Get the newest sample

I want to check the most recent sample of a stream every few seconds. How do I do that?

Because the result of pull_sample() is the next sample in the order provided by the sender, you first need to pull out all samples that have been buffered up in the inlet. You can do this by repeatedly calling pull_sample() with a timeout of 0.0 – once it returns zero, there are no more samples.

To speed this up, you can set a short buffer size when creating the inlet (i.e. set the max_buflen parameter of the stream_inlet() constructor to e.g., one second), so that older samples are automatically discarded when the buffer is full.


What clock does LSL use? / How do I relate LSL’s lsl_local_clock() to my wall clock?

LSL’s lsl_local_clock() function uses std::chrono::steady_clock::now().time_since_epoch(). This returns the number of seconds from an arbitrary starting point. The starting point is platform-dependent – it may be close to UNIX time, or the last reboot – and LSL timestamps cannot be transformed naively to wall clock time without special effort. For more information, see the Time Synchronization under the “Manual Synchronization” section.


What is the latency of LSL? Does the chosen buffer size have anything to do with it?

The latency of LSL is typically under 0.1 milliseconds on a local machine, unless a very large amount of data is transmitted (megabytes per sample). The buffer size does not affect the latency unless you allow data to queue up by not querying it for an extended period of time (or when the network connection is temporarily interrupted). In such a case, the queued-up data will be quickly transmitted in a burst once network connectivity is restored. If you only need a limited backlog of data, you can set a shorter buffer size when creating the inlet.

Multiple data types in a single stream

I want to transmit multiple data types (e.g. floats, ints) at once. What is the best way to do that?

The simplest way is to use a channel format that can hold all numbers that you want to represent and concatenate your data into a vector of that type – the cft_double64 format can store integers up to 53 bit, so it will hold virtually any numeric values that you want to store.

It is also possible to transmit raw structs, but note that this is generally unsafe and non-portable (e.g., different compilers insert varying amount of padding between struct elements; also on platforms with different endianness your data will be garbled). An exception to this is sending numpy structs with explicitely set endianness for all fields.

In principle you can also send multiple streams and use the same time stamp when sending the samples, but that will require some extra complexity at the receiving that is rarely worth the effort.

Stream data from a new hardware device

I want to make an LSL driver for a piece of hardware. What is the fastest way to do that?

If a quick-and-dirty solution is fine, then the best way is to take one of the example programs for your favorite language and extend it as needed.

If you want a graphical user interface and you know C++ and are on Windows, you can copy one of the applications in the LSL distribution and adapt it as needed.

See also: App Development.

Timestamp accuracy

I am making a driver for a piece of hardware and want to make sure that my time stamps are accurate. How to do that?

If your data comes from a separate device your samples will generally be a few milliseconds old. If you know or have measured this delay, you can correct for it by submitting the time stamp as lsl_local_clock() - my_sample_age when pushing a sample.

However, it is strongly recommended to log any constant offset (here: my_sample_age) in the meta-data of the stream, otherwise it can be hard to later reconstruct what value was used, especially if it is occasionally revised.

Aside from a delay, your time stamps will also have a jitter due to OS multi-tasking and buffering).

It is difficult to smooth the jitter in real time correctly without introducing inadvertent clock drift and therefore it is recommended to submit non-smoothed time stamps and leave it to the receiver to smooth them if needed.

In particular, when you analyze the data offline (e.g., in MATLAB or Python), the XDF importer can do a much better job at linearizing the jitter post-hoc.

Using device timestamps

My hardware can produce time stamps of its own. Should I pass them into LSL?

Usually the answer is no – the preferred way is to either leave it to LSL’s push_sample() or push_chunk() functions to time-stamp the data (easiest), or to call the lsl_local_clock() function to read out the LSL clock, and then pass that in, either unmodified or with a constant delay subtracted (if you know the delay of your hardware).

The only exception is if you have multiple pieces of hardware, all of which have access to the same high-precision clock, and you want to use that clock instead of the LSL clock (if the millisecond precision provided by LSL is not enough for your needs, e.g., demanding physics experiments), and you know exactly what you are doing. If you have any doubt on how you would use your own clock to synchronize multiple pieces of hardware after you’ve recorded the data, don’t use them. Note that it will be impossible to synchronize any of the streams using this custom clock with other streams using the LSL clock, and the default settings on the XDF importers will be incorrect. At that point, one has to wonder if LSL is the best choice for this scenario.

High sampling rates

I am transferring data at high sampling rate or bandwidth. What is the most efficient way to do this?

When sending big data, it usually doesn’t matter how you send it (via push_sample() or push_chunk(), since the bottleneck at high bandwidth will typically be the operating system’s network stack.

