In photon-counting-based single-molecule fluorescence experiments, data is stored in a variety of vendor-specific or even setup-specific (custom) file formats, making data interchange prohibitively laborious, unless the same hardware-software combination is used. Moreover, the number of available techniques and setup configurations make it difficult to find a common standard.
To address this problem, we developed Photon-HDF5 (www.photon-hdf5.org), an open data format for timestamp-based single-molecule fluorescence experiments. Building on the solid foundation of HDF5, Photon- HDF5 provides a platform- and language-independent, easy-to-use file format that is self-describing and supports rich metadata. Photon-HDF5 supports different types of measurements by separating raw data (e.g. photon-timestamps, detectors, etc) from measurement metadata. This approach allows representing several measurement types and setup configurations within the same core structure and makes possible extending the format in backward-compatible way.
Complementing the format specifications, we provide open source software to create and convert Photon- HDF5 files, together with code examples in multiple languages showing how to read Photon-HDF5 files. Photon- HDF5 allows sharing data in a format suitable for long term archival, avoiding the effort to document custom binary formats and increasing interoperability with different analysis software. We encourage participation of the single-molecule community to extend interoperability and to help defining future versions of Photon-HDF5.