perhaps even some languages that are not even supported today. FIDL is the glue that holds the system together and lets Fuchsia support a wide variety of languages and runtimes. If you over-specialize for your favorite language, you undermine that core value proposition.


The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
  --- T.S. Eliot

Names defined in FIDL are used to generate identifiers in each target language. Some languages attach semantic or conventional meaning to names of various forms. For example, in Go, whether the initial letter in an identifier is capitalized controls the visibility of the identifier. For this reason, many of the language backends transform the names in your library to make them more appropriate for their target language. The naming rules in this section are a balancing act between readability in the FIDL source, usability in each target language, and consistency across target languages.

Avoid commonly reserved words, such as goto. The language backends will transform reserved words into non-reserved identifiers, but these transforms reduce usability in those languages. Avoiding commonly reserved words reduces the frequency with which these transformations are applied.

While some FIDL keywords are also commonly reserved words in target languages, (such as struct in C and C++), and should thus be avoided, other FIDL keywords, particularly request and handle, are generally descriptive and can be used as appropriate.

Names must not contain leading or trailing underscores. Leading or trailing underscores have semantic meaning in some languages (e.g., leading underscores control visibility in Dart) and conventional meaning in other languages (e.g., trailing underscores are conventionally used for member variables in C++). Additionally, the FIDL compiler uses leading and trailing underscores to munge identifiers to avoid collisions.


Library names are period-separated lists of identifiers. Portions of the library name other than the last are also referred to as namespaces. Each component of the name is in lowercase and must match the following regular expression: [a-z][a-z0-9]*.

We use these restrictive rules because different target languages have different restrictions on how they qualify namespaces, libraries, or packages. We have selected a conservative least common denominator in order for FIDL to work well with our current set of target languages and with potential future target languages.

Prefer functional names (e.g., over product or codenames (e.g., fuchsia.amber or fuchsia.mozart). Product names are appropriate when the product has some external existence beyond Fuchsia and when the interface is specific to that product. For example, fuchsia.cobalt is a better name for the Cobalt interface than fuchsia.metrics because other metrics implementations (e.g., Firebase) are unlikely to implement the same protocol.

FIDL libraries defined in the Fuchsia source tree (i.e., defined in must be in the fuchsia top-level namespace (e.g., fuchsia.ui) unless (a) the library defines portions of the FIDL language itself or its conformance test suite, in which case the top-level namespace must be fidl, or (b) the library is used only for internal testing and is not included in the SDK or in production builds, in which case the top-level namespace must be test.

FIDL libraries defined in the Fuchsia source tree for the purpose of exposing hardware functionality to applications must be in the fuchsia.hardware namespace. For example, an interface for exposing an ethernet device might be named fuchsia.hardware.ethernet.Device. Higher-level functionality built on top of these interfaces does not belong in the fuchsia.hardware namespace. For example, it is more appropriate for network protocols to be under than fuchsia.hardware.

Avoid library names with more than two dots (e.g., There are some cases when a third dot is appropriate, but those cases are rare. If you use more than two dots, you should have a specific reason for that choice.

Prefer to introduce dependencies from more libraries with more specific names to libraries with less specific names rather than the reverse. For example, might depend on, but should not depend on This pattern is better for extensibility because over time we can add more libraries with more specific names but there are only a finite number of libraries with less specific names. Having libraries with less specific names know about libraries with more specific names privileges the current status quo relative to the future.

Library names must not contain the following components: common, service, util, base, f<letter>l, zx<word>. Avoid these (and other) meaningless names. If and share a number of concepts that you wish to factor out into a separate library, consider defining those concepts in rather than in


Avoid repeating the names from the library name. For example, in the fuchsia.process library, an interface that launches process should be named Launcher rather than ProcessLauncher because the name process already appears in the library name. In all target languages, top-level names are scoped by the library name in some fashion.

Primitive aliases

Primitive aliases must be named in lower_snake_case.

using vaddr = uint64;

Primitive aliases must not repeat names from the enclosing library. In all target languages, primitive aliases are replaced by the underlying primitive type and therefore do not cause name collisions.


Constants must be named in ALL_CAPS_SNAKE_CASE.

const uint64 FOO_BAR = 4096;

Constant names must not repeat names from the enclosing library. In all target languages, constant names are scoped by their enclosing library.


Interfaces must be named in UpperCamelCase and must be noun phrases. Typically, interfaces are named using nouns that suggest an action. For example, AudioRenderer is a noun that suggests that the interface is related to rendering audio. Similarly, Launcher is a noun that suggests that the interface is related to launching something. Interfaces can also be passive nouns, particularly if they relate to some state held by the implementation. For example, Directory is a noun that suggests that the interface is used for interacting with a directory held by the implementation.

Interface may be named using object-oriented design patterns. For example, fuchsia.fonts.Provider uses the “provider” suffix, which indicates that the interface provides fonts (rather than represents a font itself). Similarly, fuchsia.tracing.Controller uses the “controller” suffix, which indicates that the interface controls the tracing system (rather than represents a trace itself).

