Serialization Context - Lumberyard User Guide

Serialization Context

You can use the serialization context (\dev\Code\Framework\AzCore\AzCore\Serialization\SerializeContext.*) to provide persistence for C++ objects or any Lumberyard type. To implement this, make an AzTypeInfo declaration or use AZ_RTTI (runtime type information), as in the following example:

class SerializedObject { public: AZ_RTTI(SerializedObject, ""); static void Reflect(AZ::ReflectContext* context) { SerializeContext* serializeContext = azrtti_cast<SerializeContext*>(reflection); if (serializeContext) { serializeContext->Class<SerializedObject>() ; } } };

You can also reflect native types and POD structs for serialization by creating an AZ_TYPE_INFO specialization, as in the following code example:

AZ_TYPE_INFO_SPECIALIZE(AZStd::chrono::system_clock::time_point, "{5C48FD59-7267-405D-9C06-1EA31379FE82}"); AZ_TYPE_INFO_SPECIALIZE(float, "{EA2C3E90-AFBE-44d4-A90D-FAAF79BAF93D}");


To associate a text string with the address to a field of a serialized object, use the Field function, as in the following example. You can use the builder pattern to serialize multiple fields.

serializedContext->Class<SerializedObject>() ->Field("myIntField", &SerializedObject::myIntField) ->Field("myFloatField", &SerializedObject::myFloatField) ;


Serializers are a useful way to provide custom data formats. If you want to do custom processing on an object before writing or reading it, you can override Lumberyard's default serializer.

To override the default serializer, implement the AZ::SerializeContext::IDataSerializer interface. Use the interface to override how data is handled as it is streamed into its persistent format. You can also use the interface to determine the actions that occur when the reflected object is serialized (read or written).

The AZ::Uuid class (\dev\Code\Framework\AzCore\AzCore\Math\MathReflection.cpp) provides a good example of a custom serializer. To save a UUID value, the code writes it directly into the stream. This part of the code is straightforward.

/// Store the class data into a binary buffer size_t Uuid::Save(const void* classPtr, IO::GenericStream& stream, bool) { const Uuid* uuidPtr = reinterpret_cast<const Uuid*>(classPtr); return static_cast<size_t>(stream.Write(16, reinterpret_cast<const void*>(uuidPtr->data))); }

Loading a UUID is also straightforward, but the code does some error checking to ensure that the data is loaded as expected:

/// Load the class data from a stream. bool Uuid::Load(void* classPtr, IO::GenericStream& stream, unsigned int /*version*/, bool) { if (stream.GetLength() < 16) { return false; } Uuid* uuidPtr = reinterpret_cast<Uuid*>(classPtr); if (stream.Read(16, reinterpret_cast<void*>(&uuidPtr->data)) == 16) { return true; } return false; }

The custom serializer has functions that convert the data between binary and text formats. By converting the data into text format, you can store it in .xml or .json files.

The following DataToText function reads the binary value for the UUID from the incoming stream. The function converts the binary value into an AZStd::string and then writes it to the outgoing stream.

size_t Uuid::DataToText(IO::GenericStream& in, IO::GenericStream& out, bool) { if (in.GetLength() < 16) { return 0; } Uuid value; void* dataPtr = reinterpret_cast<void*>(&; in.Read(16, dataPtr); char str[128]; value.ToString(str, 128); AZStd::string outText = str; return static_cast<size_t>(out.Write(outText.size(),; }

The following TextToData function converts the text input string into binary UUID format and then writes the binary data out to the stream.

/// Convert text data to binary to support the loading of legacy formats. // Respect the text version if the text->binary format has changed! size_t Uuid::TextToData(const char* text, unsigned int, IO::GenericStream& stream, bool) { Uuid uuid = Uuid::CreateString(text); stream.Seek(0, IO::GenericStream::ST_SEEK_BEGIN); return static_cast<size_t>(stream.Write(16,; }

Data Containers

To create custom serialization for templates and types that are not directly reflected through the SerializeContext::Reflect function, you can use data containers.

