TL schema basics

Ideologically, TL is similar to Protobuf, but more expressive and traffic-compact in various practical cases.

TL (Type Language) is a declarative data format. It is treated both as:

  • serialization — it describes, how data would be encoded to binary and decoded back
  • types, functions, and constructors — domain-specific data declarations

RPC call is invoking a function over a network, passing a TL-serialized request and parsing a TL-serialized response.

This page covers a brief intro to TL. For details, please visit this article.

KPHP was developed and used proprietary at All databases are also self-written (but not open-sourced yet) — and all of them support RPC protocol.
Even for modern solutions like Clickhouse, we have internal RPC proxies, and KPHP is still an RPC client.

Types and functions

TL-schema is a .tl file. It consists of types and functions:


A function looks like this:

messages.createChat creator_id:int invited_ids:%(Vector int) name:string = Int;

This describes, that an engine can handle a query for creating chat, and several parameters are required.

A type is a set of constructors and type name. Having one constructor is intuitively simple:

audio.audioId user_id:int tag:string = audio.AudioId;

This describes the type audio.AudioId with one constructor having two arguments.

Multiple constructors are more powerful. Say, we have a Memcache engine with a function to query a value:

memcache.get key:string = memcache.Value; 

But Memcache can store either string or numeric value at a key, just as a key might not exist. Describe it as:

memcache.not_found = memcache.Value;
memcache.str_value value:string = memcache.Value;
memcache.numeric_value value:long = memcache.Value;

Boxed and unboxed (bare) types

A type usage can be marked “bare”. This influences binary serialization format: only a value needs to be stored, without any prefix (“magic” in TL terms, similar to “field index” in Protobuf). Bareness can be triggered:

  • with ‘%' sign before the type name
  • specifying constructor name instead of type name

This can be used only for types with one constructor, except it is a result of a function.
It should not be used, when other constructors are likely to be added in the future and there is no need for binary size reduction (for example, a single value, not a vector).

Implicit arguments and special types

A type can have external arguments. There are two primary cases: another type or a “numeric variable”.

resultFalse {t:Type} = Maybe t;
resultTrue {t:Type} result:t = Maybe t;

Maybe here is a dependent type to add “value absence” to any type t. For example, Maybe int is either a concrete integer or not a value at all.

Bit masks

Types depending on numeric variables are described like

fileStorage.localCopy {fields_mask:#}
    last_sync_info:fields_mask.2?(Maybe %fileStorage.SyncInfo)
    = fileStorage.LocalCopy fields_mask;

Once passed, a bitmask controls binary serialization: which fields should be stored/fetched. This helps omit transferring fields you don't need at the exact invocation.

Detailed explanation

TL is described on the MTProto page, with examples and advanced topics — read it here.

TL schema IDE plugin

There is a plugin for PhpStorm. It highlights .tl files and supports symbols navigation:

tl schema screen