Eric Boehs

Parsing null terminated key/value ASCII strings in Ruby

Oct 31, 2014

I’ve recently been messing with a lot of hex thanks to my current client. I ran across a key/value hex string where each key/value pair was NULL terminated (pairs separated from other pairs with a NULL character) and each key was seperated from its value by a colon. Here’s the hex string:

>> hexstr = "56494e3a3147314a433534343452373235323336370050524f544f3a3500504152414d533a302c312c322c342c372c392c31312c31342c323000494e44435452533a302830303030303030303030303131292c3128303131303031303131313129"

First I wanted to convert this to ASCII, Ruby makes this fairly simple:

>> str = [hexstr].pack 'H*'
=> "VIN:1G1JC5444R7252367\x00PROTO:5\x00PARAMS:0,1,2,4,7,9,11,14,20\x00INDCTRS:0(0000000000011),1(01100101111)"

Now we have an ascii string with null terminators. Ruby has escape sequences like \n for newline and \t for tab. It also has hex escape sequences, for example the letter a is \x61 as 61 is its hex value. A null character is the hex value 00 so the escape sequence is \x00. Now to break the string apart we use split:

>> kv_pairs = str.split "\x00"
=> ["VIN:1G1JC5444R7252367", "PROTO:5", "PARAMS:0,1,2,4,7,9,11,14,20", "INDCTRS:0(0000000000011),1(01100101111)"]

Finally, you can split these pairs into further pairs by mapping over them with split and then use Ruby’s Hash[] syntax to create a hash from the array of arrays:

>> kv_pairs_array = { |key_vals| key_vals.split ':' }
=> [["VIN", "1G1JC5444R7252367"], ["PROTO", "5"], ["PARAMS", "0,1,2,4,7,9,11,14,20"], ["INDCTRS", "0(0000000000011),1(01100101111)"]]
obdii_info = Hash[kv_pairs_array]
=> {"VIN"=>"1G1JC5444R7252367", "PROTO"=>"5", "PARAMS"=>"0,1,2,4,7,9,11,14,20", "INDCTRS"=>"0(0000000000011),1(01100101111)"}

If you’re like me and don’t like upcased strings for keys, you can symbolize the keys (thanks active support) with this oneliner (I added the downcase call to the mix):

>> obdii_info = Hash[ { |(k, v)| [ k.downcase.to_sym, v ] }]
=> {:vin=>"1G1JC5444R7252367", :proto=>"5", :params=>"0,1,2,4,7,9,11,14,20", :indctrs=>"0(0000000000011),1(01100101111)"}

Looking nice! I’ve made these into methods for a util class I include. Eventually I’d like to make a special hex string class to handle this better, but for my current use case this works well.

Here are some methods you can throw in your own class:

def hex_to_ascii hex_string
  [hex_string.delete ' '].pack 'H*'

def hashify_null_term_str str
  Hash[str.split("\x00").map { |key_vals| key_vals.split ':' }]

def symbolize_keys hash
  Hash[ { |(k, v)| [ k.downcase.to_sym, v ] }]

# Example usage:
symbolize_keys hashify_null_term_str hex_to_ascii "56 49 4e 3a 00 50 52 4f 54 4f 3a 30 00 50 41 52 41 4d 53 3a"
# => { vin: nil, proto: "0", params: nil }

Happy Hacking.