To create a data container, implement the AZ::SerializeContext::IDataContainer interface. You can use this interface to provide serialization for a class or template of classes and let the user choose the elements to be serialized. This is possible because IDataContainer allows the user to override an EnumElements function. The EnumElements function determines which elements of the serialized class are enumerated and are therefore capable of being serialized.


Data containers provide the best way to add support for templates to the serialization context. The following templates have a metaclass that implements the IDataContainer interface and serializes the templates.

AZStd::vector<T> AZStd::basic_string<T> AZStd::unique_ptr<T>

Nontemplate Types

You can use the IDataContainer interface to serialize nontemplate types like AZStd::any. This is because the type of element that is serialized is dependent on the type that is stored in the AZStd::any object.

Stable Elements

Elements are considered stable if their pointers do not change when other elements are added to or removed from a container. Lumberyard's implementation of stable elements corresponds to the C++17 rules for iterator invalidation as documented in section 26 of the ISO/IEC 14882:2017(E) standard. The elements in types like AZStd::vector are not stable because they are stored in a contiguous sequence. When an element that is not at the end of the vector is removed, all elements after it in memory must shift to the left to keep the sequence contiguous. Stable elements can be removed from a container without affecting other elements in the container. You can use the IsStableElements function to determine the status of a container's elements. If a container's elements are not stable, you must enumerate them in order for them to be serialized.

The following code example shows how to set up serialization for a container that stores a dynamic sequence of homogenous elements.

template<class T, bool IsStableIterators> class AZStdBasicContainer : public SerializeContext::IDataContainer { public: typedef typename T::value_type ValueType; typedef typename AZStd::remove_pointer<typename T::value_type>::type ValueClass; ///... Functions implementing the IDataContainer interface };

A SerializeContext::ClassElement is a struct that uniquely identifies a serialized element of a class. It includes fields like the following:

  • TypeId – an ID for looking up data in ClassData within the SerializeContext.

  • Name, NameCrc – The name and CRC with which the element is serialized.

  • Element-specific serialization attributes

To look up the name of the SerializeContext::ClassElement that the data container supports, override the GetElement function, as in the following example.

// Returns the class element by looking up the CRC value of the element. // Returns null if the element with the specified name can't be found. const SerializeContext::ClassElement* GetElement(u32 elementNameCrc) const override { if (elementNameCrc == m_classElement.m_nameCrc) { return &m_classElement; } return nullptr; } // The following GetElement method uses the supplied DataElement object to lookup the ClassElement with the supplied parameter. Returns true if it finds a ClassElement. bool GetElement(SerializeContext::ClassElement& classElement, const SerializeContext::DataElement& dataElement) const override { if (dataElement.m_nameCrc == m_classElement.m_nameCrc) { classElement = m_classElement; return true; } return false; }

The following example shows how to override the EnumElement method to specify the elements that are enumerated. Enumerating them enables them to be saved.

/// Enumerate elements in the array. /// The ElementCB callback enumerates the children of the elements in the array. /// By invoking the callback on an element, the enumeration continues down the path for that element. void EnumElements(void* instance, const ElementCB& cb) override { T* arrayPtr = reinterpret_cast<T*>(instance); typename T::iterator it = arrayPtr->begin(); typename T::iterator end = arrayPtr->end(); for (; it != end; ++it) { ValueType* valuePtr = &*it; if (!cb(valuePtr, m_classElement.m_typeId, m_classElement.m_genericClassInfo ? m_classElement.m_genericClassInfo->GetClassData() : nullptr, &m_classElement)) { break; } } }

To make a template editable in Lumberyard Editor and the reflected property editor, override the constraint functions in the following code:

