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I/O

#include "geometrycentral/surface/meshio.h"

Reading meshes

Construct a surface mesh from a file on disk, or more generally any std::istream.

#include "geometrycentral/surface/meshio.h"
using namespace geometrycentral::surface;

// Load a surface mesh which is required to be manifold
std::unique_ptr<ManifoldSurfaceMesh> mesh;
std::unique_ptr<VertexPositionGeometry> geometry;
std::tie(mesh, geometry) = readManifoldSurfaceMesh("spot.obj"); 


// Load a more general surface mesh, which might be nonmanifold
std::unique_ptr<SurfaceMesh> mesh2;
std::unique_ptr<VertexPositionGeometry> geometry2;
std::tie(mesh2, geometry2) = readSurfaceMesh("spot_messy.obj"); 
Why use std::unique_ptr<>?

The mesh loader, like many functions in geometry-central, returns constructed objects via a unique_ptr. Unique pointers are an important tool for memory management in modern C++; if you haven’t used them before, we suggest you give them a try!

In most ways, a unique_ptr acts just like a normal C++ pointer. You can dereference it with *uPtr, and access its members and function like uPtr->function(). However, the unique_ptr helps prevent common memory-management mistakes, and communicates the programmer’s intent about object lifetime. This is accomplished with two properties:

  • You don’t need to call delete on a unique_ptr, it happens automatically when the pointer is destructed, e.g. when it goes out of scope at the end of a function, or when the object it is a member of gets deleted. This helps prevent memory leaks where you forget to deallocate the object.

  • You cannot copy the unique_ptr; hence it is “unique”! You can still pass around references, or std::move() the pointer, which are sufficient for most reasonable uses. This helps prevent you from creating a copy, and then accidentally deleting the pointer twice.


The general paradigm in geometry-central (and a recommended style in modern C++) is to return long-lived, allocated objects with a unique_ptr, and pass these objects in to functions and dependent classes by reference.

For instance, we might write a function which takes a mesh as an argument like

void processMesh(SurfaceMesh& inputMesh) { /* do stuff */}

and call it by dereferencing the unique pointer to pass a reference

std::unique_ptr<SurfaceMesh> mesh;
std::unique_ptr<VertexPositionGeometry> geometry;
std::tie(mesh, geometry) = readSurfaceMesh("spot.obj"); 

processMesh(*mesh);

For more details about unique pointers, see the language documentation, or many tutorials around the web.


If you really don’t want to use unique pointers, you can simply release the unique pointer to an ordinary pointer:

std::unique_ptr<SurfaceMesh> mesh /* populated as above */;
SurfaceMesh* meshPtr = mesh.release();

The meshPtr now points the mesh object, and you are responsible for eventually deleting this pointer. After calling release(), the unique pointer points to nothing and will no longer deallocate the object.

std::tuple<std::unique_ptr<SurfaceMesh>, std::unique_ptr<VertexPositionGeometry>> readSurfaceMesh(std::string filename, std::string type = "")

Load a general, not-necessarily-manifold mesh from file. Returns both a SurfaceMesh representing the connectivity, and a Geometry representing the geometry. See the example above to concisely unpack.

If the file includes vertices which do not appear in any face, they will be stripped from the vertex listing and ignored.

The type parameter determines the type of file to load. For example, type="ply" will attempt to read the target file as a .ply file. If no type is given, the type will be inferred from the file extension.

See the matrix below for all supported file types.

std::tuple<std::unique_ptr<SurfaceMesh>, std::unique_ptr<VertexPositionGeometry>> readSurfaceMesh(std::istream& in, std::string type)

Same as above, but reads from a general istream object rather than a filename.

When reading from a stream, the type must be specified and cannot be automatically inferred.

std::tuple<std::unique_ptr<ManifoldSurfaceMesh>, std::unique_ptr<VertexPositionGeometry>> readManifoldSurfaceMesh(std::string filename, std::string type = "")

Load a manifold mesh from file. Returns both a ManifoldSurfaceMesh representing the connectivity, and a Geometry representing the geometry. See the example above to concisely unpack. If the mesh to be loaded is not manifold, an exception will be thrown.

If the file includes vertices which do not appear in any face, they will be stripped from the vertex listing and ignored.

The type parameter determines the type of file to load. For example, type="ply" will attempt to read the target file as a .ply file. If no type is given, the type will be inferred from the file extension.

See the matrix below for all supported file types.

std::tuple<std::unique_ptr<ManifoldSurfaceMesh>, std::unique_ptr<VertexPositionGeometry>> readManifoldSurfaceMesh(std::istream& in, std::string type)

Same as above, but reads from a general istream object rather than a filename.

When reading from a stream, the type must be specified and cannot be automatically inferred.

