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I'm interested in defining a lightweight library for mutable byte
arrays.  I'm attaching a draft.

My goals are these: define something which can be implement reasonably
efficiently in stock Lua 5.1, that is easy to interoperate with at the
C level, and which can be optimized by Lua compilers.  Eventually, I
hope that different libraries will be able to exchange data as byte
arrays instead of strings (where this makes sense), reducing
allocations and avoiding hashing.

The C interface is the main reason why the arrays are not resizable:
Otherwise the address of the underlying memory region could change
while you cling to a reference of the array object.

What do you think about this idea?

The bytes module

This document aims to define the semantics of a Lua module, bytes. Throughout this document, the identifier bytes refers to this module. The objects which are handled by this module are called byte arrays. Conceptually, byte arrays are Lua tables which have a fixed length, and which can only store integers in the range from 0 to 255 (inclusive). Preconditions are listed in a comment before the _expression_ which is defined; variables in the precondition are given in italics. Different definitions based on preconditions are sometimes listed; if no preconditions match at run time, an error is signaled.

Elementary operations

-- b byte array

Evaluates to the number of bytes in b.

-- b byte array

If i is an integer between 1 and #b (inclusive), evaluates to the byte at this position, as a number. An error is raised if i is nil. Otherwise, returns nil.

-- i non-negative integer

Creates a new byte array. The array is initialized to zeros, that is, b[j] == 0 for all 1 ≤ ji. Byte arrays are distinct objects (even the byte array of length zero), and only compare equal to themselves.

-- b byte array
b[i] = n

If not 0 ≤ i#b, or if n is not an integer, an error is raised. Otherwise, sets the byte at position i in b to n % 256, so that b[i] == (n % 256) holds after the operation.

Derived operations

-- b byte array, i, j integers
bytes.byte(b, i)
bytes.byte(b, i, j)

The two-argument form and the three-argument form with j == nil evaluate to b[i]. If i and j are integers between 1 and #b with ij, the three-argument form evaluates to b[i], b[i + 1], …, b[j]. If j is less than i, bytes.byte(b, i, j) evaluates to no values. If j is larger than #b, the _expression_ evaluates to b[i], b[i + 1], …, b[#b], nil, …, nil with j - #b occurrences of nil.

-- b byte array, tostring the standard function of that name

Evaluates to a string of length #b, containing as characters the bytes in b. Equivalent to string.char(bytes.byte(b, 1, #b)).

-- src, dst byte arrays, spos, dpos, len integers
bytes.copy(dst, dpos, src, spos, len)

Copies a slice from the byte array src to dst. Does not return anything. Equivalent to dst[dpos], dst[dpos + 1], …, dst[dpos + len - 1] = src[spos], src[spos + 1], …, src[spos + len - 1], except that it is unspecified if any writes occur if dpos + len - 1 > #dst or spos + len - 1 > #src.

-- src byte array, dst string, spos, dpos, len integers
bytes.copy(dst, dpos, src, spos, len)

Equivalent to dst[dpos], dst[dpos + 1], …, dst[dpos + len - 1] = string.sub(src, spos, spos + len - 1) (where string refers to the standard string library), except that it is unspecified if any writes occur if dpos + len - 1 > #dst or spos + len - 1 > #src.

-- s string

Returns a copy of the string as a byte array. Equivalent to ρ =; bytes.copy(ρ, 1, s, 1, #s), where ρ is the value of the _expression_

C interface

At the C level, the byte array objects are userdata. lua_touserdata can be used to obtain a pointer to the start of the byte array, and lua_objlen can be used to obtain the length in bytes. The metatable for byte arrays is registered under the name "bytes.bytearray".