Introducing UnixFS

By now, you already know that files and directories in IPFS are represented as Merkle DAGs. This means that the data of large files are split across several blocks. Every block needs to have some metadata that identifies what kind of data it holds. For example, consider the following directory.

File structure sample

Usually, directories and small files fit into just one block. However, large files are split across several blocks, which are linked.

Files and directories as blocks

The two directories, and the elephant.png file, are small enough to fit into their own block. However, the cat.jpg file requires three blocks. When you read the blocks, it is necessary to have some information about every block, such as type (directory, file,…), size or data. IPFS uses UnixFS to provide information for every block.

Detailed view of the blocks

The first block of the cat.jpg file is marked as type: file, because it is the starting block of the file. The remaining blocks are marked as type: raw, because they only contain data.

Technical Implementation

In technical terms, UnixFS is a protobuf-based format, which is represented by the following protobuf:

message Data {
    enum DataType {
        Raw = 0;
        Directory = 1;
        File = 2;
        Metadata = 3;
        Symlink = 4;
        HAMTShard = 5;

    required DataType Type = 1;
    optional bytes Data = 2;
    optional uint64 filesize = 3;
    repeated uint64 blocksizes = 4;
    optional uint64 hashType = 5;
    optional uint64 fanout = 6;
    optional uint32 mode = 7;
    optional UnixTime mtime = 8;

message Metadata {
    optional string MimeType = 1;

message UnixTime {
    required int64 Seconds = 1;
    optional fixed32 FractionalNanoseconds = 2;
  • Files with a single block:

    • DataType is set to File
    • Data holds the content of the file
    • filesize contains the total number of bytes of the file
  • Files with several blocks:

    • DataType is set to File in the first block, and Raw in he remaining blocks
    • filesize contains the total number of bytes of the file
    • blocksizes list of sizes of every child node

Later in the curriculum, you will learn how UnixFS is related to IPLD. You can also get more information in the official specification.