The Cosmos SDK utilizes two binary wire encoding protocols, Binance Chain Amino and Protocol Buffers, where Amino is an object encoding specification. It is a subset of Proto3 with an extension for interface support. See the Proto3 spec for more information on Proto3, which Amino is largely compatible with (but not with Proto2).
Due to Amino having significant performance drawbacks, being reflection-based, and not having any meaningful cross-language/client support, Protocol Buffers, specifically gogoprotobuf, is being used in place of Amino. Note, this process of using Protocol Buffers over Amino is still an ongoing process.
Binary wire encoding of types in the Cosmos SDK can be broken down into two main categories, client encoding and store encoding. Client encoding mainly revolves around transaction processing and signing, whereas store encoding revolves around types used in state-machine transitions and what is ultimately stored in the Merkle tree.
For store encoding, protobuf definitions can exist for any type and will typically have an Amino-based "intermediary" type. Specifically, the protobuf-based type definition is used for serialization and persistence, whereas the Amino-based type is used for business logic in the state-machine where they may converted back-n-forth. Note, the Amino-based types may slowly be phased-out in the future so developers should take note to use the protobuf message definitions where possible.
codec package, there exists two core interfaces,
ProtoMarshaler, where the former encapsulates the current Amino interface except it operates on types implementing the latter instead of generic
In addition, there exists three implementations of
Marshaler. The first being
AminoCodec, where both binary and JSON serialization is handled via Amino. The second being
ProtoCodec, where both binary and JSON serialization is handled via Protobuf. Finally,
HybridCodec, a codec that utilizes Protobuf for binary serialization and Amino for JSON serialization. The
HybridCodec is typically the codec that used in majority in situations as it's easier to use for client and state serialization.
This means that modules may use Amino or Protobuf encoding but the types must implement
ProtoMarshaler. If modules wish to avoid implementing this interface for their types, they may use an Amino codec directly.
Every module uses an Amino codec to serialize types and interfaces. This codec typically
has types and interfaces registered in that module's domain only (e.g. messages),
but there are exceptions like
x/gov. Each module exposes a
that allows a user to provide a codec and have all the types registered. An application
will call this method for each necessary module.
Where there is no protobuf-based type definition for a module (see below), Amino is used to encode and decode raw wire bytes to the concrete type or interface:
bz := keeper.cdc.MustMarshalBinaryBare(typeOrInterface) keeper.cdc.MustUnmarshalBinaryBare(bz, &typeOrInterface)
Note, there are length-prefixed variants of the above functionality and this is
typically used for when the data needs to be streamed or grouped together
Another important use of the Amino is the encoding and decoding of
transactions. Transactions are defined by the application or
the SDK, but passed to the underlying consensus engine in order to be relayed to
other peers. Since the underlying consensus engine is agnostic to the application,
it only accepts transactions in the form of raw bytes. The encoding is done by an
TxEncoder and the decoding by an object called
A standard implementation of both these objects can be found in the
Modules are encouraged to utilize Protobuf encoding for their respective types.
If modules do not contain any interfaces (e.g.
Content), then they
may simply accept a
Marshaler as the codec which is implemented via the
without any further customization.
However, if modules are to handle type interfaces, they should seek to extend the
Marshaler interface contract for these types (e.g.
MarshalAccount). Note, they
should still use a
HybridCodec internally. These extended contracts will typically
use concrete types with unique