Writing meshes

Write a mesh to file, or more generally any std::ostream.

#include "geometrycentral/surface/meshio.h"
using namespace geometrycentral::surface;

// Write a surface mesh
// Recall that ManifoldSurfaceMesh is a subclass of SurfaceMesh, so
// it can be used just the same
std::unique_ptr<SurfaceMesh> mesh;
std::unique_ptr<VertexPositionGeometry> geometry;
writeSurfaceMesh(*mesh, *geometry, "my_mesh.obj"); 
void writeSurfaceMesh(SurfaceMesh& mesh, EmbeddedGeometryInterface& geometry, std::string filename, std::string type = "")

Write a mesh to file.

The type parameter determines the type of file to write. For example, type="obj" will write the target file as a .obj file. If no type is given, the type will be inferred from the file extension.

See the matrix below for all supported file types.

void writeSurfaceMesh(SurfaceMesh& mesh, EmbeddedGeometryInterface& geometry, CornerData<Vector2>& texCoords, std::string filename, std::string type = "")

Write a mesh to file as above, except corner per-corner coordinates are also written, if supported by the file format.

void writeSurfaceMesh(SurfaceMesh& mesh, EmbeddedGeometryInterface& geometry, std::ostream& out, std::string type)

Write a mesh to file as above, to a general std::ostream rather than directly to a named file.

When writing to a stream, the type must be specified and cannot be automatically inferred.

void writeSurfaceMesh(SurfaceMesh& mesh, EmbeddedGeometryInterface& geometry, CornerData<Vector2>& texCoords, std::ostream& out, std::string type)

Write a mesh to file as above, to a general std::ostream and with the specified texture coordinates, if the file format supports it.

When writing to a stream, the type must be specified and cannot be automatically inferred.

Packing scalar data

A handy trick for transferring data between programs (e.g., to create visualizations) is to pack scalar data in to texture coordinates when writing a mesh to file. To make this easier, the helper packToParam() stores data as corner coordinates which can be passed to the writers.

#include "geometrycentral/surface/meshio.h"
using namespace geometrycentral::surface;

std::unique_ptr<SurfaceMesh> mesh; // some mesh
std::unique_ptr<VertexPositionGeometry> geometry; // some geometry
VertexData<double> vals; // some values at vertices

writeSurfaceMesh(*mesh, *geometry, packToParam(*mesh, vals), "my_mesh.obj"); 
CornerData<Vector2> packToParam(SurfaceMesh& mesh, VertexData<double>& vals)

Create a CornerData with the value from vals stored in the first coordinate at each corner. The second coordinate will hold 0s.

CornerData<Vector2> packToParam(SurfaceMesh& mesh, VertexData<double>& valsX, VertexData<double>& valsY)

Create a CornerData with the value from valsX stored in the first coordinate at each corner, and valsY stored in the second coordinate.

Supported file types

key reading writing tex coords notes
obj
ply
off
stl Exactly colocated vertices are automatically merged

Rich Surface Mesh Data

The RichSurfaceMeshData offers advanced IO which interoperates directly with the geometry-central mesh data structures. In particular, it has two useful features:

  • Data stored in MeshData<> containers (VertexData<>, EdgeData<>, etc.) can be automatically written to and read from file
  • The internal representation used by SurfaceMesh is directly written to file, improving performance and supporting meshes which cannot be represented as face index lists.

The written files can hold mesh’s connectivity, associated geometry and/or any number of properties. These files can be used to load/save a whole mesh from file, or to load/save individual properties associated with some existing mesh.

Internally, data is stored as additional custom fields of a .ply file. Here, we’re using the .ply format as a general container for structured data—other software will not automatically understand the additional fields in these files. A benefit of the ply format is that data can be written in both efficient binary or plaintext ascii formats—the default is binary. The RichSurfaceMeshData class is used to read and write these souped-up .ply files, and is distinct from the simple mesh-loading .ply interface above.

#include "geometrycentral/surface/rich_surface_mesh_data.h"

Example: loading and saving data on a surface

#include "geometrycentral/surface/rich_surface_mesh_data.h"
using namespace geometrycentral::surface;

// Open a file and load the mesh therein
std::unique_ptr<SurfaceMesh> mesh;
std::unique_ptr<VertexPositionGeometry> geometry;
std::unique_ptr<RichSurfaceMeshData> richData;
std::tie(mesh, richData) = RichSurfaceMeshData::readMeshAndData("archive.ply"); 
geometry = richData->getGeometry();

// Read a stored value
FaceData<double> faceValues = richData->getFaceProperty<double>("name_a");

// Do some science
CornerData<double> cornerValues = /* something important */
EdgeData<int> edgeValues = /* something else important */

