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Handling Binary HTTP documents in Foxx

Handling binary data in JavaScript applications is a bit tricky because JavaScript does not provide a data type for binary data. This post explains how to use binary data in JavaScript actions written using ArangoDB’s Foxx.

Strings vs. binary data

Internally, JavaScript strings are sequences of 16 bit integer values. Furthermore, the ECMAScript standard requires that a JavaScript implementation should interpret characters in conformance with the Unicode standard, using either UCS-2 or UTF-16 encoding.

While this is fine for handling natural language, it becomes problematic when trying to work with arbitrary binary data. Binary data cannot be used safely in a JavaScript string because it may not be valid UTF-16 data.

To make it work anyway, binary data needs to be stored in a wrapper object. I won’t go into details about ES6 typed arrays here, but will focus on Buffer objects.

Binary data in Foxx actions

A Foxx route that shall handle HTTP POST requests containing arbitrary (binary) body in the request body should not use req.body(). The reason is that req.body() will return the body as a JavaScript string, and this isn’t going to work with arbitrary binary data.

Instead, the req.rawBodyBuffer() should be used. This will return the request body inside a buffer. Here’s an example that stores the received data in a file on the server:

Foxx action that can handle binary input:

controller.post('/receive-binary', function (req, res) {
  // fetch request body into the buffer
  var body = req.rawBodyBuffer();
  // create an absolute filename, local to the Foxx application directory
  var filename = applicationContext.foxxFilename("body");

  require("fs").write(filename, body);
});

This action can be invoked as follows if the app is mounted with name app:

curl -X POST http://localhost:8529/app/receive-binary --data-binary @filename

This will send the contents of the file filename to the server. The Foxx action will then store the received data as is in a file name body in the application directory.

Returning binary data from a Foxx action is simple, too. Here’s a way that returns the contents of the file named body in the application’s directory:

Foxx action that returns contents of a file:

controller.get('/provide-binary-file', function (req, res) {
  // create an absolute filename, local to the Foxx application directory
  var filename = applicationContext.foxxFilename("body");
  // send the contents, this will also set mime type "application/octet-stream"
  res.sendFile(filename);
});

It is also possible to return data from an arbitrary buffer:

Foxx action that returns data in a buffer

controller.get('/provide-binary-buffer', function (req, res) {
  // create an absolute filename, local to the Foxx application directory
  var filename = applicationContext.foxxFilename("body");
  // read the file content into a buffer
  var fileContent = require("fs").readBuffer(filename);

  // TODO: modify the contents of buffer here...

  // send the contents, this will also set mime type "application/octet-stream"
  res.send(fileContent);
});

Example application

I quickly put together an example application that shows how to handle arbitrary binary data in Foxx actions. The example app allows uploading files to the server. The server will then list these files and allows downloading them again.

The application has no CSS at all. Its only purpose is to demo the server-side code. The application can be downloaded here. An older version of the application (compatible with 2.3) can be found here.

Please note that the example application requires ArangoDB 2.3, which is currently in development.

Original Author: Jan Steemann

Tags: #ArangoDB #Database #Foxx #JavaScript #Binary #Upload