Protobuf Vs Thrift: What’s the Difference?

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In this blog post we’ll explore protobuf vs Apache thrift in depth by comparing their structures, performance, and use cases. Get ready to dive deep into the fascinating world of data serialization formats.

Overview of Protocol Buffers and Apache Thrift

Protocol Buffers (protobuf) and Apache Thrift are two popular data serialization formats used for exchanging information between different systems. They both offer efficient ways to store and transmit data, but have some key differences in their structure, performance, and use cases.


Protocol Buffers (protobuf) is a language-neutral binary format developed by Google for efficiently encoding structured data into small messages that can be sent over the wire or stored in memory. It uses an interface description language to define message types which can then be compiled into code that allows applications to easily read and write protobuf messages without having to manually encode or decode them. Protobuf offers advantages like backward compatibility, multi-language support, and compression for reducing data size when sent over networks.


Apache Thrift is a software framework designed for cross-language services development. It consists of a compiler that generates code from interface definitions written in various languages, including C++, Java, Python, PHP etc., as well as libraries that provide client/server communication capabilities using TCP/IP protocols such as HTTP or raw sockets. The generated code provides functions that allow developers to quickly build distributed applications without having to worry about manual coding of the communications layer between components running on different platforms or programming languages.

In 2007, Jim Sproch, an engineer at Facebook, sought to develop a more effective alternative than the existing solutions like CORBA & SOAP. Thus began his endeavor to create what is now known as Apache Thrift. Subsequently, during 2011 and 2012, Facebook donated this software project along with other open-source initiatives under an appropriate license agreement.


Protocol Buffers and Apache Thrift have become popular data serialization formats due to their ability to efficiently encode structured data into small messages. Both Protocol Buffers and Apache Thrift boast an array of impressive characteristics, including backward compatibility, language flexibility, as well as incorporated compression techniques – making them suitable for data transfer between diverse systems.

Structure Comparison

Both Protobuf and Thrift have their own distinct structures when it comes to data representation, language support, and compression efficiency.

Protobufs employ a binary format that enables rapid serialization of organized data into an easily decipherable form. Protobufs can be used for a variety of applications, such as web services & APIs, database storage & retrieval, mobile applications & IoT devices, due to their efficient serialization and easy-to-parse form. On the other hand, Apache Thrift uses a compact text-based encoding format that is based on JSON but provides more control over how the data is represented. It also supports additional features like versioning and backward compatibility, making it ideal for distributed systems with multiple versions of software running at once.

Language Support:

Protocol Buffers (protobuf) has support for many languages, including C++, Java, Python and Go while Apache Thrift originally only had official bindings available in C++ and Java though the number of supported languages has increased in recent years.

Protobufs’ binary encoding format allows for a higher degree of compression efficiency than Apache Thrift’s text-based encoding, which tends to be more verbose even after applying GZIP or LZ4 algorithms. This gives Protobuf the edge when it comes to compressing structured data efficiently and makes it the better choice for various use cases such as web services & APIs, database storage & retrieval, mobile applications & IoT devices etc. Keywords: Active Voice, IQ 150+, Idioms/Colloquialisms, Grammar/Spelling/Punctuation (no exclamation points), Compression Efficiency

Overall, both Protocol Buffers (protobuf) and Apache Thrift offer great options when choosing a protocol to communicate between different services, devices, and applications depending upon one’s specific needs related to structure, language support, and compression efficiency.

Overall, the structure comparison of protobuf and thrift shows that they are both effective in representing data, providing language support, and efficient compression. Moving on to performance comparison, we can evaluate how quickly each protocol serializes and deserializes data as well as their memory usage.

Performance Comparison

Performance comparison of Protocol Buffers vs. Apache Thrift is important when considering which serialization framework to use for a project. Both frameworks offer efficient data serialization across multiple languages, but there are some differences in their performance that should be considered.

The serialization rate denotes the pace at which data is transformed into a binary form for transmission or storage. When comparing protobuf and Thrift, it is important to note that protobuf compiles proto files into code while Thrift requires the use of its compiler on thrift IDL files. This means that with protobuf, there may be less overhead associated with encoding/decoding messages since the code is already compiled. On the other hand, using Thrift requires more time upfront for compiling IDLs before any messages can be sent or received. However, once compiled, both protocols have similar speeds when it comes to serializing data into binary formats.

Adopting the right coding conventions during development, such as leveraging primitive types for fields and employing message caching mechanisms offered by both protocols (e.g., field-caching), should ensure rapid deserialization of messages regardless of which one is chosen for your project(s).

Overall, protobuf and thrift both have similar performance characteristics in terms of serialization speed, deserialization speed, and memory usage.

Use Cases Comparison

In this section, we will compare their use cases for web services & APIs, database storage & retrieval, and mobile applications & IoT devices.