The name Manager may be used as a name of last resort for an interface with broad scope. For example, fuchsia.power.Manager. However, be warned that “manager” interfaces tend to attract a large amount of loosely related functionality that might be better factored into multiple interfaces.

Interfaces must not include the name “service.” All interfaces define services. The term is meaningless. For example, violates this rubric in two ways. First, the “http” prefix is redundant with the library name. Second, the “service” suffix is banned. Notice that the successor FIDL library, simply omits this useless interface.


Methods must be named in UpperCamelCase and must be verb phrases. For example, GetBatteryStatus and CreateSession are verb phrases that indicate what action the method performs.

Methods on “listener” or “observer” interfaces that are called when an event occurs should be prefixed with On and describe the event that occurred in the past tense. For example, the ViewContainerListener interface has a method named OnChildAttached. Similarly, events (i.e., unsolicited messages from the server to the client) should be prefixed with On and describe the event that occurred in the past tense. For example, the AudioCapturer interface has an event named OnPacketCaptured.


Parameter must be named in lower_snake_case.

Structs and unions

Structs and unions must be named in UpperCamelCase and must be noun phrases. For example, Point is a struct that defines a location in space and KeyboardEvent is a struct that defines a keyboard-related event.

Struct and union members

Struct and union members must be named in lower_snake_case. Prefer names with a single word when practical because single-word names render more consistently across target languages. However, do not be afraid to use multiple words if a single word would be ambiguous or confusing.

Member names must not repeat names from the enclosing type (or library). For example, the KeyboardEvent member that contains the time the event was delivered should be named time rather than event_time because the name event already appears in the name of the enclosing type. In all target languages, member names are scoped by their enclosing type.


Enums must be named in UpperCamelCase and must be noun phrases. For example, PixelFormat is an enum that defines how colors are encoded into bits in an image.

Enum members

Enum members must be named in ALL_CAPS_SNAKE_CASE.

Enum member names must not repeat names from the enclosing type (or library). For example, members of PixelFormat enum should be named ARGB rather than PIXEL_FORMAT_ARGB because the name PIXEL_FORMAT already appears in the name of the enclosing type. In all target languages, enum member names are scoped by their enclosing type.



  • Use 4 space indents.
  • Never use tabs.
  • Avoid trailing whitespace.
  • Separate declarations for struct, union, enum, and interface constructs from other declarations with one newline.
  • End files with exactly one newline character.


Use // comments to document your library. Place comments above the thing being described. Use reasonably complete sentences with proper capitalization and periods:

struct Widget {
    // Widgets must be published with monotonically increasing ids.
    uint64 id;
    // Relative to the center.
    Point location;

Types or values defined by some external source of truth should be commented with references to the external thing. For example, reference the WiFi specification that describes a configuration structure. Similarly, if a structure must match an ABI defined in a C header, reference the C header.

If you would like your comments to “flow through” to the target language, then use either /// as the comment introducer (yes, three forward slashes in a row) or the [Doc = "this is a comment"] attribute:

/// this is a comment that flows through to the target

[Doc = "and so is this"]

Flow-through vs. regular comment guidelines

For flow through comments, the /// form is preferred over the [Doc = ] form; the latter is intended as an internal implementation hook.

When deciding what should be a regular “//” comment versus a flow-through comment, keep in mind the following.

Regular comments:

  • internal “todo” comments
  • copyright notices
  • implementation details

Flow-through comments:

  • descriptions of parameters, arguments, function
  • usage notes

For example:

// TODO -- this function needs additional error checks
/// WatchedEvent describes events returned from a DirectoryWatcher.
struct WatchedEvent {


A library is comprised of one or more files. The files are stored in a directory hierarchy with the following conventions:


The <library> directory is named using the dot-separated name of the FIDL library. The <dir> subdirectories are optional and typically not used for libraries with less than a dozen files. This directory structure matches how FIDL files are included in the Fuchsia SDK.

The division of a library into files has no technical impact on consumers of the library. Declarations, including interfaces, can reference each other and themselves throughout the library, regardless of the file in which they appear. Divide libraries into files to maximize readability.

  • Prefer a DAG dependency diagram for files in a library.

  • Prefer keeping mutually referring definitions textually close to each other, ideally in the same file.

  • For complex libraries, prefer defining pure data types or constants in leaf files and defining interfaces that reference those types together in a trunk file.


Interfaces contain a number of methods. In its declaration, each method is assigned a unique 32 bit identifier, called an ordinal.

Interfaces evolve in two directions. First, an interface can grow new methods, with new ordinals. Second, a superinterface can be extended by a subinterface. The subinterface has all of the methods of its superinterface plus its own.

The goal of the guidelines here is to avoid these extension mechanisms colliding.

  • Never use the zero ordinal. (The compiler forbids the zero ordinal.)

  • Ordinals within an interface should be allocated in contiguous blocks. For example:

    • 0x80000001--0x80000007
    • 1, 2, 3
    • 1000--1010, 1100--1112, 1200--1999
  • New ordinals in an interface should use the next ordinal in the block. After 1, 2, and 3, use 4.

