Chapter 17. Serialization

This chapter introduces serialization and deserialization, the mechanism by which objects can be represented in a flat text or binary form. Unless otherwise stated, the types in this chapter all exist in the following namespaces:

System.Runtime.Serialization
System.Xml.Serialization

Serialization Concepts

Serialization is the act of taking an in-memory object or object graph (set of objects that reference each other) and flattening it into a stream of bytes or XML nodes that can be stored or transmitted. Deserialization works in reverse, taking a data stream and reconstituting it into an in-memory object or object graph.

Serialization and deserialization are typically used to:

  • Transmit objects across a network or application boundary.

  • Store representations of objects within a file or database.

Another, less common use is to deep-clone objects. The data contract and XML serialization engines can also be used as general-purpose tools for loading and saving XML files of a known structure.

The .NET Framework supports serialization and deserialization both from the perspective of clients wanting to serialize and deserialize objects, and from the perspective of types wanting some control over how they are serialized.

Serialization Engines

There are four serialization mechanisms in the .NET Framework:

  • The data contract serializer

  • The binary serializer (in desktop apps)

  • The (attribute-based) XML serializer (XmlSerializer)

  • The IXmlSerializable ...

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