Anatomy of an Archive#

QIIME 2 stores data in a directory structure called an Archive. These archives are zipped to make moving data simple and convenient.

The directory structure has a single root directory named with a UUID which serves as the identity of the archive. Additional files and directories present in the archive are described below.

The Most Important File: metadata.yaml#

In the root of an archive directory, there is a file named metadata.yaml. This file describes the type, the directory format, and repeats the identity of a piece of data.

An example of this file:

uuid: 45c12936-4b60-484d-bbe1-98ff96bad145
type: FeatureTable[Frequency]
format: BIOMV210DirFmt

It is possible for format to be set as null only when type is set as Visualization (representing a Visualization (Type)). This implies that the /data/ directory (described below) does not have a schema.

Data Goes In /data/#

Where data is stored, the payload of an archive, is in an aptly named /data/ subdirectory. The structure of this subdirectory depends on the payload.

If the archive is a visualization, then the payload is a (possibly interactive) visualization, which is implemented as a small static website (with an index.html file and any other assets).

If the archive is an artifact, then the payload is determined by the directory format.

Provenance Goes In /provenance/#

In addition to storing data, QIIME 2 stores metadata including what actions were performed to generate the current Result, what versions of QIIME 2 and other dependencies were used, and what references to cite if the data is used in a publication (for example)

As it relates to the archive structure, the /provenance/ directory is designed to be self-contained and self-referential. This means that it duplicates some of the information available in the root of the archive, but this simplifies the code responsible for tracking and reading provenance.

Fig. 4 illustrates this idea.


Fig. 4 Description of the QIIME 2 archive structure.#

Looking closely we see the previously described /data/ directory and metadata.yaml file, in addition to a VERSION file (described below), and the /provenance/ directory in question.

Following the provenance directory, we see that the provenance structure is repeated within the /provenance/artifacts/ directory. This directory contains the ancestral provenance of all artifacts used up to this point. Because the structure repeats itself, it is possible to create a new provenance directory by simply adding all input artifacts’ /provenance/ directories into a new /provenance/artifacts/ directory. Then the /provenance/artifacts/ directories of the original inputs can be also merged together. Because the directories are named by a UUID, we know the identity of each ancestor, and if seen twice, can simply be ignored. This simplifies the problem of capturing ancestral provenance to one of merging uniquely named file-trees.

Why a ZIP File?#

ZIP files are a ubiquitous and well understood format. There is a huge variety of software available to read and manipulate ZIP files.

The ZIP format additonally enables random access of files within the archive, making it possible to read data without extracting the entire contents of the ZIP file (in contrast to a linear archive like TAR). This is very convenient if you need to, for example, pull a single file out of a large ZIP archive containing many files.


qiime2.core.archive.archiver:_ZipArchive is the structure responsible for managing the contents of a ZIP file (using zipfile:ZipFile).

Rules for identifying an archive#

Every QIIME 2 archive has the following structure:

A root directory which is named a standard representation of a UUID (version 4), and a file within that directory named VERSION.

The UUID is the identity of the archive, while the VERSION file provides enough detail to determine how to parse the rest of the archive’s structure.

Within VERSION the following text will be present:

archive: <integer version>
framework: <version string>

<integer version> is the version that the archive was saved with. This is used to identify the schema of the archive structure, which evolves over time to support new functionality, allowing software to dispatch appropriate parsing logic.

As a historical example, archive version 0 had no /provenance/ directory, as QIIME 2’s provenance tracking hadn’t yet been implemented. The archive version 0 parser therefore doens’t look for the /provenance/ directory. This particular case would be easy enough to check for at runtime, but this versioning scheme allows for more complex differences between archive versions while ensuring that QIIME 2 will always be able to interpret older archives.


These rules are encoded in qiime2.core.archive.archiver:_Archive.

The different versions of QIIME 2 Archive Formats are detailed in Archive versions.