Many of the attempts to introduce a universal hydrographic binary data format have failed or have been only partially successful. In essence, this is because such formats either have to simplify the data to such an extent that they only support the lowest common subset of all the formats covered, or they attempt to be a superset of all formats and quickly become cumbersome. Neither choice works well in practice. This paper presents a different approach: a standardized description of (past, present, and future) data formats using the Hydrographic Universal Data Description Language (HUDDL), a descriptive language implemented using the Extensible Markup Language (XML). That is, XML is used to provide a structural and physical description of a data format, rather than the content of a particular file. Done correctly, this opens the possibility of automatically generating both multi-language data parsers and documentation for format specification based on their HUDDL descriptions, as well as providing easy version control of them. This solution also provides a powerful approach for archiving a structural description of data along with the data, so that binary data will be easy to access in the future. Intending to provide a relatively low-effort solution to index the wide range of existing formats, we suggest the creation of a catalogue of format descriptions, each of them capturing the logical and physical specifications for a given data format (with its subsequent upgrades). A C/C++ parser code generator is used as an example prototype of one of the possible advantages of the adoption of such a hydrographic data format catalogue.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping

Publication Date


Journal or Conference Title

Canadian Hydrographic Conference 2014

Conference Date

April 15-17, 2014

Publisher Place

St John's, NL, Canada

Document Type

Conference Proceeding