KSerializer is responsible for the representation of a serial form of a type T in terms of encoders and decoders and for constructing and deconstructing T from/to a sequence of encoding primitives. For classes marked with @Serializable, can be obtained from generated companion extension .serializer() or from serializer() function.

Serialization is decoupled from the encoding process to make it completely format-agnostic. Serialization represents a type as its serial form and is abstracted from the actual format (whether its JSON, ProtoBuf or a hashing) and unaware of the underlying storage (whether it is a string builder, byte array or a network socket), while encoding/decoding is abstracted from a particular type and its serial form and is responsible for transforming primitives ("here in an int property 'foo'" call from a serializer) into a particular format-specific representation ("for a given int, append a property name in quotation marks, then append a colon, then append an actual value" for JSON) and how to retrieve a primitive ("give me an int that is 'foo' property") from the underlying representation ("expect the next string to be 'foo', parse it, then parse colon, then parse a string until the next comma as an int and return it).

Serial form consists of a structural description, declared by the descriptor and actual serialization and deserialization processes, defined by the corresponding serialize and deserialize methods implementation.

Structural description specifies how the T is represented in the serial form: its kind (e.g. whether it is represented as a primitive, a list or a class), its elements and their positional names.

Serialization process is defined as a sequence of calls to an Encoder, and transforms a type T into a stream of format-agnostic primitives that represent T, such as "here is an int, here is a double and here is another nested object". It can be demonstrated by the example:

class MyData(int: Int, stringList: List<String>, alwaysZero: Long)

// .. serialize method of a corresponding serializer
fun serialize(encoder: Encoder, value: MyData): Unit = encoder.encodeStructure(descriptor) {
// encodeStructure encodes beginning and end of the structure
// encode 'int' property as Int
encodeIntElement(descriptor, index = 0, value.int)
// encode 'stringList' property as List<String>
encodeSerializableElement(descriptor, index = 1, serializer<List<String>>, value.stringList)
// don't encode 'alwaysZero' property because we decided to do so
} // end of the structure

Deserialization process is symmetric and uses Decoder.

Exception types for KSerializer implementation

Implementations of serialize and deserialize methods are allowed to throw any subtype of IllegalArgumentException in order to indicate serialization and deserialization errors.

For serializer implementations, it is recommended to throw subclasses of SerializationException for any serialization-specific errors related to invalid or unsupported format of the data and IllegalStateException for errors during validation of the data.



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abstract override val descriptor: SerialDescriptor

Describes the structure of the serializable representation of T, produced by this serializer. Knowing the structure of the descriptor is required to determine the shape of the serialized form (e.g. what elements are encoded as lists and what as primitives) along with its metadata such as alternative names.

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Returns a nullable serializer for the given serializer of non-null type.


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abstract fun deserialize(decoder: Decoder): T

Deserializes the value of type T using the format that is represented by the given decoder. deserialize method is format-agnostic and operates with a high-level structured Decoder API. As long as most of the formats imply an arbitrary order of properties, deserializer should be able to decode these properties in an arbitrary order and in a format-agnostic way. For that purposes, CompositeDecoder.decodeElementIndex-based loop is used: decoder firstly signals property at which index it is ready to decode and then expects caller to decode property with the given index.

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abstract fun serialize(encoder: Encoder, value: T)

Serializes the value of type T using the format that is represented by the given encoder. serialize method is format-agnostic and operates with a high-level structured Encoder API. Throws SerializationException if value cannot be serialized.