Reading and Writing Data

The Syncopy Data Format (*.spy)

As each Syncopy data object is simply an annotated multi-dimensional array every object is stored as

  1. a binary file holding data arrays and

  2. a human-readable file for metadata.

Syncopy aims to be scalable to process small experimental data-sets to very large files that don’t fit into memory. To meet these requirements, Syncopy performs on-demand streaming of data from and to disk. A file format that is well-established for this purpose is HDF5, which is, therefore, the default storage backend of Syncopy. In addition, metadata are stored in JSON, which is both easily human- and machine-readable.

By default, Syncopy’s data files are stored in a folder called <basename>.spy, which can contain the on-disk representations of multiple objects of different classes (e.g., spikes and local field potentials that have been recorded simultaneously). The standard naming pattern of Syncopy’s data files is as follows:

  └── <basename>_<tag1>.<dataclass>
  └── <basename>_<tag1>.<dataclass>.info
  └── <basename>_<tag2>.<dataclass>
  └── <basename>_<tag2>.<dataclass>.info

The <dataclass> specifies the type of data that is stored in the file, i.e. one of the Syncopy Data Classes. The <tag> part of the filename is user-defined to distinguish data of the same data class, that should be kept separate, e.g. data from separate electrode arrays. Data can be loaded using the syncopy.load() function.

Example folder

  └── monkeyB_20190709_rfmapping_1_amua-stimon.analog
  └── monkeyB_20190709_rfmapping_1_amua-cueon.analog
  └── monkeyB_20190709_rfmapping_1_eyes.analog
  └── monkeyB_20190709_rfmapping_1_lfp.analog
  └── monkeyB_20190709_rfmapping_1_vprobe.spike
  └── monkeyB_20190709_rfmapping_1_marker.event
  └── monkeyB_20190709_rfmapping_1_stimon-wavelet.spectral

Structure of the Data File (HDF5)

The HDF5 file contains some metadata (HDF5 attributes) in its header (partially redundant with the corresponding JSON file), the data array in binary form (HDF5 dataset), and a [nTrials x 3+k]-sized trialdefinition array containing information about the trials defined on the data (trial_start, trial_stop, trial_triggeroffset, trialinfo_1, trialinfo_2, …, trialinfo_k).

bof | ---- header ---- | ---------- data ---------- | -- trialdefinition --| eof

The shape, data type, and offsets of the data and trialdefinition arrays are stored in both the header and the metadata JSON file. The format is therefore simple enough to be read either with an HDF5 library, e.g. h5py, or directly as binary arrays, e.g. with a numpy.memmap or numpy.fromfile() (numpy >= 1.17). Also with other programming languages such as C/C++ or MATLAB, it is feasible to read and write such data files using the HDF5 library (C/C++ , MATLAB) or low-level functions (fread). GUIs for inspecting the data directly include HDFView and HDFCompass.

Structure of the Metadata File (JSON)

The JSON file contains all metadata relevant to the data object. All Syncopy data objects need to specify (at least) the fields set in startInfoDict defined in






filename of HDF5 file



one of syncopy-data-classes:



NumPy datatype of data array



shape of data array



offset from begin of file of data array (bytes)



NumPy datatype of trialdata array



shape of trialdata array



offset from begin of file of trialdata array (bytes)



checksum value of HDF5 file on disk



either “C” or “F” (row-major or column-major order of array on disk)



employed checksum algorithm



Syncopy package version



“prosaic” history of data



“rigorous” history of data


As Syncopy is still in early development, the definition of the required JSON fields may change in the future.

Example JSON file:

    "filename": "example.c1a8.analog",
    "dataclass": "AnalogData",
    "data_dtype": "float32",
    "data_shape": [
    "data_offset": 2048,
    "trl_dtype": "int64",
    "trl_shape": [
    "trl_offset": 910965248,
    "samplerate": 1000.0,
    "file_checksum": "074602b93ef237b9831fe8ee7ea59b4f8b2ce3614338d65c88081dc9eaddd098964fb68e6061b940de599ab966c3b242e27bd522f80779b1794c3dc3cc518c8e",
    "order": "C",
    "checksum_algorithm": "openssl_sha1",
    "dimord": [
    "_version": "0.1a",
    "_log": "...",
    "cfg": {
        "...": "..."
    "samplerate": 1000.0,
    "channel": [


Reading Other File Formats

Reading and writing other data formats is currently not supported. Getting your data into Syncopy is, however, relatively straightforward, if you can access your data in Python, e.g. by using NEO.

Similar to syncopy.load() you’ll have to write a function that creates an empty data object (e.g. syncopy.AnalogData) and fills the data property with an index-able array as well as all relevant metadata properties.

In future releases of Syncopy, example reading routines and/or exporting functions will be provided.