Skip to main content

Optimizing scripts with asData

The Plutus libraries contain a PlutusTx.asData module that contains Template Haskell (TH) code for encoding algebraic data types (ADTs) as Data objects in Plutus Core, as opposed to sums-of-products terms. In general, asData pushes the burden of a computation nearer to where a value is used, in a crude sense making the evaluation less strict and more lazy. This is intended for expert Plutus developers.


Values stored in datums or redeemers need to be encoded into Data objects. When writing and optimizing a Plutus script, one of the challenges is finding the right approach to handling Data objects and how expensive that method will be. To make an informed decision, you may need to benchmark and profile your smart contract code to measure its actual resource consumption. The primary purpose of asData is to give you more options for how you want to handle Data.

Choice of two approaches

When handling Data objects, you have a choice of two pathways. It is up to you to determine which pathway to use depending on your particular use case. There are trade offs in performance and where errors occur.

Approach one: proactively do all of the parsing

The first approach is to parse the object immediately (using fromBuiltinData) into a native Plutus Core datatype, which will also identify any problems with the structuring of the object. However, this performs all the work up front.

This is the normal style that has been promoted in the past.

Approach two: only do the parsing if and when necessary

In the second approach, the script doesn't do any parsing work immediately, and instead does it later, when it needs to. It might be that this saves you a lot of work, because you may never need to parse the entire object. Instead, the script will just carry the item around as a Data object.

Using this method, every time the script uses the object, it will look at it to find out if it has the right shape. If it does have the right shape, it will deconstruct the Data object and do its processing; if not, it will throw an error. This work may be repeated depending on how your script is written. In some cases, you might do less work, in some cases you might do more work, depending on your specific use case.

The Plutus Tx library provides some helper functions to make this second style easier to do, in the form of the asData function.

Using asData

The asData function takes the definition of a data type and replaces it with an equivalent definition whose representation uses Data directly.

For example, if we wanted to use it on the types from the auction example, we would put the datatype declarations inside a Template Haskell quote and call asData on it.


This is normal Template Haskell that just generates new Haskell source, so you can see the code that it generates with {-# OPTIONS_GHC-ddump-splices #-} but it will look something like this:

[d| data Bid'
= Bid' {bBidder' :: PubKeyHash, bAmount' :: Lovelace}
deriving newtype (Eq, Ord, ToBuitinData, FromBuiltinData, UnsafeFromBuiltinData)
data AuctionRedeemer' = NewBid' Bid | Payout'
deriving newtype (Eq, Ord, ToBuitinData, FromBuiltinData, UnsafeFromBuiltinData) |]


newtype Bid' = Bid'2 BuiltinData
deriving newtype (Eq, Ord, PlutusTx.ToData, FromData, UnsafeFromData)

{-# COMPLETE Bid' #-}
pattern Bid' :: PubKeyHash -> Lovelace -> Bid'
pattern Bid' ...

newtype AuctionRedeemer' = AuctionRedeemer'2 BuiltinData
deriving newtype (Eq, Ord, PlutusTx.ToData, FromData, UnsafeFromData)

{-# COMPLETE NewBid', Payout' #-}
pattern NewBid' :: Bid -> AuctionRedeemer'
pattern NewBid' ...
pattern Payout' :: AuctionRedeemer'
pattern Payout' ...

That is:

  • It creates a newtype wrapper around BuiltinData
  • It creates pattern synonyms corresponding to each of the constructors you wrote

This lets you write code "as if" you were using the original declaration that you wrote, while in fact the pattern synonyms are handling conversion to/from Data for you. But any values of this type actually are represented with Data. That means that when we newtype-derive the instances for converting to and from Data we get the instances for BuiltinData - which are free!

Nested fields

The most important caveat to using asData is that Data objects encoding datatypes must also encode the fields of the datatype as Data. However, asData tries to make the generated code a drop-in replacement for the original code, which means that when using the pattern synonyms they try to give you the fields as they were originally defined, which means not encoded as Data.

For example, in the Bid case above the bAmount field is originally defined to have type Lovelace which is a newtype around a Plutus Core builtin integer. However, since we are using asData, we need to encode the field into Data in order to store it. That means that when you construct a Bid object you must take the Integer that you start with and convert it to Data, and when you pattern match on a Bid object you do the reverse conversion.

These conversions are potentially expensive! If the bAmount field was a complex data structure, then every time we constructed or deconstructed a Bid object we would need to convert that datastructure to or from Data. Whether or not this is a problem depends on the precise situation, but in general:

  • If the field is a builtin integer or bytestring or a wrapper around those, it is probably cheap
  • If the field is a datatype which is itself defined with asData then it is free (since it's already Data)
  • If the field is a complex or large datatype then it is potentially expensive

Therefore asData tends to work best when you use it for a type and also for all the types of its fields.

Choosing an approach

There are a number of tradeoffs to consider:

  1. Plutus Tx's datatypes are faster to work with and easier to optimize than Data, so if the resulting object is going to be processed in its entirety (or have parts of it repeatedly processed) then it can be better to parse it up-front.
  2. If it is important to check that the entire structure is well-formed, then it is better to parse it up-front, since the conversion will check the entire structure for well-formedness immediately, rather than checking only the parts that are used when they are used.
  3. If you do not want to use asData for the types of the fields, then it may be better to not use it at all in order to avoid conversion penalties at the use sites.

Which approach is better is an empirical question and may vary in different cases. A single script may wish to use different approaches in different places. For example, your datum might contain a large state object which is usually only inspected in part (a good candidate for asData), whereas your redeemer might be a small object which is inspected frequently to determine what to do (a good candidate for a native Plutus Tx datatype).