H5M File Format API

MOAB, a Mesh-Oriented datABase, is a software component for creating, storing and accessing finite element mesh data.

Copyright 2004 Sandia Corporation. Under the terms of Contract DE-AC04-94AL85000 with Sandia Corporation, the U.S. Government retains certain rights in this software.

This library is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU Lesser General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2.1 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.


MOAB's native file format is based on the HDF5 file format. The most common file extension used for such files is .h5m. A .h5m file can be identified by the top-level tstt group in the HDF5 file.

The API implemented by this library is a wrapper on top of the underlying HDF5 library. It provides the following features:

  • Enforces and hides MOAB's expected file layout
  • Provides a slightly higher-level API
  • Provides some backwards compatibility for file layout changes

H5M File Layout

The H5M file format relies on the use of a unique entity ID space for all vertices, elements, and entity sets stored in the file. This ID space is defined by the application. IDs must be unique over all entity types (a vertex and an entity set may not have the same ID.) The IDs must be positive (non-zero) integer values. There are no other requirements imposed by the format on the ID space.

Elements, with the exception of polyhedra, are defined by a list of vertex IDs. Polyhedra are defined by a list of face IDs. Entity sets have a list of contained entity IDs, and lists of parent and child entity set IDs. The set contents may include any valid entity ID, including other sets. The parent and child lists are expected to contain only entity IDs corresponding to other entity sets. A zero entity ID may be used in some contexts (tag data with the mhdf_ENTITY_ID property) to indicate a 'null' value,

Element types are defined by the combination of a topology identifier (e.g. hexahedral topology) and the number of nodes in the element.

The tstt Group

All file data is stored in the tstt group in the HDF5 root group. The tstt group may have an optional scalar integer attribute named max_id . This attribute, if present, should contain the value of the largest entity ID used internally to the file. It can be used to verify that the code reading the file is using an integer type of sufficient size to accomodate the entity IDs.

The tstt group contains four sub-groups, a datatype object, and a dataset object. The four sub-groups are: nodes, elements, sets, and tags. The dataset is named history .

The elemtypes datatype is an enumeration of the elem topologies used in the file. The element topologies understood by MOAB are:

  • Edge
  • Tri
  • Quad
  • Polygon
  • Tet
  • Pyramid
  • Prism
  • Knife
  • Hex
  • Polyhedron

The history DataSet

The history DataSet is a list of variable-length strings with application-defined meaning.

The nodes Group

The nodes group contains a single DataSet and an optional subgroup. The tags subgroup is described in the section on dense tag storage.

The coordinates DataSet contains the coordinates of all vertices in the mesh. The DataSet should contain floating point values and have a dimenions $ n \times d $, where n is the number of vertices and d is the number of coordinate values for each vertex.

The coodinates DataSet must have an integer attribute named start_id . The vertices are then defined to have IDs begining with this value and increasing sequentially in the order that they are defined in the coordinates table.

The elements Group

The elements group contains an application-defined number of subgroups. Each subgroup defines one or more mesh elements that have the same topology and length of connectivity (number of nodes for any topology other than Polyhedron.) The names of the subgroups are application defined. MOAB uses a combination of the element topology name and connectivity length (e.g. "Hex8".).

Each subgroup must have an attribute named element_type that contains one of the enumerated element topology values defined in the elemtypes datatype described in a previous section.

Each subgroup contains a single DataSet named connectivity and an optional subgroup named tags. The tags subgroup is described in the section on dense tag storage.

The connectivty DataSet is an $ n \times m $ array of integer values. The DataSet contains one row for each of the n contained elements, where the connectivity of each element contains m IDs. For all element types supported by MOAB, with the exception of polyhedra, the element connectivity list is expected to contain only IDs corresponding to nodes.

Each element connectivity DataSet must have an integer attribute named start_id . The elements defined in the connectivity table are defined to have IDs beginning with this value and increasing sequentially in the order that they are defined in the table.

The sets Group

The sets group contains the definitions of any entity sets stored in the file. It contains 1 to 4 DataSets and the optional tags subgroup. The contents, parents, and children data sets are one dimensional arrays containing the concatenation of of the corresponding lists for all of the sets represented in the file.

The lists DataSet is a $ n \times 4 $ table, having one row of four integer values for each set. The first three values for each set are the indices into the contents, children, and parents DataSets, respectively, at which the last value for the set is stored. The contents, child, and parent lists for sets are stored in the corresponding datasets in the same order as the sets are listed in the lists DataSet, such that the index of the first value in one of those tables is one greater than the corresponding end index in the previous row of the table. The number of content entries, parents, or children for a given set can be calculated as the difference between the corresponding end index entry for the current set and the same entry in the previous row of the table. If the first set in the lists DataSet had no parent sets, then the corresponding index in the third column of the table would be -1. If it had one parent, the index would be 0. If it had two parents, the index would be 1, as the first parent would be stored at position 0 of the parents DataSet and the second at position 1.

