Julia tools for reading Crystallographic Information Framework (CIF) files and dictionaries
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Updated Last
2 Years Ago
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March 2019

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Julia tools for working with the Crystallographic Information Framework, including reading data files in Crystallographic Information Format (CIF) versions 1 and 2 (this includes mmCIF files from the PDB). As CIF format is a significant subset of STAR format, files in STAR format are likely to read in without problems. The tools also understand dictionaries written in DDLm and DDL2, which can be used to return correct types and find aliased datanames (note that this includes the PDB mmCIF dictionaries).

Warning: early release

While usable for the bulk of typical tasks, this package is still in an early version. Type and method names may change in later versions. Various debugging messages are printed, documentation strings are patchy.

On the other hand, if you see ways to improve the naming or architecture, now is the time to raise an issue.


Once Julia is installed, it is sufficient to add CrystalInfoFramework at the Pkg prompt (accessed by the ] character in the REPL).

Faster CIF parsing is available if you install the C library cifapi in a standard place on your system.


Detailed documentation is becoming progressively available here.

Getting started

Type Cif is like a Dict{String,Block}. A Block works like a Dict{String,Array{Any,1}}. All returned values are Arrays, even if the data name appears as a key-value pair in the file. Primitive values are always Strings. CIF2 Tables become julia Dict types, and CIF2 lists are julia Array types.

Even in the presence of a dictionary, DDLm Set category values are returned as 1-element Arrays. This may change in the future


Cif objects are created by calling the Cif constructor with a file name. File names should be provided as FilePaths paths. These can be produced from strings be prepending the letter p once FilePaths is added. If a String is provided to the Cif constructor it will be interpreted as the contents of a CIF file.

To open a file, and read _cell.length_a from block only_block, returning a one-element Array{String,1}:

julia> using CrystalInfoFramework, FilePaths

julia> nc = Cif(p"my_cif.cif")
julia> my_block = nc["only_block"]  #could also use first(nc).second
julia> l = my_block["_cell.length_a"]
1-element Array{Any,1}:

get_loop returns a DataFrame object that can be manipulated using the methods of that package, most obviously, eachrow to iterate over the packets in a loop:

julia> l = get_loop(my_block,"_atom_site.label")
julia> for r in eachrow(l)


Values are added in the same way as for a normal dictionary.

my_block["_new_item"] = [1,2,3]

If the dataname belongs to a loop, following assignment of the value the new dataname can be added to a previously-existing loop. The following call adds _new_item to the loop containing _old_item:


The number of values in the array assigned to _new_item must match the length of the loop - this is checked.

Dictionaries and DataSources

CIF dictionaries are created by passing the dictionary file name to DDLm_Dictionary or DDL2_Dictionary. Either a FilePath or String may be used to specify the file location.


A DataSource is any data source returning an array of values when supplied with a string. A CIF Block conforms to this specification. are defined in submoduleCrystalInfoFramework.DataContainer``.

A CIF dictionary can be used to obtain data with correct Julia type from a DataSource that uses data names defined in the dictionary by creating a TypedDataSource:

julia> using CrystalInfoFramework.DataContainer
julia> my_dict = DDLm_Dictionary("cif_core.dic")
julia> bd = TypedDataSource(my_block,my_dict)
julia> l = bd["_cell.length_a"]
1-element Array{Float64,1}:
julia> l = bd["_cell_length_a"] #understand aliases
1-element Array{Float64,1}:


Use show(io::IO,::MIME"text/cif",d) to produce correctly-formatted dictionaries or data files.


If the C cifapi library is available its parsing callbacks are used to construct a Cif object during file traversal. In the absence of this library, a pre-built parser generated by Lerche using a CIF EBNF is used to produce a parse tree that is then transformed into a Cif object.

Further information

Read the tests in the tests directory for typical usage examples.

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