  • Related interfaces should consider using nearby and distinct ordinal blocks:

  • Interfaces A and B, in the same library, that refer to each other might choose to allocate in blocks 0x100-0x1ff and 0x200-0x2ff respectively.

  • Interfaces that expect to be extended by subinterfaces should explicitly claim ordinal blocks in a comment.

Library structure

Carefully consider how you divide your type and interface definitions into libraries. How you decompose these definitions into libraries has a large effect on the consumers of these definitions because a FIDL library is the unit of dependency and distribution for your protocols.

The FIDL compiler requires that the dependency graph between libraries is a DAG, which means you cannot create a circular dependency across library boundaries. However, you can create (some) circular dependencies within a library.

To decide whether to decompose a library into smaller libraries, consider the following questions:

  • Do the customers for the library break down into separate roles that would want to use a subset of the functionality or declarations in the library? If so, consider breaking the library into separate libraries that target each role.

  • Does the library correspond to an industry concept that has a generally understood structure? If so, consider structuring your library to match the industry-standard structure. For example, Bluetooth is organized into fuchsia.bluetooth.le and fuchsia.bluetooth.gatt to match how these concepts are generally understood in the industry. Similarly, corresponds to the industry-standard HTTP network protocol.

  • Do many other libraries depend upon the library? If so, check whether those incoming dependencies really need to depend on the whole library or whether there is a “core” set of definitions that could be factored out of the library to receive the bulk of the incoming dependencies.

Ideally, we would produce a FIDL library structure for Fuchsia as a whole that is a global optimum. However, Conway‘s law states that “organizations which design systems [...] are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.” We should spend a moderate amount of time fighting Conway’s law.


As mentioned under “general advice,” you should pay particular attention to the types you used in your protocol definition.

Be consistent

Use consistent types for the same concept. For example, use a uint32 or a int32 for a particular concept consistently throughout your library. If you create a struct for a concept, be consistent about using that struct to represent the concept.

Ideally, types would be used consistently across library boundaries as well. Check related libraries for similar concepts and be consistent with those libraries. If there are many concepts shared between libraries, consider factoring the type definitions for those concepts into a common library. For example, fuchsia.mem and fuchsia.math contain many commonly used types for representing memory and mathematical concepts, respectively.

Prefer semantic types

Create structs to name commonly used concepts, even if those concepts could be represented using primitives. For example, an IPv4 address is an important concept in the networking library and should be named using a struct even through the data can be represented using a primitive:

struct Ipv4Address {
    array<uint8>:4 octets;

In performance-critical target languages, structs are represented in line, which reduces the cost of using structs to name important concepts.

Consider using fuchsia.mem.Buffer

A Virtual Memory Object (VMO) is a kernel object that represents a contiguous region of virtual memory. VMOs track memory on a per-page basis, which means a VMO by itself does not track its size at byte-granularity. When sending memory in a FIDL message, you will often need to send both a VMO and a size. Rather than sending these primitives separately, consider using fuchsia.mem.Buffer, which combines these primitives and names this common concept.

Specify bounds for vector and string

Most vector and string declarations should specify a length bound. Whenever you omit a length bound, consider whether the receiver of the message would really want to process arbitrarily long sequences or whether extremely long sequences represent abuse.

Bear in mind that declarations that lack an upper bound are implicitly bounded by the maximum message length when sent over a zx::channel. If there really are use cases for arbitrarily long sequences, simply omitting a bound might not address those use cases because clients that attempt to provide extremely long sequences might hit the maximum message length.

To address use cases with arbitrarily large sequences, consider breaking the sequence up into multiple messages using one of the pagination patterns discussed below or consider moving the data out of the message itself, for example into a fuchsia.mem.Buffer.


Select the appropriate error type for your use case and be consistent about how you report errors.

Use the status type for errors related to kernel objects or IO. For example, fuchsia.process uses status because the library is largely concerned with manipulating kernel objects. As another example, uses status extensively because the library is concerned with IO.

Use a domain-specific enum error type for other domains. For example, use an enum when you expect clients to receive the error and then stop rather than propagate the error to another system.

If a method can return either an error or a result, use the following pattern:

enum MyStatus { OK; FOO; BAR; ... };

interface Frobinator {
    1: Frobinate(...) -> (MyStatus status, FrobinateResult? result);

In some unusual situations, interfaces may include a string description of the error in addition to a status or enum value if the range of possible error conditions is large and descriptive error messages are likely to be useful to clients. However, including a string invites difficulties. For example, clients might try to parse the string to understand what happened, which means the exact format of the string becomes part of the interface, which is especially problematic when the strings are localized. Security note: Similarly, reporting stack traces or exception messages to the client can unintentionally leak privileged information.

Should I define a struct to encapsulate method parameters (or responses)?

