File Format Posters

It’s not uncommon for hackers to have a particular delectation for unusual interior decoration. Maybe it’s a Nixie tube clock, or a vacuum fluorescent display reading out the latest tweets from a favorite chatbot. If this sounds like your living room already, perhaps you’d like some of these file format posters to adorn your walls.

The collection of images includes all kinds of formats — GIF, ZIP and WAV are all represented, but it even gets into some real esoterica — DOLphin format executables are here if you’re a total GameCube fanatic. Each poster breaks down the format into parts, such as the header, metadata and descriptor sections, and come in a variety of formats themselves — most available in SVG, PDF and PNG.

If we’re totally honest, these aren’t all designed for hanging on your wall as-is — we’d consider putting some work into to optimize the color palettes and layouts before putting these to print. But regardless, they’re an excellent visual representation of data structures that you might find particularly useful if you need to do some reverse engineering down the track.

If you still have wall space available after seeing this, here’s the electronic reference poster that should fill it.

[Thanks to JD for the tip!]

Reverse Engineering Altium Files

Several times in the last few weeks, I’ve heard people say, ‘this will be the last PCB I design in Eagle.’ That’s bad news for CadSoft, but if there’s one thing Eagle has done right, its their switch to an XML file format. Now anyone can write their own design tools for Eagle without mucking about with binary files.

Not all EDA softwares are created equally, and a lot of vendors use binary file formats as a way to keep their market share. Altium is one of the worst offenders, but by diving into the binary files it’s possible to reverse engineer these proprietary file formats into something nearly human-readable.

[dstanko.au]’s first step towards using an Altium file with his own tools was opening it up with a hex editor. Yeah, this is as raw as it can possibly get, but simply by scrolling through the file, he was able to find some interesting bits hanging around the file. It turns out, Altium uses something called a Compound Document File, similar to what Office uses for Word and PowerPoint files, to store all the information. Looking through the lens of this file format, [dstanko.au] found all the content was held in a stream called ‘FileHeader’, everything was an array of strings (yeah, everything is in text), and lines of text are separated by ‘|’ in name=value pairs.

With a little bit of code, [dstanko] managed to dump all these text records into a pseudo plain text format, then convert everything into JSON. You can check out all the code here.