Progressive triangle streams

Usage no npm install needed!

<script type="module">
  import p from 'https://cdn.skypack.dev/3p';


3p: Progressive Triangle Streams

Progressive triangle streams are an implementation of Hugues Hoppe's progressive meshes with minor modifications favoring fast decoding over visual fidelity. The format is flexible and different codecs can choose different strategies for splitting vertices. This module documents progressive triangle streams and implements reference codecs for the binary and JSON formats. The intention of this file format is to provide a basic container format for experimenting with different strategies for performing edge collapses on meshes, and to provide a common language for processing progressive mesh data.

Why use 3p?

Progressive meshes have two advantages over standard mesh representations like indexed face lists:

  1. They are typically much smaller. In a binary 3P file, the topology data of the mesh uses 1/4 as much space as in a binary indexed triangle mesh and up to 1/10 as much space as an ASCII encoded equivalent.
  2. They can be loaded incrementally. It is possible to process a truncated 3P file and recover an approximate geometry immediately. This decreases the amount of time spent waiting for geometry to load.

Like the PLY file format, 3P files can specify arbitrary vertex and face data. 3P is also a lossless encoding, so attributes like vertex positions are not truncated in intermediate representations. 3P can be combined with standard HTTP compression schemes like gzip for further size reductions.

Other implementations

Reference Codec API

These reference codecs are installable via npm:

npm install 3p

Once installed, they can be required and used as CommonJS modules.

Note Reference codecs are not optimized.



require('3p/encode-json')(vertexCount, cells[, vertexAttributes, cellAttributes, vertexTypes, cellTypes])

Compresses a triangulated mesh into a JSON formatted progressive triangle stream.

  • cells is a list of triangles, each encoded as a list of 3 vertex indices
  • vertexAttributes is an optional array of vertex attributes
  • cellAttributes is an optional array of per-face attributes

Returns A 3PJ encoded mesh object


require('3p/encode-binary')(vertexCount, cells[, vertexAttributes, cellAttributes, vertexTypes, cellTypes])

Same interface as above, except returns a node.js Buffer object storing a binary 3PB file.




Decodes a JSON formatted 3PJ object.

  • json is a plain old JavaScript object storing the parsed 3PJ data

Returns An object representing the mesh with with the following properties:

  • cells is an array storing the faces of the mesh
  • vertexAttributes is an array of vertex attributes
  • cellAttributes is an array of cell attributes



Same as above, except takes a binary 3PB file instead of JSON.

JSON and binary conversion


Converts a JSON 3PJ file to a binary 3PB buffer

  • json is a 3PJ javascript object

Returns A Buffer representing a binary 3PB file


Converts a binary 3PB file to a JSON 3PJ object

  • buffer is a Buffer encoding a 3PB object

Returns A JSON 3PJ object

Format description

Progressive triangle streams encode 3D triangulated meshes as a sequence of vertex split operations. Progressive triangle streams can have any number of vertex and/or face attributes, and can be truncated to produce approximations of the initial geometry. Progressive triangle streams support two distinct formats: a reference JSON format for debugging and a binary format. These formats store equivalent information.

JSON format (.3PJ)

For debugging purposes, 3P supports a JSON format. The JSON format for a progressive triangle stream contains the same data as above. Each 3P JSON object has 3 fields with the following data:

  • The file header, storing:
    • version - a string representing the version of the 3P file in semver format
    • vertexCount - the number of vertices in the stream
    • cellCount - the number of cells in the stream
    • vertexAttributeTypes - an array of types for each vertex attribute
    • cellAttributeTypes - an array of types for each cell attribute
  • An initial triangulated mesh, with 4 arrays:
    • cells - an array of 3 tuples of integers representing the vertex indices for each triangle
    • vertexAttributes - an array of arrays of vertex attributes
    • cellAttributes - an array of arrays of cell attributes
  • An array of vertex split operations, each having the following properties:
    • baseVertex - the vertex to split
    • attributes - attributes for newly created vertex
    • left - index of left vertex in 1-ring around base vertex
    • leftOrientation - orientation of left face
    • leftAttributes - attributes for left face
    • right - index of right face
    • rightOrientation - orientation of right face
    • rightAttributes - attributes for right face

Each type declaration should have the following data:

  • name which is an ascii string storing the name of the type
  • count which is the size of the type value
  • type a string encoding the type of the attribute

The possible values for type are as follows:

  • uint8 an unsigned 8 bit integer
  • uint16 an unsigned 16 bit integer
  • uint32 an unsigned 32 bit integer
  • int8
  • int16
  • int32
  • float32
  • float64

JSON formatted progressive triangle streams should use the file extension .3PJ

Binary format (.3PB)

  • Network byte order
  • Prefer .3PB file extension
struct S3PBFile {
  uint8[4]           "3PB\n"
  S3PBHeader         header
  S3PBComplex        initialComplex
  S3PBVertexSplit[]  vertexSplits

struct S3PBHeader {
  uint32             splitOffset
  uint32             majorVersion
  uint32             minorVersion
  uint32             patchVersion
  uint32             vertexCount
  uint32             cellCount
  uint32             vertexAttributeCount
  uint32             cellAttributeCount
  S3PBAttribute[]    vertexAttributeTypes
  S3PBAttribute[]    cellAttributeTypes

struct S3PBAttribute {
  uint32             count
  S3PBAttributeType  type
  uint32             nameLength
  char[]             name

enum S3PBAttributeType: uint32 {
  uint8:      0
  uint16:     1
  uint32:     2
  int8:       3
  int16:      4
  int32:      5
  float32:    6
  float64:    7

struct S3PBComplex {
  uint32             initialVertexCount
  uint32             initialCellCount
  VertexAttribute[]  vertexAttributes
  uint32[3][]        cells
  CellAttribute[]    cellAttributes

struct S3PBVertexSplit {
  uint32             baseVertex
  uint8              left
  uint8              right
  VertexAttribute    attributes
  CellAttribute      leftAttributes
  CellAttribute      rightAttributes


  • Manifold vertices must be stored in initial complex, non-manifold vertices and their neighbors can't be split
  • In S3PBVertexSplit, the upper bit of left and right stores the orientation of the vertex
  • The lower 7 bits of left and right are an index into the neighbors of s
  • splitOffset is the start of the vertex split section in bytes
  • Attribute names are stored as ASCII text
  • Encoders must not collapse edges incident to non-manifold or boundary vertices
  • Vertices with more than 15 neighbors must not be split
  • Encoders should prioritize edge collapses with minimal visual impact on images
  • Binary decoders should gracefully handle truncated input
  • Encoders may not preserve the index of each vertex. Encoding/decoding may permute the order of cells/vertices in the mesh.
  • Encoding must preserve topology and all attributes
  • Codecs may collapse vertices in any order subject to the implementation
  • If a decoder recieves more vertices or cells than is specified in the header, then it should terminate
  • cellCount and vertexCount should describe the total number of vertices in the stream. If more vertices in the stream are encountered, the decoder may choose to continue processing additional splits
  • For each vertex split, the baseVertex must refer to a previous vertex in the stream

Benchmarks and comparisons

Sizes are in bytes

Mesh JSON 3p 3p + gzip
Stanford bunny 110361 33190 27531




Copyright 2014 Mikola Lysenko. MIT license