Whenever you define a method, you need to decide whether to pass parameters individually or to encapsulate the parameters in a struct. Making the best choice involves balancing several factors. Consider the questions below to help guide your decision making:

  • Is there a meaningful encapsulation boundary? If a group of parameters makes sense to pass around as a unit because they have some cohesion beyond this method, you might want to encapsulate those parameters in a struct. (Hopefully, you have already identified these cohesive groups when you started designing your protocol because you followed the “general advice” above and focused on the types early on.)

  • Would the struct be useful for anything beyond the method being called? If not, consider passing the parameters separately.

  • Are you repeating the same groups of parameters in many methods? If so, consider grouping those parameters into one or more structures. You might also consider whether the repetition indicates that these parameters are cohesive because they represent some important concept in your protocol.

  • Are there a large number of parameters that are optional or otherwise are commonly given a default value? If so, consider using use a struct to reduce boilerplate for callers.

  • Are there groups of parameters that are always null or non-null at the same time? If so, consider grouping those parameters into a nullable struct to enforce that invariant in the protocol itself. For example, the FrobinateResult struct defined above contains values that are always null at the same time when error is not MyError.OK.

Should I use string or vector?

In FIDL, string data must be valid UTF-8, which means strings can represent sequences of Unicode code points but cannot represent arbitrary binary data. In contrast, vector or array can represent arbitrary binary data and do not implicate Unicode.

Use string for text data:

  • Use string to represent package names because package names are required to be valid UTF-8 strings (with certain excluded characters).

  • Use string to represent file names within packages because file names within packages are required to be valid UTF-8 strings (with certain excluded characters).

  • Use string to represent media codec names because media codec names are selected from a fixed vocabulary of valid UTF-8 strings.

  • Use string to represent HTTP methods because HTTP methods are comprised of a fixed selection of characters that are always valid UTF-8.

Use vector or array for small non-text data:

  • Use vector<uint8> for HTTP header fields because HTTP header fields do not specify an encoding and therefore cannot necessarily be represented in UTF-8.

  • Use array<uint8>:6 for MAC addresses because MAC address are binary data.

  • Use array<uint8>:16 for UUIDs because UUIDs are (almost!) arbitrary binary data.

Use shared-memory primitives for blobs:

  • Use fuchsia.mem.Buffer for images and (large) protobufs, when it makes sense to buffer the data completely.
  • Use handle<socket> for audio and video streams because data may arrive over time, or when it makes sense to process data before completely written or available.

Should I use vector or array?

A vector is a variable-length sequence that is represented out-of-line in the wire format. An array is a fixed-length sequence that is represented in-line in the wire format.

Use vector for variable-length data:

  • Use vector for tags in log messages because log messages can have between zero and five tags.

Use array for fixed-length data:

  • Use array for MAC addresses because a MAC address is always six bytes long.

Should I use a struct or a table?

Structs and tables provide semantically similar notions, and so it can seem complicated deciding which to prefer.

For very high level IPCs, or for persistent storage, where serialization performance tends not to be a concern:

  • Tables provide some forwards and backwards compatibility, and so offer an element of future proofing: prefer them for most concepts.
  • Take the performance benefits of structs only for concepts that are very unlikely to change in the future (say struct Vec3 { float x; float y; float z }, or Ipv4Address).

Once serialization performance becomes an overriding concern (this is common on the data path for device drivers for example), we can begin to prefer structs only and rely on adding new methods to interfaces to account for future changes.

When should I use an enum?

(Note: This section depends on a proposed FIDL 2.1 feature that makes enums extensible.)

Use an enum if the set of enumerated values is bounded and controlled by the Fuchsia project. For example, the Fuchsia project defines the pointer event input model and therefore controls the values enumerated by PointerEventPhase.

In some scenarios, you should use an enum even if the Fuchsia project itself does not control the set of enumerated values if we can reasonably expect that people who will want to register new values will submit a patch to the Fuchsia source tree to register their values. For example, texture formats need to be understood by the Fuchsia graphics drivers, which means new texture formats can be added by developers working on those drivers even if the set of texture formats is controlled by the graphics hardware vendors. As a counter example, do not use an enum to represent HTTP methods because we cannot reasonably expect people who use novel HTTP methods to submit a patch to the Fuchsia source tree.

For a priori unbounded sets, a string might be a more appropriate choice if you foresee wanting to extend the set dynamically. For example, use a string to represent media codec names because intermediaries might be able to do something reasonable with a novel media code name.

If the set of enumerated values is controlled by an external entity, use an integer (of an appropriate size) or a string. For example, use an integer (or some size) to represent USB HID identifiers because the set of USB HID identifiers is controlled by an industry consortium. Similarly, use a string to represent a MIME type because MIME types are controlled (at least in theory) by an IANA registry.

Good Design Patterns

This section describes several good design patterns that recur in many FIDL protocols.

Interface request pipelining

One of the best and most widely used design patterns is interface request pipelining. Rather than returning a channel that implements an interface, the client sends the channel and requests the server to bind an implementation of the interface to that channel:

interface Foo {
    1: GetBar(string name, request<Bar> bar);

interface Foo {
    1: GetBar(string name) -> (Bar bar);

This pattern is useful because the client does not need to wait for a round-trip before starting to use the Bar interface. Instead, the client can queue messages for Bar immediately. Those messages will be buffered by the kernel and processed eventually once an implementation of Bar binds to the interface request. By contrast, if the server returns an instance of the Bar interface, the client needs to wait for the whole round-trip before queuing messages for Bar.