// The following code defines the characteristics of the container that is serialized. // The editing facilities use this information to determine how to edit the elements within the container. /// Return the number of elements in the container. size_t Size(void* instance) const override { const T* arrayPtr = reinterpret_cast<const T*>(instance); return arrayPtr->size(); } /// Return the capacity of the container. Return 0 for objects without fixed capacity. size_t Capacity(void* instance) const override { (void)instance; return 0; } /// Return true if the element pointers do not change when the element is added to or removed from the container. If false, you MUST enumerate all elements. bool IsStableElements() const override { return IsStableIterators; } /// Return true if the container has a fixed size; otherwise false. bool IsFixedSize() const override { return false; } /// Return true if the container has a fixed capacity; otherwise false. bool IsFixedCapacity() const override { return false; } /// Return true if the container is a smart pointer. bool IsSmartPointer() const override { return false; } /// Return true if the elements can be retrieved by index. bool CanAccessElementsByIndex() const override { return false; }


  • When IsFixedSize and IsFixedCapacity are false, the plus (+) and minus (–) buttons in the property editor can be used to add and remove elements from the data container.

  • When IsSmartPointer is false, the data container does not create an instance of the SmartPointer type when an element is added to the container.

  • When CanAccessElementsByIndex is false, the serialization system checks whether to allocate memory for new elements. CanAccessElementsByIndex is true for fixed-size containers like AZStd::array, AZStd::pair, and AZStd::tuple because those containers already have memory storage allocated for their elements.

To load an element into the template class instance, override the ReserveElement, StoreElement and RemoveElements functions, as in the following example.

/// Use the reserve element function. /// The reserve element function allows creation of the element on the data container instance. /// The following code serializes an element and returns an address to the reserved element. void* ReserveElement(void* instance, const SerializeContext::ClassElement* classElement) override { (void)classElement; T* arrayPtr = reinterpret_cast<T*>(instance); arrayPtr->push_back(); return &arrayPtr->back(); } /// Use the GetElementByIndex function to get an element's address by its index. // Call this function before the element is loaded. void* GetElementByIndex(void* instance, const SerializeContext::ClassElement* classElement, size_t index) override { (void)instance; (void)classElement; (void)index; return nullptr; } /// Use the store element function. void StoreElement(void* instance, void* element) override { (void)instance; (void)element; // Do nothing; you have already pushed the element. // However, you can assert and check if the element belongs to the container. } /// Remove the element from the container. /// This also deletes the memory associated with the element. bool RemoveElement(void* instance, const void* element, SerializeContext* deletePointerDataContext) override { T* arrayPtr = reinterpret_cast<T*>(instance); for (typename T::iterator it = arrayPtr->begin(); it != arrayPtr->end(); ++it) { void* arrayElement = &(*it); if (arrayElement == element) { if (deletePointerDataContext) { DeletePointerData(deletePointerDataContext, &m_classElement, arrayElement); } arrayPtr->erase(it); return true; } } return false; } /// Remove elements (remove an array of elements) whether the container is stable or not. Stability can be tested by IsStableElements. size_t RemoveElements(void* instance, const void** elements, size_t numElements, SerializeContext* deletePointerDataContext) override { if (numElements == 0) { return 0; } size_t numRemoved = 0; // Handle the case when the container does not have stable elements. if (!IsStableIterators) { // If the elements are in order, you can remove all of them from the container. // Otherwise, they must be sorted again locally (not done in this example). // Or, ask the user to pass the elements in order and remove the first N possible in order. for (size_t i = 1; i < numElements; ++i) { if (elements[i - 1] >= elements[i]) { AZ_TracePrintf("Serialization", "RemoveElements for AZStd::vector will perform optimally when the elements (addresses) are sorted in accending order!"); numElements = i; } } // Traverse the vector in reverse order, and then addresses of elements that should not change. for (int i = static_cast<int>(numElements); i >= 0; --i) { if (RemoveElement(instance, elements[i], deletePointerDataContext)) { ++numRemoved; } } } else { for (size_t i = 0; i < numElements; ++i) { if (RemoveElement(instance, elements[i], deletePointerDataContext)) { ++numRemoved; } } } return numRemoved; } /// Clear elements in the instance. void ClearElements(void* instance, SerializeContext* deletePointerDataContext) override { T* arrayPtr = reinterpret_cast<T*>(instance); if (deletePointerDataContext) { for (typename T::iterator it = arrayPtr->begin(); it != arrayPtr->end(); ++it) { DeletePointerData(deletePointerDataContext, &m_classElement, &(*it)); } } arrayPtr->clear(); }