// Add these values to the reader/writer
// Note: alternately you could create a new record like
// RichSurfaceMeshData newData(*mesh);
richData->addCornerProperty("name_b", cornerValues);
richData->addEdgeProperty("name_c", edgeValues);

// Write the data to file
richData->write("new_archive.ply")

Example: saving and loading a surface along with some properties

#include "geometrycentral/surface/rich_surface_mesh_data.h"
using namespace geometrycentral::surface;

// Your existing mesh and data
std::unique_ptr<SurfaceMesh> mesh; // your mesh
std::unique_ptr<VertexPositionGeometry> geometry; // your geometry
EdgeData<double> data; // your data

// Store data
RichSurfaceMeshData richData(*mesh);
richData.addMeshConnectivity();
richData.addGeometry(*geometry);
richData.addEdgeProperty("my prop", data);

// Write to file
richData.write("file.ply");

later, when loading…

// Load the mesh and the data from file
std::unique_ptr<SurfaceMesh> mesh; 
std::unique_ptr<RichSurfaceMeshData> richData;
std::tie(mesh, richData) = RichSurfaceMeshData::readMeshAndData("file.ply");  

std::unique_ptr<VertexPositionGeometry> geometry = richData->getGeometry();

EdgeData<double> data = richData->getEdgeProperty<double>("my prop");

Writing rich data

These methods add properties to the RichSurfaceMeshData object, which will be written when write() is called. The set of scalar types supported is the same as the .ply format, including list types. For instance, a property of type double on vertices could written to a new ply file with.

RichSurfaceMeshData richData(*mesh);
VertexData<double> values = /* incredibly important data */
richData.addVertexProperty("important_values", values);
richData.write("my_file.ply");

The following routines can create the data object and write it to file:

RichSurfaceMeshData::RichSurfaceMeshData(SurfaceMesh& mesh)

Construct a data object from an existing mesh.

void RichSurfaceMeshData::write(std::string filename)

Write the object to file. The binary/ascii writing mode is determined by the RichSurfaceMeshData::outputFormat option.

Note that if this reader/writer was created by loading a file, and is later written using write() all fields from the initial file will be automatically written out.

void RichSurfaceMeshData::write(std::ostream& out)

Write the object to stream. The binary/ascii writing mode is determined by the RichSurfaceMeshData::outputFormat option.

Note that if this reader/writer was created by loading a file, and is later written using write() all fields from the initial file will be automatically written out.

To store the mesh connectivity itself in the file, call addMeshConnectivity()—this is required if you want to load the mesh from the file later. Similarly, the addGeometry() helpers will store geometry as vertex positions or edge lengths.

void RichSurfaceMeshData::addMeshConnectivity()

Store the meshes connectivity in the file.

This routine always stores both the internal SurfaceMesh representation (for use with geometry-central), and a traditional face-index list representation (for use with other software).

void RichSurfaceMeshData::addGeometry(const EmbeddedGeometryInterface& geometry)

Add geometry to the record, which will written as double vertex coordinates properties named “x”, “y”, and “z”.

void RichSurfaceMeshData::addIntrinsicGeometry(const IntrinsicGeometryInterface& geometry)

Add geometry to the record, which will written as a double edge propery called intrinsic_edge_lengths.

General properties can then be written as:

void RichSurfaceMeshData::addVertexProperty<>(std::string name, const VertexData<>& data)

Add a property for writing.

  • name A user-defined name with which the property will be written to file. Must be unique within the file.
  • data The data to be written, such a VertexData<double>.
void RichSurfaceMeshData::addHalfedgeProperty<>(std::string name, const HalfedgeData<>& data)

Add a property for writing.

  • name A user-defined name with which the property will be written to file. Must be unique within the file.
  • data The data to be written, such a HalfedgeData<double>.
void PlyCornerMeshData::addCornerProperty<>(std::string name, const CornerData<>& data)

Add a property for writing.

  • name A user-defined name with which the property will be written to file. Must be unique within the file.
  • data The data to be written, such a CornerData<double>.
void RichSurfaceMeshData::addEdgeProperty<>(std::string name, const EdgeData<>& data)

Add a property for writing.

  • name A user-defined name with which the property will be written to file. Must be unique within the file.
  • data The data to be written, such a EdgeData<double>.
void RichSurfaceMeshData::addFaceProperty<>(std::string name, const FaceData<>& data)

Add a property for writing.

  • name A user-defined name with which the property will be written to file. Must be unique within the file.
  • data The data to be written, such a FaceData<double>.
void RichSurfaceMeshData::addBoundaryLoopProperty<>(std::string name, const BoundaryLoopData<>& data)

Add a property for writing.