If the request is likely to fail, consider extending this pattern with a reply that describes whether the operation succeeded:

interface CodecProvider {
    1: TryToCreateCodec(CodecParams params, request<Codec> codec) -> (bool succeed);

To handle the failure case, the client waits for the reply and takes some other action if the request failed. Another approach is for the interface to have an event that the server sends at the start of the protocol:

interface Codec2 {
    1: -> OnReady();

interface CodecProvider2 {
    1: TryToCreateCodec(CodecParams params, request<Codec2> codec);

To handle the failure case, the client waits for the OnReady event and takes some other action if the Codec2 channel is closed before the event arrives.

However, if the request is likely to succeed, having either kind of success signal can be harmful because the signal allows the client to distinguish between different failure modes that often should be handled in the same way. For example, the client should treat a service that fails immediately after establishing a connection in the same way as a service that cannot be reached in the first place. In both situations, the service is unavailable and the client should either generate an error or find another way to accomplishing its task.

Flow Control

FIDL messages are buffered by the kernel. If one endpoint produces more messages than the other endpoint consumes, the messages will accumulate in the kernel, taking up memory and making it more difficult for the system to recover. Instead, well-designed protocols should throttle the production of messages to match the rate at which those messages are consumed, a property known as flow control.

The kernel provides some amount of flow control in the form of back pressure on channels. However, most protocols should have protocol-level flow control and use channel back pressure as a backstop to protect the rest of the system when the protocol fails to work as designed.

Flow control is a broad, complex topic, and there are a number of effective design patterns. This section discusses some of the more popular flow control patterns but is not exhaustive. Protocols are free to use whatever flow control mechanisms best suit their use cases, even if that mechanism is not listed below.

Prefer pull to push

Without careful design, protocols in which the server pushes data to the client often have poor flow control. One approach to providing better flow control is to have the client pull one or a range from the server. Pull models have built-in flow control the client naturally limits the rate at which the server produces data and avoids getting overwhelmed by messages pushed from the server.

A simple way to implement a pull-based protocol is to “park a callback” with the server using the hanging get pattern. In this pattern, the client sends a GetFoo message, but the server does not reply immediately. Instead, the server replies when a “foo” is available. The client consumes the foo and immediately sends another hanging get. The client and server each do one unit of work per data item, which means neither gets ahead of the other.

The hanging get pattern works well when the set of data items being transferred is bounded in size and the server-side state is simple, but does not work well in situations where the client and server need to synchronize their work.

Throttle push using acknowledgements

One approach to providing flow control in protocols that use the push, is the acknowledgment pattern, in which the caller provides an acknowledgement response that the caller uses for flow control. For example, consider this generic listener interface:

interface Listener {
    1: OnBar(...) -> ();

The listener is expected to send an empty response message immediately upon receiving the OnBar message. The response does not convey any data to the caller. Instead, the response lets the caller observe the rate at which the callee is consuming messages. The caller should throttle the rate at which it produces messages to match the rate at which the callee consumes them. For example, the caller might arrange for only one (or a fixed number) of messages to be in flight (i.e., waiting for acknowledgement).


In FIDL, servers can send clients unsolicited messages called events. Protocols that use events need to provide particular attention to flow control because the event mechanism itself does not provide any flow control.

A good use case for events is when at most one instance of the event will be sent for the lifetime of the channel. In this pattern, the protocol does not need any flow control for the event:

interface DeathWish {
    1: -> OnFatalError(status error_code);

Another good use case for events is when the client requests that the server produce events and when the overall number of events produced by the server is bounded. This pattern is a more sophisticated version of the hanging get pattern in which the server can respond to the “get” request a bounded number of times (rather than just once):

interface NetworkScanner {
    1: ScanForNetworks();
    2: -> OnNetworkDiscovered(string network);
    3: -> OnScanFinished();

If there is no a priori bound on the number of events, consider having the client acknowledge the events by sending a message. This pattern is a more awkward version of the acknowledgement pattern in which the roles of client and server are switched. As in the acknowledgement pattern, the server should throttle event production to match the rate at which the client consumes the events:

interface View {
    1: -> OnInputEvent(InputEvent event);
    2: NotifyInputEventHandled();

One advantage to this pattern over the normal acknowledgement pattern is that the client can more easily acknowledge multiple events with a single message because the acknowledgement is disassociated from the event being acknowledged. This pattern allows for more efficient batch processing by reducing the volume of acknowledgement messages and works well for in-order processing of multiple event types:

interface View {
    1: -> OnInputEvent(InputEvent event, uint64 seq);
    2: -> OnFocusChangedEvent(FocusChangedEvent event, uint64 seq);
    3: NotifyEventsHandled(uint64 last_seq);

Feed-forward dataflow

Some protocols have feed-forward dataflow, which avoids round-trip latency by having data flow primarily in one direction, typically from client to server. The protocol only synchronizes the two endpoints when necessary. Feed-forward dataflow also increases throughput because fewer total context switches are required to perform a given task.