When it comes to web services & APIs, both Protocol Buffers (protobuf) and Apache Thrift offer efficient serialization/deserialization of data that can be used to build robust APIs quickly. Protobuf’s syntax is simpler than Thrift’s, making it a great pick for developers who need to work quickly. On the other hand, Thrift has better support for different programming languages so if you’re working with multiple languages, then it might be a better option.

For database storage & retrieval purposes, both Protocol Buffers (protobuf) and Apache Thrift have good performance when compared to other alternatives such as JSON or XML. However, protobuf offers slightly faster serialization/deserialization times due to its binary format while also providing more compact data sizes which can help reduce network traffic when transferring large amounts of data over networks using HTTP or FTP protocols.

Protobuf offers features such as message compression and a smaller code size compared to other alternatives, making it suitable for resource-constrained devices. For example, protobuf provides built-in features like message compression, which can help reduce bandwidth consumption while also offering smaller code size than most alternatives making it ideal for constrained environments like embedded systems or low-power devices where every byte counts. On the other hand, Thrift supports more programming languages out of the box, so if you’re developing cross-platform apps, then it might be worth considering instead of having to write custom wrappers around each language’s native libraries yourself.

All in all, both Protocol Buffers (protobuf) and Apache Thrift offer great solutions for engineers looking for efficient ways to store/transfer data across various platforms. Depending on the project requirements, one may prove more suitable than the other – only thorough testing will tell.

The comparison of protobuf and thrift in terms of their use cases has revealed that both have advantages and disadvantages. It is now time to summarize the findings and draw a conclusion on which protocol should be used for different scenarios.

Summary & Conclusion

Both protocols possess distinct structures, capabilities and applications that make them suitable for a variety of tasks.

Protocol Buffers is a binary protocol that employs a compact format for encoding structured data, whereas Apache Thrift utilizes an interface definition language (IDL) to define structures in multiple languages like C++, Java, Python etc. This makes Protocol Buffers more efficient than Thrift when dealing with large datasets due to its smaller size and faster processing time.

Both Protocol Buffers and Apache Thrift offer comprehensive language support for a variety of programming languages such as Java, C++, Python, etc., in addition to providing developers with helpful code generation tools which cut down on the time it takes to write code from scratch. Moreover, both protocols boast powerful compression algorithms that can reduce the size of transmitted messages without sacrificing quality or accuracy – making them an ideal choice for data exchange. In conclusion, these two protocols are equipped to effectively manage any intricate data sets.

If you’re looking for maximum efficiency, Protocol Buffers should be your go-to choice as it has better compression capabilities than Apache Thrift and outperforms the latter in terms of serialization speed and memory usage. Although Thrift libraries have an edge when it comes to deserialization speed due to their reliance on dynamic runtime reflection instead of pre-generated code, Protocol Buffers are still a more suitable option for those seeking top performance.

When it comes to use cases comparison between Protocol Buffers and Apache Thrift, each has its own strengths. When deciding which protocol to use for a given application, the type of application should be taken into account, as each may offer different benefits. For instance, web services & APIs benefit from utilizing Protocol Buffer’s small message sizes; while databases storage & retrieval take advantage of Apache Thirft’s wide range of database integration options. When considering mobile applications & IoT devices, either technology can work well due to their low latency transmission rates and robust security measures, which they both offer in abundance.

FAQs in Relation to Protobuf vs Thrift

What is the difference between Google protobuf and Thrift?

Google Protocol Buffers (Protobuf) and Apache Thrift are both open source frameworks used for serializing data structures. Protobuf is a binary format that uses an interface description language to define the structure of the message, while Thrift utilizes a software stack with a code generation engine to build services. In terms of performance, Protobuf is faster than Thrift due to its smaller size and optimized wire-level protocol; however, it has less flexibility in terms of programming languages supported compared to Thrift which supports more than 20 different languages. Additionally, Protobuf requires you to write your own serialization/deserialization logic while Thrift provides built-in support for this process.

Is Thrift like Protobuf?

No, Thrift is not like Protobuf. While both are used to serialize data for efficient storage and transmission, they have different purposes and implementations. Thrift is a software framework designed for developing scalable cross-language services, while Protobuf (Protocol Buffers) is an open-source binary format that allows users to store structured data in a platform-independent way. Furthermore, Thrift uses its own IDL (Interface Definition Language), while Protocol Buffers use their own language called proto files, which defines the structure of the data being stored or transmitted.

What is the advantage of using Protobuf?

Protobuf is a powerful tool for exchanging data between different systems. It offers many advantages over other methods, such as being more efficient and compact than XML or JSON. Protobuf also provides language-agnostic serialization, which means that it can be used to exchange data between programs written in different languages without any extra effort from the programmer. Additionally, protobuf is fast and easy to use since it requires minimal setup time compared to other formats like XML or JSON. Protobuf is highly customizable and can be easily tailored to fit any data structure. Protobuf’s features render it a perfect selection for engineering professionals and learners.

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