Understanding Internal Python Object Serialization with Marshal

Rate this post

πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: When working with Python, a developer may need to serialize objects to a byte stream to store them in a file, send them over a network, or for other internal operations. The Marshal module in Python provides serialization and deserialization of Python object structures. In this article, we will explore the top ways of using the Marshal module, looking at input examples such as Python’s internal data structures and their serialized byte stream output.

Method 1: Using marshal.dump() to Serialize Objects to a File

The marshal.dump() function allows you to serialize an object and write it directly to a file. This method is useful when you need to save complex Python objects, like custom classes, for later use. It handles Python-specific data types and is optimized for Python bytecode, which makes it different from other serialization modules like pickle.

Here’s an example:

import marshal

class CustomObject:
    def __init__(self, value):
        self.value = value

obj = CustomObject(42)
with open('obj.marshal', 'wb') as file:
    marshal.dump(obj, file)

The output is a file named obj.marshal containing the serialized byte stream of the object.

This code demonstrates how to serialize a custom object and write it to a binary file using the marshal module. The object is created with an initial value which is then passed to marshal.dump() along with a file object to store the serialized data.

Method 2: Using marshal.dumps() for Serialization to a String

The marshal.dumps() function serializes a Python object into a string of bytes that can be stored or transmitted easily. It is especially useful when you don’t necessarily need to write to a file but want to serialize the object for networking or caching purposes.

Here’s an example:

import marshal

data = {'a': 1, 'b': 2, 'c': 3}
serialized_data = marshal.dumps(data)

The output is a byte string representing the serialized dictionary.

This code snippet grabs a dictionary and serializes it using marshal.dumps(). The resulting byte string can be used for storage or sent over a network, and later deserialized back into a Python dictionary using the Marshal module.

Method 3: Deserializing with marshal.load() From a File

The marshal.load() function is used to read a serialized object from a file and deserialize it, reconstructing the original Python object. This method is typically used in conjunction with marshal.dump() when you have previously serialized an object to a file and you want to retrieve it.

Here’s an example:

import marshal

with open('obj.marshal', 'rb') as file:
    obj = marshal.load(file)

The output will be 42, which was the value stored in the original object.

In this code snippet, we read a byte stream from a file and deserialize it back into a Python object using marshal.load(). The original object’s attributes are preserved and can be accessed after deserialization. This is especially useful for reading Python bytecode or persisted objects.

Method 4: Deserializing with marshal.loads() From a String

The marshal.loads() function takes a string of bytes and deserializes it back into a Python object. It is suitable for data that has been serialized with marshal.dumps(), which might have been stored or transmitted as byte strings.

Here’s an example:

import marshal

serialized_data = marshal.dumps({'a': 1, 'b': 2, 'c': 3})
deserialized_data = marshal.loads(serialized_data)

The output will be the original dictionary {'a': 1, 'b': 2, 'c': 3}.

Here we see the complete cycle of serializing a dictionary to a byte string and then deserializing that string back into a dictionary. The marshal.loads() function easily reconstructs the original Python object from its serialized form.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Quick Serialization with marshal.dumps()

As a bonus, marshal.dumps() can be used as a one-liner to quickly serialize any Python object into bytes, which is particularly useful for simple built-in types or smaller objects.

Here’s an example:

import marshal

serialized_data = marshal.dumps([1, 2, 3, 4, 5])

The output is the byte string of the serialized list.

This example takes a list and serializes it in one line of code, showing just how concise the Marshal module can be for quick serialization tasks.


  • Method 1: marshal.dump(). Ideal for writing serialized objects directly to files. Advantageous for larger objects or custom classes. Drawback: tightly coupled with Python’s current version.
  • Method 2: marshal.dumps(). Great for converting objects into byte strings for easy storage or network transmission. Downside: potential compatibility issues across Python versions.
  • Method 3: marshal.load(). Perfect for reading serialized objects from files. Best used for data integrity and object persistence. Limitation: can deserialize only Python version-compatible bytecode.
  • Method 4: marshal.loads(). Convenient for deserializing byte strings. Useful in scenarios where data is received as byte strings (e.g., from a network). Weak point: similar to other Marshal methods, it may fail with different Python versions.
  • Method 5: Quick Serialization. A simple one-liner for straightforward uses. Best for speed and ease of use on smaller objects or data structures. Not suitable for complex serialization scenarios.