The key to feed-forward dataflow is to remove the need for clients to wait for results from prior method calls before sending subsequent messages. For example, interface request pipelining removes the need for the client to wait for the server to reply with an interface before the client can use the interface. Similarly, client-assigned identifiers (see below) removes the need for the client to wait for the server to assign identifiers for state held by the server.

Typically, a feed-forward protocol will involve the client submitting a sequence of one-way method calls without waiting for a response from the server. After submitting these messages, the client explicitly synchronizes with the server by calling a method such as Commit or Flush that has a reply. The reply might be an empty message or might contain information about whether the submitted sequence succeeded. In more sophisticated protocols, the one-way messages are represented as a union of command objects rather than individual method calls, see the command union pattern below.

Protocols that use feed-forward dataflow work well with optimistic error handling strategies. Rather than having the server reply to every method with a status value, which encourages the client to wait for a round trip between each message, instead include a status reply only if the method can fail for reasons that are not under the control of the client. If the client sends a message that the client should have known was invalid (e.g., referencing an invalid client-assigned identifier), signal the error by closing the connection. If the client sends a message the client could not have known was invalid, either provide a response that signals success or failure (which requires the client to synchronize) or remember the error and ignore subsequent dependent requests until the client synchronizes and recovers from the error in some way.


interface Canvas {
    1: Flush() -> (status code);
    2: Clear();
    3: UploadImage(uint32 image_id, Image image);
    4: PaintImage(uint32 image_id, float x, float y);
    5: DiscardImage(uint32 image_id);
    6: PaintSmileyFace(float x, float y);
    7: PaintMoustache(float x, float y);

Client-assigned identifiers

Often an interface will let a client manipulate multiple pieces of state held by the server. When designing an object system, the typical approach to this problem is to create separate objects for each coherent piece of state held by the server. However, when designing a protocol, using separate objects for each piece of state has several disadvantages:

Creating separate interface instances for each logical object consumes kernel resources because each interface instance requires a separate channel object. Each interface instance maintains a separate FIFO queue of messages. Using separate interface instances for each logical object means that messages sent to different objects can be reordered with respect to each other, leading to out-of-order interactions between the client and the server.

The client-assigned identifier pattern avoids these problems by having the client assign uint32 or uint64 identifiers to objects retained by the server. All the messages exchanged between the client and the server are funnelled through a single interface instance, which provides a consistent FIFO ordering for the whole interaction.

Having the client (rather than the server) assign the identifiers allows for feed-forward dataflow because the client can assign an identifier to an object and then operate on that object immediately without waiting for the server to reply with the object's identifier. In this pattern, the identifiers are valid only within the scope of the current connection, and typically the zero identifier is reserved as a sentinel. Security note: Clients should not use addresses in their address space as their identifiers because these addresses can leak the layout of their address space.

The client-assigned identifier pattern has some disadvantages. For example, clients are more difficult to author because clients need to manage their own identifiers. Developers commonly want to create a client library that provides an object-oriented facades for the service to hide the complexity of managing identifiers, which itself is an antipattern (see client libraries below).

A strong signal that you should create a separate interface instance to represent an object rather than using a client-assigned identifier is when you want to use the kernel's object capability system to protect access to that object. For example, if you want a client to be able to interact with an object but you do not want the client to be able to interact with other objects, creating a separate interface instance means you can use the underlying channel as a capability that controls access to that object.

Command union

In protocols that use feed-forward dataflow, the client often sends many one-way messages to the server before sending a two-way synchronization message. If the protocol involves a particularly high volume of messages, the overhead for sending a message can become noticeable. In those situations, consider using the command union pattern to batch multiple commands into a single message.

In this pattern, the client sends a vector of commands rather than sending an individual message for each command. The vector contains a union of all the possible commands, and the server uses the union tag as the selector for command dispatch in addition to using the method ordinal number:

struct PokeCmd { int32 x; int32 y; };

struct ProdCmd { string:64 message; };

union MyCommand {
    PokeCmd poke;
    ProdCmd prod;

interface HighVolumeSink {
  1: Enqueue(vector<MyCommand> commands);
  2: Commit() -> (MyStatus result);

Typically the client buffers the commands locally in its address space and sends them to the server in a batch. The client should flush the batch to the server before hitting the channel capacity limits in either bytes and handles.

For protocols with even higher message volumes, consider using a ring buffer in a zx::vmo for the data plane and an associated zx::fifo for the control plane. Such protocols place a higher implementation burden on the client and the server but are appropriate when you need maximal performance. For example, the block device protocol uses this approach to optimize performance.


FIDL messages are typically sent over channels, which have a maximum message size. In many cases, the maximum message size is sufficient to transmit reasonable amounts of data, but there are use cases for transmitting large (or even unbounded) amounts of data. One way to transmit a large or unbounded amount of information is to use a pagination pattern.

