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Storage and Metadata


In this chapter, you will learn how you can store data.


What is Metadata?

In Minetest, Metadata is a key-value store used to attach custom data to something. You can use metadata to store information against a Node, Player, or ItemStack.

Each type of metadata uses the exact same API. Metadata stores values as strings, but there are a number of methods to convert and store other primitive types.

Some keys in metadata may have special meaning. For example, infotext in node metadata is used to store the tooltip which shows when hovering over the node using the crosshair. To avoid conflicts with other mods, you should use the standard namespace convention for keys: modname:keyname. The exception is for conventional data such as the owner name which is stored as owner.

Metadata is data about data. The data itself, such as a node’s type or an stack’s count, is not metadata.

Obtaining a Metadata Object

If you know the position of a node, you can retrieve its metadata:

local meta = minetest.get_meta({ x = 1, y = 2, z = 3 })

Player and ItemStack metadata are obtained using get_meta():

local pmeta = player:get_meta()
local imeta = stack:get_meta()

Reading and Writing

In most cases, get_<type>() and set_<type>() methods will be used to read and write to meta. Metadata stores strings, so the string methods will directly set and get the value.

print(meta:get_string("foo")) --> ""
meta:set_string("foo", "bar")
print(meta:get_string("foo")) --> "bar"

All of the typed getters will return a neutral default value if the key doesn’t exist, such as "" or 0. You can use get() to return a string or nil.

As Metadata is a reference, any changes will be updated to the source automatically. ItemStacks aren’t references however, so you’ll need to update the itemstack in the inventory.

The non-typed getters and setters will convert to and from strings:

print(meta:get_int("count"))    --> 0
meta:set_int("count", 3)
print(meta:get_int("count"))    --> 3
print(meta:get_string("count")) --> "3"

Special Keys

infotext is used in Node Metadata to show a tooltip when hovering the crosshair over a node. This is useful when showing the ownership or status of a node.

description is used in ItemStack Metadata to override the description when hovering over the stack in an inventory. You can use colours by encoding them with minetest.colorize().

owner is a common key used to store the username of the player that owns the item or node.

Storing Tables

Tables must be converted to strings before they can be stored. Minetest offers two formats for doing this: Lua and JSON.

The Lua method tends to be a lot faster and matches the format Lua uses for tables, while JSON is a more standard format, is better structured, and is well suited for when you need to exchange information with another program.

local data = { username = "player1", score = 1234 }
meta:set_string("foo", minetest.serialize(data))

data = minetest.deserialize(minetest:get_string("foo"))

Private Metadata

By default, all node metadata is sent to the client. You can mark keys as private to prevent this.

meta:set_string("secret", "asd34dn")

Lua Tables

You can convert to and from Lua tables using to_table and from_table:

local tmp = meta:to_table() = "bar"

Mod Storage

Mod storage uses the exact same API as Metadata, although it’s not technically Metadata. Mod storage is per-mod, and can only be obtained during load time in order to know which mod is requesting it.

local storage = minetest.get_mod_storage()

You can now manipulate the storage just like metadata:

storage:set_string("foo", "bar")


If the mod is likely to be used on a server and will store lots of data, it’s a good idea to offer a database storage method. You should make this optional by separating how the data is stored and where it is used.

local backend
if use_database then
    backend =
        dofile(minetest.get_modpath("mymod") .. "/backend_sqlite.lua")
    backend =
        dofile(minetest.get_modpath("mymod") .. "/backend_storage.lua")

backend.set_foo("a", { score = 3 })

The backend_storage.lua file should include a mod storage implementation:

local storage = minetest.get_mod_storage()
local backend = {}

function backend.set_foo(key, value)
    storage:set_string(key, minetest.serialize(value))

function backend.get_foo(key)
    return minetest.deserialize(storage:get_string(key))

return backend

The backend_sqlite would do a similar thing, but use the Lua lsqlite3 library instead of mod storage.

Using a database such as SQLite requires using an insecure environment. An insecure environment is a table that is only available to mods explicitly whitelisted by the user, and it contains a less restricted copy of the Lua API which could be abused if available to malicious mods. Insecure environments will be covered in more detail in the Security chapter.

local ie = minetest.request_insecure_environment()
assert(ie, "Please add mymod to secure.trusted_mods in the settings")

local _sql = ie.require("lsqlite3")
-- Prevent other mods from using the global sqlite3 library
if sqlite3 then
    sqlite3 = nil

Teaching about SQL or how to use the lsqlite3 library is out of scope for this book.

Deciding Which to Use

The type of method you use depends on what the data is about, how it is formatted, and how large it is. As a guideline, small data is up to 10K, medium data is up to 10MB, and large data is any size above that.

Node metadata is a good choice when you need to store node-related data. Storing medium data is fairly efficient if you make it private.

Item metadata should not be used to store anything but small amounts of data as it is not possible to avoid sending it to the client. The data will also be copied every time the stack is moved, or accessed from Lua.

Mod storage is good for medium data but writing large data may be inefficient. It’s better to use a database for large data to avoid having to write all the data out on every save.

Databases are only viable for servers due to the need to whitelist the mod to access an insecure environment. They’re well suited for large data sets.

Your Turn

  • Make a node which disappears after it has been punched five times. (Use on_punch in the node definition and minetest.set_node.)