The fourth colum of the lists DataSet is a series of bit flags defining some properties of the sets. The four bit values currently defined are:

  • 0x1 owner
  • 0x2 unique
  • 0x4 ordered
  • 0x8 range compressed

The fourth (most significant) bit indicates that, in the contents data set, that the contents list for the corresponding set is stored using a single range compression. Rather than storing the IDs of the contained entities individually, each ID i is followed by a count n indicating that the set contains the cotiguous range of IDs $ [i, i+n-1] $.

The three least significant bits specify intended properties of the set and are unrelated to how the set data is stored in the file. These properties, described briefly from least significant bit to most significant are: contained entities should track set membership; the set should contain each entity only once (strict set); and that the order of the entries in the set should be preserved.

Similar to the nodes/coordinates and elements/.../connectivity DataSets, the lists DataSet must have an integer attribute named start_id . IDs are assigned to to sets in the order that they occur in the lists table, beginning with the attribute value.

The sets group may contain a subgroup names tags. The tags subgroup is described in the section on dense tag storage.

The tags Group

The tags group contains a sub-group for each tag defined in the file. These sub-groups contain the definition of the tag and may contain some or all of the tag values associated with entities in the file. However, it should be noted that tag values may also be stored in the "dense" format as described in the section on dense tag storage.

Each sub-group of the tags group contains the defintion for a single tag. The name of each sub-group is the name of the corresponding tag. Non-printable characters, characters prohibited in group names in the HDF5 file format, and the backslash ('\') character are encoded in the name string by a backslash ('\') character followed by the ASCII value of the character expressed as a pair of hexidecimal digits. Thus the backslash character would be represented as \5C . Each tag group should also contain a comment which contains the unenconded tag name.

The tag sub-group may have any or all of the following four attributes: default, global, is_handle, and variable_length. The default attribute, if present, must contain a single tag value that is to be considered the 'default' value of the tag. The global attribute, if present, must contain a single tag value that is the value of the tag as set on the mesh instance (MOAB terminology) or root set (ITAPS terminology.) The presence of the is_handle attribute (the value, if any, is meaningless) indicates that the tag values are to be considered entity IDs. After reading the file, the reader should map any such tag values to whatever mechanism it uses to reference the corresponding entities read from the file. The presence of the variable_length attribute indicates that each tag value is a variable-length array. The reader should rely on the presence of this attribute rather than the presence of the var_indices DataSet discussed below because the file may contain the definition of a variable length tag without containing any values for that tag. In such a case, the var_indices DataSet will not be present.

Each tag sub-group will contain a committed type object named type . This type must be the type instance used by the global and default attributes discussed above and any tag value data sets. For fixed-length tag data, the tag types understood by MOAB are:

  • opaque data
  • a single floating point value
  • a single integer value
  • a bit field
  • an array of floating point values
  • an array of integer values Any other data types will be treated as opaque data. For Variable-length tag data, MOAB expects the type object to be one of:
  • opaque data
  • a single floating point value
  • a single integer value

For fixed-length tags, the tag sub-group may contain 'sparse' formatted tag data, which is comprised of two data sets: id_list and values. Both data sets must be 1-dimensional arrays of the same length. The id_list data set contains a list of entity IDs and the values data set contains a list of corresponding tag values. The data stored in the values table must be of type type. Fixed-length tag values may also be stored in the "dense" format as described in the section on dense tag storage. A mixture of both sparse- and dense-formatted tag values may be present for a single tag.

For variable-length tags the tag values, if any, are always stored in the tag sub-group of the tags group and are represented by three one-dimensional data sets: id_list, var_indices, and values. Similar to the fixed-length sparse-formatted tag data, the id_list contains the IDs of the entities for which tag values are defined. The values dataset contains the concatenation of the tag values for each of the entities referenced by ID in the id_list table, in the order that the entities are referenced in the id_list table. The var_indices table contains an index into the values data set for each entity in id_list. The index indicates the position of the last tag value for the entity in values. The index of the first value is one greater than the corresponding end index for the entry in var_indices. The number of tag values for a given entity can be calculated as the difference between the corresponding end index entry for the current entity and the previous value in the var_indices dataset.

The tags Sub-Groups

Data for fixed-length tags may also be stored in the tags sub-group of the nodes, sets, and subgroups of the elements group. Values for given tag are stored in a dataset within the tags sub-group that has the following properties:

  • The name must be the same as that of the tag definition in the main tags group
  • The type of the data set must be the committed type object stored as /tstt/tags/ <tagname>/type .
  • The data set must have the same length as the data set in the parent group with the start_id attribute.

If dense-formatted data is specified for any entity in the group, then it must be specified for every entity in the group. The table is expected to contain one value for each entity in the corresponding primary definition table (/tstt/nodes/coordinates , /tstt/elements/ <name>/connectivity , or /tstt/sets/list), in the same order as the entities in that primary definition table.

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