RFC-0149: FIDL encode validation not mandatory

RFC-0149: FIDL encode validation not mandatory
  • FIDL

No longer require validation during FIDL encode. However, validation still will take place during decode and padding must be zeroed during encode.

Gerrit change
Date submitted (year-month-day)2021-11-19
Date reviewed (year-month-day)2022-01-22


No longer require validation during FIDL encode. However, validation still will take place during decode and padding must be zeroed during encode.


The motivation for this RFC is to loosen design constraints that currently dictate that bindings must validate during encode. This does not mean that bindings necessarily should change their behavior, just that they are less constrained. In fact, in most cases they are unlikely to change as a result of this RFC.

That said, there are several reasons for no longer mandating validation during encode:

  • Performance during encode, validation incurs extra overhead. As an example, there is a fast path for struct encoding that reduces to a memcpy that in many bindings cannot be taken if there is an enum field within the struct that needs to be validated. Performance impacts are particularly significant for the HLCPP bindings, which walk the object being encoded twice - once to encode and once to validate (though this might be avoided through redesign of the bindings).

  • Code size the validation logic increases code size. This code size increase is most significant for bindings that generate code or use macros because the validation logic is duplicated multiple times in the output.


Facilitator: pascallouis

Reviewers: pascallouis, yifeit, mkember




This RFC was distributed on the FEC discuss mailing list.


  • Bindings MAY OR MAY NOT validate FIDL objects during encode. To be more precise, it is no longer a requirement that objects are encoded in a way that guarantees that they will always pass validation during decode.

  • Bindings MUST ensure padding bytes are zeroed after encoding. However, the encoder itself need not zero the padding - for instance it could be zeroed through guarantees of the programming language.

  • Bindings MUST validate FIDL objects during decode.


This RFC has no immediate deliverables - the bindings currently validate FIDL objects and may continue to do so. However, in the future bindings will be able to loosen validation checks.


Performance effects are highly use case and binding specific. Here are some examples of some of the effects of validation on performance:

  • In Rust, encode of a struct with 15 uint8s and 1 boolean is 3.2x slower (52ns) with boolean validation than without validation. If the structure has 254 uint8s and 1 boolean it is 21x slower (844ns). In LLCPP, however, there is a negligible performance cost for the same structure. This test case was chosen because in many bindings a single boolean or enum in a struct, array or vector body will prevent memcpy optimizations.

  • Encode of an array of 256 enums is 2.2x slower (2.6us) in LLCPP, 1.2x (192ns) slower in Rust and 9x (1.1us) slower in Go when there is enum validation.

  • Encode of HLCPP objects is 1-5x slower with validation. A 16 element table is 1.7x slower (400ns) to encode while a message header is 1.3x slower (37ns).

These measurements are from a machine with a Intel Core i5-7300U CPU @ 2.60GHz. Note that they are microbenchmarks and performance in practice may vary.

CLs used for these benchmarks:


There should be no effect on binding ergonomics. However, bindings that disable validation during encode would no longer "fail fast" for certain failure modes which could impact the user.

Backwards Compatibility

This should have no impact on backwards compatibility.

Security considerations

Padding bytes have historically been zeroed rather than validated and will continue to be zeroed. This is important because FIDL objects can be allocated on top of old allocations, leading to leakages if the memory is copied onto the wire. The risk of leakages is less significant for most other types of validation.

There are two main classes of validations being performed.


  • Bool, Enum, Bits - validation ensures that the integers backing these types are in the expected ranges.

  • Float - float validation is not currently part of the specification, but bindings may still perform some validation, in particular to prevent NaN values.

  • UTF-8 - FIDL strings are vectors with UTF-8 data in the payload. Validation ensures they are UTF-8.

Fields of these types are generally assigned by the user through the binding API. Validation ensures that the user provided valid input through the APIs and that no other form of unexpected bug changed the values, such as memory corruption. Note that memory corruption bugs can happen at any stage of processing the object and it is somewhat arbitrary to expect it to be caught by, for instance, bool validation.

  • Size limits - There are limits to the size of certain objects such as tables.

There exist certain size limits that always must be followed for transports such as the 64k message size limit on the channel transport which prevent infinite blow up of message size. Because of this, it generally isn't an immediate concern that needs to be addressed before reaching the decoder.

Invalid state

  • Non-optional type treated as optional - essentially a non-optional type with a missing payload.

  • Envelope inline bit - envelopes have fields indicating whether data should be stored inline. It is possible to have an envelope with a size <= 4 bytes that should be stored inline but is missing an inline bit marker.

  • Vector absent but count non-zero - this should never happen during encode.

None of these have significant negative consequences if they aren't caught before hitting the decoder. They also tend to be internal issues in the FIDL implementation that can be guaranteed to be correct through other means.


While there are security concerns that need to be considered, they generally can be caught on the decoding side rather than the encoding side because they have low risk of information leakage.

Privacy considerations

There is no impact on privacy.


Testing requirements will generally reduce as a result of this RFC.


The FIDL binding spec will need to be updated to address this.

Drawbacks, alternatives, and unknowns

There is a natural tradeoff between more restrictions and more flexibility. In the case of validation, more restrictions would bring proported security benefits while flexibility would make performance and code size improvements possible. This RFC argues that the security benefits aren't so significant and FIDL should favor removing the requirement.

After the requirement is removed, bindings will have a choice between keeping or removing existing encode-side validation. In practice, it is expected that bindings will eventually remove this validation as much as possible, but some bindings may continue to validate in debug mode in order to catch issues earlier.

Prior art and references