  • name A user-defined name with which the property will be written to file. Must be unique within the file.
  • data The data to be written, such a BoundaryLoopData<double>.

Reading rich data

When reading a RichSurfaceMeshData object, you have two options:

Option A Open the object on an existing mesh, like RichSurfaceMeshData(*mesh, "file.ply"). All resulting properties will be defined on this mesh. The existing mesh must be the “same” as the one the file was saved from, with the same number of elements in the same semantic ordering.

RichSurfaceMeshData::RichSurfaceMeshData(SurfaceMesh& mesh, std::string filename)

Open a ply file, and interpret its fields as living on the existing halfedge mesh mesh. Any read properties will be returned in containers defined on mesh.

RichSurfaceMeshData::RichSurfaceMeshData(SurfaceMesh& mesh, std::istream& in)

Same as above, loading from a general istream.

Option B Simultaneously construct a new mesh from the file, and open the file on that mesh, via readMeshAndData(...). The file must have been saved with mesh connectivity included by calling addMeshConnectivity().

static std::tuple<std::unique_ptr<SurfaceMesh>, std::unique_ptr<RichSurfaceMeshData>> RichSurfaceMeshData::readMeshAndData(std::string filename)

Convenience factory function to open a rich .ply file and load the mesh contained within, as well as creating a RichSurfaceMeshData reader/writer to access any other properties stored in the file.

The base class of the created SurfaceMesh will match the mesh from which is was created.

static std::tuple<std::unique_ptr<SurfaceMesh>, std::unique_ptr<RichSurfaceMeshData>> RichSurfaceMeshData::readMeshAndData(std::istream& in)

Same as above, loading from a stream.

static std::tuple<std::unique_ptr<ManifoldSurfaceMesh>, std::unique_ptr<RichSurfaceMeshData>> RichSurfaceMeshData::readManifoldMeshAndData(std::string filename)

Convenience factory function to open a rich .ply file and load the mesh contained within, as well as creating a RichSurfaceMeshData reader/writer to access any other properties stored in the file.

Returns a manifold mesh, erroring out out if the file was not saved from a ManifoldSurfaceMesh.

static std::tuple<std::unique_ptr<ManifoldSurfaceMesh>, std::unique_ptr<RichSurfaceMeshData>> RichSurfaceMeshData::readManifoldMeshAndData(std::istream& in)

Same as above, loading from a stream.

Once the RichSurfaceMeshData has been opened, properties can then be read from the file like getVertexProperty<double>(name), etc. The template argument to this function will likely be necessary to resolve the expected type of the data. For instance, a property of type double on vertices could be accessed with.

RichSurfaceMeshData data(mesh, "my_file.ply");
VertexData<double> values = data.getVertexProperty<double>("important_values");

The automatic type promotion in hapPLY gives some flexibility in specifying the type of the read data— for instance if property "propName" in the example above was stored as a float, it could still be read as a double. See the documentation there for details.

Properties can then be read as:

VertexData<T> RichSurfaceMeshData::getVertexProperty<T>(std::string name)

Read a property from a loaded file.

  • name A user-defined name with which the property will be read from the file. Throws if no such property exists.
  • Return: The requested container.
HalfedgeData<T> RichSurfaceMeshData::getHalfedgeProperty<T>(std::string name)

Read a property from a loaded file.

  • name A user-defined name with which the property will be read from the file. Throws if no such property exists.
  • Return: The requested container.
CornerData<T> PlyCornerMeshData::getCornerProperty<T>(std::string name)

Read a property from a loaded file.

  • name A user-defined name with which the property will be read from the file. Throws if no such property exists.
  • Return: The requested container.
EdgeData<T> RichSurfaceMeshData::getEdgeProperty<T>(std::string name)

Read a property from a loaded file.

  • name A user-defined name with which the property will be read from the file. Throws if no such property exists.
  • Return: The requested container.
FaceData<T> RichSurfaceMeshData::getFaceProperty<T>(std::string name)

Read a property from a loaded file.

  • name A user-defined name with which the property will be read from the file. Throws if no such property exists.
  • Return: The requested container.
BoundaryLoopData<T> RichSurfaceMeshData::getBoundaryLoopProperty<T>(std::string name)

Read a property from a loaded file.

  • name A user-defined name with which the property will be read from the file. Throws if no such property exists.
  • Return: The requested container.
std::unique_ptr<VertexPositionGeometry> RichSurfaceMeshData::getGeometry()

Build a new geometry object from vertex postions stored in a file (by addGeometry()).

std::unique_ptr<EdgeLengthGeometry> RichSurfaceMeshData::getIntrinsicGeometry()

Build a new geometry object from edge lengths stored in a file (by addIntrinsicGeometry()).