New publication! Experimental Directory Structure (Exdir): An Alternative to HDF5 Without Introducing a New File Format

In this paper the authors propose a standardized storage solution for the wide range of data formats developed by different research groups and commercial companies.

An alternative storage solution that improves on certain drawbacks of Hierarchical Data Format 5 (HDF5) is to use directories in the file system to define a hierarchy, and store data in binary files, and metadata in text files. While this strategy can be deployed in various ways by research groups, no common standard for such a storage solution exists. Experimental Directory Structure (Exdir) is a proposal to standardize this storage solution. We envision the establishment of such a standard and present Exdir to the community as a starting point.


Title: Experimental Directory Structure (Exdir): An Alternative to HDF5 Without Introducing a New File Format
Authors: Svenn-Arne Dragley, Milad Hobbi Mobarhan, Mikkel E. Lepperød, Simen Tennøe, Marianne Fyhn, Torkel Hafting and Anders Malthe-Sørenssen.
Journal: Front. Neuroinform., 13 April 2018
Abstract: Natural sciences generate an increasing amount of data in a wide range of formats developed by different research groups and commercial companies. At the same time there is a growing desire to share data along with publications in order to enable reproducible research. Open formats have publicly available specifications which facilitate data sharing and reproducible research. Hierarchical Data Format 5 (HDF5) is a popular open format widely used in neuroscience, often as a foundation for other, more specialized formats. However, drawbacks related to HDF5's complex specification have initiated a discussion for an improved replacement. We propose a novel alternative, the Experimental Directory Structure (Exdir), an open specification for data storage in experimental pipelines which amends drawbacks associated with HDF5 while retaining its advantages. HDF5 stores data and metadata in a hierarchy within a complex binary file which, among other things, is not human-readable, not optimal for version control systems, and lacks support for easy access to raw data from external applications. Exdir, on the other hand, uses file system directories to represent the hierarchy, with metadata stored in human-readable YAML files, datasets stored in binary NumPy files, and raw data stored directly in subdirectories. Furthermore, storing data in multiple files makes it easier to track for version control systems. Exdir is not a file format in itself, but a specification for organizing files in a directory structure. Exdir uses the same abstractions as HDF5 and is compatible with the HDF5 Abstract Data Model. Several research groups are already using data stored in a directory hierarchy as an alternative to HDF5, but no common standard exists. This complicates and limits the opportunity for data sharing and development of common tools for reading, writing, and analyzing data. Exdir facilitates improved data storage, data sharing, reproducible research, and novel insight from interdisciplinary collaboration. With the publication of Exdir, we invite the scientific community to join the development to create an open specification that will serve as many needs as possible and as a foundation for open access to and exchange of data.

Published Apr. 20, 2018 3:36 PM - Last modified Apr. 20, 2018 3:36 PM