Using the DataContainer to Serialize a Template Class

After you have defined a data container, you can use it to serialize a specific type. For example, to set up serialization for the templated AZStd::vector<T>, you must serialize SerializeGenericTypeInfo<T> for AZStd::vector. To create the class data structure, you use the following Create<ContainerType> function:

SerializeContext::ClassData::Create<ContainerType>("AZStd::vector", GetSpecializedTypeId(), Internal::NullFactory::GetInstance(), nullptr, &m_containerStorage);

The Create<ContainerType> function parameters are explained in the following table.

Parameter Description
"AZStd::vector" Specifies the user friendly name of the class in a JSON or XML stream.
GetSpecializedTypeId() Creates an ID that enables serialization of different types. For example, an AZStd::vector of integers can be serialized as a type that is different from an AZStd::vector of floats. The unique ID is made by aggregating the template type AZStd::vector with the contained type T.
Internal::NullFactory::GetInstance() NullFactory is used to prevent heap memory from being used to create an AZStd::vector. To load an AZStd::vector element of a pointer type, change this to Serialize::InstanceFactory<AZStd::vector<T,A>>.
nullptr This is the Serializer parameter. Because the serialization occurs through a data container, this parameter is nullptr.
&m_containerStorage The m_containerStorage structure is an AZStdBasicContainer that ClassData uses to serialize the AZStd::vector element array.

The following code example uses the Create<ContainerType> function to set up serialization for the templated AZStd::vector<T>.

/// Generic serialization example for AZStd::vector. template<class T, class A> struct SerializeGenericTypeInfo< AZStd::vector<T, A> > { typedef typename AZStd::vector<T, A> ContainerType; class GenericClassInfoVector : public GenericClassInfo { public: AZ_TYPE_INFO(GenericClassInfoVector, "{2BADE35A-6F1B-4698-B2BC-3373D010020C}"); GenericClassInfoVector() { // The following code creates the ClassData structure that specifies how an element is serialized. m_classData = SerializeContext::ClassData::Create<ContainerType>("AZStd::vector", GetSpecializedTypeId(), Internal::NullFactory::GetInstance(), nullptr, &m_containerStorage); } SerializeContext::ClassData* GetClassData() override { return &m_classData; } size_t GetNumTemplatedArguments() override { return 1; } const Uuid& GetTemplatedTypeId(size_t element) override { (void)element; return SerializeGenericTypeInfo<T>::GetClassTypeId(); } const Uuid& GetSpecializedTypeId() const override { return azrtti_typeid<ContainerType>(); } const Uuid& GetGenericTypeId() const override { return TYPEINFO_Uuid(); } void Reflect(SerializeContext* serializeContext) { if (serializeContext) { serializeContext->RegisterGenericClassInfo(GetSpecializedTypeId(), this, &AnyTypeInfoConcept<ContainerType>::CreateAny); if (GenericClassInfo* containerGenericClassInfo = m_containerStorage.m_classElement.m_genericClassInfo) { containerGenericClassInfo->Reflect(serializeContext); } } } static GenericClassInfoVector* Instance() { static GenericClassInfoVector s_instance; return &s_instance; } Internal::AZStdBasicContainer<ContainerType, false> m_containerStorage; SerializeContext::ClassData m_classData; }; static GenericClassInfo* GetGenericInfo() { return GenericClassInfoVector::Instance(); } static const Uuid& GetClassTypeId() { return GenericClassInfoVector::Instance()->m_classData.m_typeId; } };


To process data before or after you read or write serialized data, you can write serialization event handlers. For example, by handling serialization events,you can perform runtime initializations specific to the data that is serialized.