Paginating Writes

A simple approach to paginating writes to the server is to let the client send data in multiple messages and then have a “finalize” method that causes the server to process the sent data:

interface Foo {
    1: AddBars(vector<Bar> bars);
    2: UseTheBars() -> (...);

For example, this pattern is used by fuchsia.process.Launcher to let the client send an arbitrary number of environment variables.

A more sophisticated version of this pattern creates an interface that represents the transaction, often called a tear-off interface:

interface BarTransaction {
    1: Add(vector<Bar> bars);
    2: Commit() -> (...);

interface Foo {
    1: StartBarTransaction(request<BarTransaction> transaction);

This approach is useful when the client might be performing many operations concurrently and breaking the writes into separate messages loses atomicity. Notice that BarTransaction does not need an Abort method. The better approach to aborting the transaction is for the client to close the BarTransaction interface.

Paginating Reads

A simple approach to paginating reads from the server is to let the server send multiple responses to a single request using events:

interface EventBasedGetter {
    1: GetBars();
    2: -> OnBars(vector<Bar> bars);
    3: -> OnBarsDone();

Depending on the domain-specific semantics, this pattern might also require a second event that signals when the server is done sending data. This approach works well for simple cases but has a number of scaling problems. For example, the protocol lacks flow control and the client has no way to stop the server if the client no longer needs additional data (short of closing the whole interface).

A more robust approach uses a tear-off interface to create an iterator:

interface BarIterator {
    1: GetNext() -> (vector<Bar> bars);

interface ChannelBasedGetter {
    1: GetBars(request<BarIterator> iterator);

After calling GetBars, the client uses interface request pipelining to queue the first GetNext call immediately. Thereafter, the client repeatedly calls GetNext to read additional data from the server, bounding the number of outstanding GetNext messages to provide flow control. Notice that the iterator need not require a “done” response because the server can reply with an empty vector and then close the iterator when done.

Another approach to paginating reads is to use a token. In this approach, the server stores the iterator state on the client in the form of an opaque token, and the client returns the token to the server with each partial read:

struct Token { array<uint8>:16 opaque; }
interface TokenBasedGetter {
  // If  token  is null, fetch the first N entries. If  token  is not null, return the N items starting at  token
  // Returns as many entries as it can in  results  and populates  next_token  if more entries are available.
  1: GetEntries(Token? token) -> (vector<Entry> entries, Token? next_token);

This pattern is especially attractive when the server can escrow all of its pagination state to the client and therefore no longer need to maintain paginations state at all. The server should document whether the client can persist the token and reuse it across instances of the interface. Security note: In either case, the server must validate the token supplied by the client to ensure that the client's access is limited to its own paginated results and does not include results intended for another client.

Eventpair correlation

When using client-assigned identifiers, clients identify objects held by the server using identifiers that are meaningful only in the context of their own connection to the server. However, some use cases require correlating objects across clients. For example, in fuchsia.ui.scenic, clients largely interact with nodes in the scene graph using client-assigned identifiers. However, importing a node from another process requires correlating the reference to that node across process boundaries.

The eventpair correlation pattern solves this problem using a feed-forward dataflow by relying on the kernel to provide the necessary security. First, the client that wishes to export an object creates a zx::eventpair and sends one of the entangled events to the server along with its client-assigned identifier of the object. The client then sends the other entangled event to the other client, which forwards the event to the server with its own client-assigned identifier for the now-shared object:

interface Foo {
    1: ExportThing(uint32 client_assigned_id, ..., handle<eventpair> export_token);

interface Bar {
    1: ImportThing(uint32 some_other_client_assigned_id, ..., handle<eventpair> import_token);

To correlate the objects, the server calls zx_object_get_info with ZX_INFO_HANDLE_BASIC and matches the koid and related_koid properties from the entangled event objects.

Eventpair cancellation

When using tear-off transactions, the client can cancel long-running operations by closing the client end of the interface. The server should listen for ZX_CHANNEL_PEER_CLOSED and abort the transaction to avoid wasting resources.

There is a similar use case for operations that do not have a dedicated channel. For example, the interface has a Fetch method that initiates an HTTP request. The server replies to the request with the HTTP response once the HTTP transaction is complete, which might take a significant amount of time. The client has no obvious way to cancel the request short of closing the entire Loader interface, which might cancel many other outstanding requests.

The eventpair cancellation pattern solves this problem by having the client include one of the entangled events from a zx::eventpair as a parameter to the method. The server then listens for ZX_EVENTPAIR_PEER_CLOSED and cancels the operation when that signal is asserted. Using a zx::eventpair is better than using a zx::event or some other signal because the zx::eventpair approach implicitly handles the case where the client crashes or otherwise tears down because the ZX_EVENTPAIR_PEER_CLOSED is generated automatically by the kernel when the entangled event retained by the client is destroyed.

