NEX file format

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The NEX file format was designed as very simple and straightforward format to load self-contained applications into memory and start them.

At this time the official Distro supported version is the V1.2 of the specification.

The official distribution sports some goodies for NEX files:

Additional resources:

The basic structure of the file is:

block size optional description
512 "Next" string followed by file header, containing also map of memory banks stored in the file
512 * optional palette (for Layer2, LoRes or Tilemap screen)
49152 * Layer2 loading screen
6912 * classic ULA loading screen
12288 * LoRes loading screen
12288 * Timex HiRes (512x192) loading screen
12288 * Timex HiCol (8x1) loading screen
81920 * Layer 2 320x256x8 or 640x256x4 loading screen
2048 * Copper code for copper loading-effects
n * 16384 * 16kiB raw memory bank data in predefined order: 5,2,0,1,3,4,6,7,8,9,10,...,111 (particular bank may be omitted completely)
m * Optional binary data appended after "regular" NEX file content - custom format

Structure of the header block:

offset size description
0 4 "Next" string
4 4 string with NEX file version, currently "V1.0", "V1.1", or "V1.2"
8 1 RAM required: 0 = 768k, 1 = 1792k
9 1 Number of 16k Banks to Load: 0-112 (see also the byte array at offset 18, which must yield this count)
10 1 Loading-screen blocks in file (bit-flags):

128 = no palette block, 16 = Hi-Colour, 8 = Hi-Res, 4 = Lo-Res, 2 = ULA, 1 = Layer2

The loader does use common banks to load the graphics into, and show it from, i.e. bank5 for all ULA related modes and banks 9,10 and 11 for Layer2 graphics (loading these banks afterwards as regular bank will thus replace the shown data on screen).

Only Layer2, Tilemap and Lo-Res screens expect the palette block (unless +128 flag set). While one can include multiple screen data in single file (setting up all relevant bits), the recommended/expected usage is to have only one type of screen in NEX file.

11 1 Border Colour: 0-7
12 2 Stack pointer
14 2 Program counter (0 = don't run, just load)
16 2 "Number of extra files" (currently not used by anything/anyone?)
18 112 byte flag (0/1) of 16k banks included in the file - this array is in regular order 0..111, i.e. bank5 in file will set 1 to header byte at offset 18+5 = 23, but the 16kiB of data for bank 5 are first in the file (order of bank data in file is: 5,2,0,1,3,4,6,7,8,9,10,...,111)
130 1 Layer2 "loading bar" 0 = OFF, 1 = ON (works only in combination with Layer2 screen data)
131 1 "Loading bar" colour (0..255) (for 640x256x4 mode the byte defines pixels pair)
132 1 Loading delay per bank (0..255 amount of frames), 0 = no delay
133 1 Start delay (0..255 amount of frames), 0 = no delay
134 1 Preserve current Next-Registers values (0 = reset machine state, 1 = preserve)
135 3 Required core version, three bytes 0..15 "major", 0..15 "minor", 0..255 "subminor" version numbers. (core version is checked only when reported machine-ID is 10 = "Next", on other machine or emulator=8 the latest loaders will skip the check)
138 1 Timex HiRes 512x192 mode colour, encoded as for port 255 = bits 5-3. I.e. values 0, 8, 16, .., 56 (0..7 * 8)

When screens 320x256x8 or 640x256x4 are used, this byte is re-used as palette offset for Layer 2 mode, values 0..15

139 1 Entry bank = bank to be mapped into slot 3 (0xC000..0xFFFF address space), the "Program Counter" (header offset +14) and "File handle address" (header offset +140) are used by NEX loader after the mapping is set (The default ZX128 has bank 0 mapped after reset, which makes zero value nice default).
140 2 File handle address: 0 = NEX file is closed by the loader, 1..0x3FFF values (1 recommended) = NEX loader keeps NEX file open and does pass the file handle in BC register, 0x4000..0xFFFF values (for 0xC000..0xFFFF see also "Entry bank") = NEX loader keeps NEX file open and the file handle is written into memory at the desired address.

Alternative file formats, and possible extensions to this fileformat are noted on the Alternative NEX file formats page, to prevent confusion with supported features in the shipping distribtion and the licensed "Retail SD Card" distribution.