A dataset is stored in a file in two parts: a header and a data array.

The header contains information that is needed to interpret the array portion of the dataset, as well as metadata (or pointers to metadata) that describes or annotates the dataset. Header information includes the name of the object, its dimensionality, its number-type, information about how the data itself is stored on disk, and other information used by the library to speed up access to the dataset or maintain the file's integrity.

There are four essential classes of information in any header: name, datatype, dataspace, and storage layout:


Properties of a dataspace consist of the rank (number of dimensions) of the data array, the actual sizes of the dimensions of the array, and the maximum sizes of the dimensions of the array. For a fixed-dimension dataset, the actual size is the same as the maximum size of a dimension. When a dimension is unlimited, the maximum size is set to the value H5P_UNLIMITED. A dataspace can also describe portions of a dataset, making it possible to do partial I/O operations on selections. Selection is supported by the dataspace interface (H5S). Given an n-dimensional dataset, there are currently four ways to do partial selection:

List to describe dimensions of a dataset:

List how to select from datasets for read or write:

Note: h5::stride, h5::block and scatter - gather operations doesn't work when h5::high_throughput set, due to performance reasons.

  1. Lifted from HDF5 CAPI documentation