Empty interfaces

Sometimes an empty interface can provide value. For example, a method that creates an object might also receive a request<FooController> parameter. The caller provides an implementation of this empty interface:

interface FooController {};

The FooController does not contain any methods for controlling the created object, but the server can use the ZX_CHANNEL_PEER_CLOSED signal on the interface to trigger destruction of the object. In the future, the interface could potentially be extended with methods for controlling the created object.


This section describes several antipatterns: design patterns that often provide negative value. Learning to recognize these patterns is the first step towards avoiding using them in the wrong ways.

Client libraries

Ideally, clients interface with protocols defined in FIDL using language-specific client libraries generated by the FIDL compiler. This approach lets Fuchsia provide high-quality support for a large number of target languages, but sometimes the protocol is too low-level to program directly and a a hand-written client library is appropriate to provide an interface to the same underlying protocol that is easier to use correctly.

For example, has a client library,, which provides a POSIX-like frontend to the protocol. Clients that expect a POSIX-style open/close/read/write interface can link against and speak the protocol with minimal modification. This client library provides value because the library adapts between an existing library interface and the underlying FIDL protocol.

Another kind of client library that provides positive value is a framework. A framework is an extensive client library that provides a structure for a large portion of the application. Typically, a framework provides a significant amount of abstraction over a diverse set of protocols. For example, Flutter is a framework that can be viewed as an extensive client library for the fuchsia.ui protocols.

FIDL protocols should be fully documented regardless of whether the protocol has an associated client library. An independent group of software engineers should be able to understand and correctly use the protocol directly given its definition without need to reverse-engineer the client library. When the protocol has a client library, aspects of the protocol that are low-level and subtle enough to motivate you to create a client library should be documented clearly.

The main difficulty with client libraries is that they need to be maintained for every target language, which tends to mean client libraries are missing (or lower quality) for less popular languages. Client libraries also tend to ossify the underlying protocols because they cause every client to interact with the server in exactly the same way. The servers grow to expect this exact interaction pattern and fail to work correctly when clients deviate from the pattern used by the client library.

In order to include the client library in the Fuchsia SDK, we should provide implementations of the library in at least two languages.

Service hubs

A service hub is a Discoverable interface that simply lets you discover a number of other interfaces, typically with explicit names:

interface ServiceHub {
    1: GetFoo(request<Foo> foo);
    2: GetBar(request<Bar> bar);
    3: GetBaz(request<Baz> baz);
    4: GetQux(request<Qux> qux);

Particularly if stateless, the ServiceHub interface does not provide much value over simply making the individual services discoverable directly:

interface Foo { ... };

interface Bar { ... };

interface Baz { ... };

interface Qux { ... };

Either way, the client can establish a connection to the enumerated services. In the latter case, the client can discover the same services through the normal mechanism used throughout the system to discover services. Using the normal mechanism lets the core platform apply appropriate policy to discovery.

However, service hubs can be useful in some situations. For example, if the interface were stateful or was obtained through some process more elaborate than normal service discovery, then the interface could provide value by transferring state to the obtained services. As another example, if the methods for obtaining the services take additional parameters, then the interface could provide value by taking those parameters into account when connecting to the services.

Overly object-oriented design

Some libraries create separate interface instances for every logical object in the protocol, but this approach has a number of disadvantages:

  • Message ordering between the different interface instances is undefined. Messages sent over a single interface are processed in FIFO order (in each direction), but messages sent over different channels race. When the interaction between the client and the server is spread across many channels, there is a larger potential for bugs when messages are unexpectedly reordered.

  • Each interface instance has a cost in terms of kernel resources, waiting queues, and scheduling. Although Fuchsia is designed to scale to large numbers of channels, the costs add up over the whole system and creating a huge proliferation of objects to model every logical object in the system places a large burden on the system.

  • Error handling and teardown is much more complicated because the number of error and teardown states grows exponentially with the number of interface instances involved in the interaction. When you use a single interface instance, both the client and the server can cleanly shut down the interaction by closing the interface. With multiple interface instances, the interaction can get into states where the interaction is partially shutdown or where the two parties have inconsistent views of the shutdown state.

  • Coordination across interface boundaries is more complex than within a single interface because protocols that involve multiple interfaces need to allow for the possibility that different interfaces will be used by different clients, who might not completely trust each other.

However, there are use cases for separating functionality into multiple interfaces:

  • Providing separate interfaces can be beneficial for security because some clients might have access to only one of the interfaces and thereby be restricted in their interactions with the server.

  • Separate interfaces can also more easily be used from separate threads. For example, one interface might be bound to one thread and another interface might be bound to another thread.

  • Clients and servers pay a (small) cost for each method in an interface. Having one giant interface that contains every possible method can be less efficient than having multiple smaller interfaces if only a few of the smaller interfaces are needed at a time.

  • Sometimes the state held by the server factors cleanly along method boundaries. In those cases, consider factoring the interface into smaller interfaces along those same boundaries to provide separate interfaces for interacting with separate state.

A good way to avoid over object-orientation is to use client-assigned identifiers to model logical objects in the protocol. That pattern lets clients interact with a potentially large set of logical objects through a single interface.