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Script Serialization
Custom serialization
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Built-in serialization

Some of the built-in features of Unity automatically use serialization. These are outlined below.

See the documentation on Script Serialization for further information.

Saving and loading

Unity uses serialization to load and save ScenesA Scene contains the environments and menus of your game. Think of each unique Scene file as a unique level. In each Scene, you place your environments, obstacles, and decorations, essentially designing and building your game in pieces. More info
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, AssetsAny media or data that can be used in your game or project. An asset may come from a file created outside of Unity, such as a 3D model, an audio file or an image. You can also create some asset types in Unity, such as an Animator Controller, an Audio Mixer or a Render Texture. More info
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, and AssetBundles to and from your computer’s hard drive. This includes data saved in your own scripting API objects such as MonoBehaviour components and ScriptableObjects.

This happens in the Editor’s Play Mode and Edit Mode.

Inspector window

When you view or change the value of a GameObject’s component field in the Inspector window, Unity serializes this data and then displays it in the InspectorA Unity window that displays information about the currently selected GameObject, Asset or Project Settings, alowing you to inspect and edit the values. More info
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window. The Inspector window does not communicate with the Unity Scripting API when it displays the values of a field. If you use properties in your script, any of the property getters and setters are never called when you view or change values in the Inspector windows as Unity serializes the Inspector window fields directly.

Reloading scripts in the Unity Editor

When you change and save a script, Unity reloads all the currently loaded script data. It first stores all serializable variables in all loaded scriptsA piece of code that allows you to create your own Components, trigger game events, modify Component properties over time and respond to user input in any way you like. More info
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, and after loading the scripts restores them. All data that is not serializable is lost after the script is reloaded.

This affects all Editor windows, as well as all MonoBehaviours in the project. Unlike other cases of serialization in Unity, private fields are serialized by default when reloading, even if they don’t have the ‘SerializeField’ attribute.

Prefabs

In the context of serialization, a PrefabAn asset type that allows you to store a GameObject complete with components and properties. The prefab acts as a template from which you can create new object instances in the scene. More info
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is the serialized data of one or more GameObjectsThe fundamental object in Unity scenes, which can represent characters, props, scenery, cameras, waypoints, and more. A GameObject’s functionality is defined by the Components attached to it. More info
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and componentsA functional part of a GameObject. A GameObject can contain any number of components. Unity has many built-in components, and you can create your own by writing scripts that inherit from MonoBehaviour. More info
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. A Prefab instance contains a reference to both the Prefab source and a list of modifications to it. The modifications are what Unity needs to do to the Prefab source to create that particular Prefab instance.

The Prefab instance only exists while you edit your project in the Unity Editor. During the project buildThe process of compiling your project into a format that is ready to run on a specific platform or platforms. More info
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, the Unity Editor instantiates a GameObject from its two sets of serialization data: the Prefab source and the Prefab instance’s modifications.

Instantiation

When you call Instantiate on anything that exists in a Scene, such as a Prefab or a GameObjects, Unity serializes it. This happens both at runtime and in the Editor. Everything that derives from UnityEngine.Object can be serialized.

Unity then creates a new GameObject and deserializes the data onto the new GameObject. Next, Unity runs the same serialization code in a different variant to report which other UnityEngine.Objects are being referenced. It checks all referenced UnityEngine.Objects to see if they are part of the data being instantiated. If the reference points to something “external”, such as a Texture, Unity keeps that reference as it is. If the reference points to something “internal”, such as a child GameObject, Unity patches the reference to the corresponding copy.

Unloading unused assets

Resource.GarbageCollectSharedAssets() is the native Unity garbage collector and performs a different function to the standard C# garbage collector. It runs after you load a Scene and checks for objects (like textures) that are no longer referenced and unloads them safely. The native Unity garbage collector runs the serializer in a variation in which objects report all references to external UnityEngine.Objects. This is how Textures that were used by one scene are unloaded in the next.


• 2017–05–15 Page published with editorial review

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Script Serialization
Custom serialization