Serializing Non-Serializable Types With Protobuf

protobuf-net cannot serialize everything you throw at it. It’s picky about what it does because it wants to be fast. If it were to accommodate every type of object it would have to sacrifice speed. The author did however create a hook so that things it can’t serialize can be turned into something it can serialize. This is done with what it calls Surrogates. As you can tell from the name, we tell protobuf-net that for a given type (that it can’t serialize) we want to use a surrogate type (that it can serialize).

Take this class for example:

MyNameValueInfo can’t be serialized because it doesn’t know how to serialize the Value property (typeof object). It will throw an exception: “No Serializer defined for type: System.Object”

To get around this we need to provide a surrogate for MyNameValueInfo that protobuf-net can serialize. First register the surrogate type (only needs to be done once):

RuntimeTypeModel.Default.Add(typeof(MyNameValueInfo), false).SetSurrogate(typeof(MyNameValueInfoSurrogate));

Then implement MyNameValueInfoSurrogate so that it can be transformed from/to MyNameValueInfo and is serializable by protobuf-net:

Doing binary serialization like this will include Type information in the serialized byte array. This is only useful if the receiving system is also in .NET. For a more universal approach you could use JSON serialization.


Rush Frisby

Rush is a software architect who loves solving problems. You'll usually find him writing about security concepts and sharing solutions to problems he's faced.