To create a serialization event handler, implement the AZ::SerializeContext::IEventHandler interface as in the following example.

The example uses an event handler to update a map container within the SceneData class after a SceneData instance has been serialized.

class SceneDataEventHandler : public AZ::SerializeContext::IEventHandler { public: /// Rebuild the endpoint map. void OnWriteEnd(void* classPtr) override { auto* sceneData = reinterpret_cast<SceneData*>(classPtr); BuildEndpointMap((*sceneData)); } }; // Next add the event handler to the reflection of the class that needs to perform additional data processing. if (AZ::SerializeContext* serializeContext = azrtti_cast<AZ::SerializeContext*>(context)) { serializeContext->Class<SceneData>() ->EventHandler<SceneDataEventHandler>() ; }

Data Overlays

You can use the serialization context to provide data from an external source during serialization. These external sources of data are called data overlays.

To create a data overlay, you implement an EBus through which the data is serialized. The following example is the code that implements unit testing for the data overlay feature (\dev\Code\Framework\AzCore\Tests\Serialization.cpp):

struct DataOverlayTestStruct { AZ_TYPE_INFO(DataOverlayTestStruct, "{AD843B4D-0D08-4CE0-99F9-7E4E1EAD5984}"); AZ_CLASS_ALLOCATOR(DataOverlayTestStruct, AZ::SystemAllocator, 0); DataOverlayTestStruct() : m_int(0) , m_ptr(nullptr) {} int m_int; AZStd::vector<int> m_intVector; DataOverlayTestStruct* m_ptr; };

The DataOverlayTestStruct holds data fields to be reflected for serialization:

serializeContext.Class<DataOverlayTestStruct>() ->Field("int", &DataOverlayTestStruct::m_int) ->Field("intVector", &DataOverlayTestStruct::m_intVector) ->Field("pointer", &DataOverlayTestStruct::m_ptr);

Next, implement the data overlay provider. The provider represents the data source that is overlaid into the serialized data.

The following code shows an example of a data overlay provider:

class DataOverlayProviderExample : public DataOverlayProviderBus::Handler { public: static DataOverlayProviderId GetProviderId() { return AZ_CRC("DataOverlayProviderExample", 0x60dafdbd); } static u32 GetIntToken() { return AZ_CRC("int_data", 0xd74868f3); } static u32 GetVectorToken() { return AZ_CRC("vector_data", 0x0aca20c0); } static u32 GetPointerToken() { return AZ_CRC("pointer_data", 0xa46a746e); } DataOverlayProviderExample() { m_ptrData.m_int = 5; m_ptrData.m_intVector.push_back(1); m_ptrData.m_ptr = nullptr; m_data.m_int = 3; m_data.m_intVector.push_back(10); m_data.m_intVector.push_back(20); m_data.m_intVector.push_back(30); m_data.m_ptr = &m_ptrData; } void FillOverlayData(DataOverlayTarget* dest, const DataOverlayToken& dataToken) override { if (*reinterpret_cast<const u32*>( == GetIntToken()) { dest->SetData(m_data.m_int); } else if (*reinterpret_cast<const u32*>( == GetVectorToken()) { dest->SetData(m_data.m_intVector); } else if (*reinterpret_cast<const u32*>( == GetPointerToken()) { dest->SetData(*m_data.m_ptr); } } DataOverlayTestStruct m_data; DataOverlayTestStruct m_ptrData; };

DataOverlayProviderExample uses the Crc32 ID for the reflected DataOverlayTestStruct source data fields. Then the example implements the DataOverlayProviderBus::Handler FillOverlayData function. The FillOverlayData function is where the actual data overlay occurs. The DataOverlayToken holds the ID of the field that is serialized. If the ID matches one of the fields that you want to overlay, you can use DataOverlayTarget to set the data.