For small sample sizes (few channels) and high sampling rates, consider pushing the data in chunks to avoid forcing frequent OS calls and network transmission. You can do this by either setting a chunk size when creating the outlet, or by using push_chunk() instead of push_sample(), or by setting the pushthrough flag in push_sample() to false for every sample except the last one in a batch.

Also, if you have a large number of channels (e.g., transferring image data), make sure that the data type that you pass to the push function corresponds to the data type of the stream, otherwise you pay extra for type casting.

When receiving data at very high rate (100KHz+) or bandwidth (20MBps+), it is faster to avoid the pull_chunk() functions and instead use pull_chunk_multiplexed() with a pre-allocated buffer.

Make sure that you use a recent version of liblsl (1.10 or later offers a faster network protocol) at both the sender and the receiver.

If you are writing an application that needs to push a lot of data, please show your interest by commenting on the long-lingering pull request to speed up pushes by reducing the number of data copies.

Chunk sizes

My hardware supports different block/chunk sizes. Which one is best for use with LSL?

The chunk size trades off latency vs. network overhead, so we suggest to allow the user to override the value if desired. A good range for the default value is between 5-30 milliseconds of data (resulting in an average latency that is between 2.5-15 ms and an update rate between 200-30 Hz).

Shorter chunks make sense in very low-latency control settings, though note that chunks that comprise only a few bytes of data waste some network bandwidth due to the fixed Ethernet packet overhead.

Longer chunks can also be used (any duration is permitted, e.g. for sporadic data logging activities), although the longer the chunks are the harder it becomes to perform sample-accurate real-time time-synchronization (specifically, removing the jitter in the chunk time stamps): the longest chunks that can be synchronized in real time would be around 100ms in typical settings.

Multiple streams match a resolve query

I am getting more than one matching stream in my resolve query. What is the best way to handle this?

You either have to rename one of your streams (if the software that provides them allows you to do that), or you can make the query more specific.

For instance, instead of type='EEG' you could use e.g.,

  • name='Cognionics Quick-20' (if that’s the name of the stream),
  • specify the hostname of the computer from which you want to read, as in name='Cognionics Quick-20' and hostname='My-PC001' (assuming that this is your hostname)
  • use more specific queries, e.g. type='EEG' and serial_number='ABCDEF'

You can find out the names of the streams and of the computers that they run on using the LabRecorder (it will list them in the format streamname (hostname) – keep in mind that this is just how the recorder prints it, the (hostname) part is of course not baked into the stream name).

As the developer of the software, a good way is to warn the user that their query was ambiguous (so they can address it), and inform them that you are using the last-created stream that matches the query.

This would be the stream with the highest value for the created_at() property (they come back unordered from the resolve function call).

You could also point them to this FAQ entry on how they can make their query more specific (permalink).


(Also known as: “Which liblsl.so / lsl.dll do I need?)

Liblsl gets compiled to a binary for a specific combination of Operating System / libc (almost almost the same) and processor architecture.

Older liblsl versions (1.13 and older) included the native word size in bits (also called bitness) in the name and a hint which platform the binary is for in the file extension, e.g. liblsl32.dll for a 32-bit windows dll, liblsl64.so for a 64 bit Linux / Android library or liblsl64.dylib for a 64 bit OS X dylib.

Newer versions set the library name to lsl and let the compiler determine how to name the file, i.e. lsl.dll for Windows, liblsl.so for Linux and Android and liblsl.dylib for MacOS / OS X.

The liblsl release page has multiple packages, generally called liblsl-version-system.extension, e.g. liblsl-1.13.1-Linux64-bionic.deb with the 64 bit Ubuntu Linux 18.04 (Codename Bionic Beaver) package or liblsl-1.13.1-Win32.zip with the 32 bit Windows DLLs.

On OS X / Linux you can check what device a binary is compiled for with the file command, e.g.

  • file liblsl64.dll: liblsl64.dll: PE32+ executable (DLL) (console) x86-64, for MS Windows
  • file liblsl64.so: liblsl64.so: ELF 64-bit LSB shared object, x86-64, version 1 (GNU/Linux).
  • file jni/arm64-v8a/liblsl.so: jni/arm64-v8a/liblsl.so: ELF 64-bit LSB shared object, ARM aarch64


Referencing LSL

  • When referencing the LabStreamingLayer project, please cite the GitHub repository (https://github.com/sccn/labstreaminglayer) as a standard APA/MLA type reference for an open source software package.
  • If you wish to lock a specific implementation of your tool to a specific version of liblsl, you may use the Zenodo DOI.

Other LSL Primers

There are many other documents and manuscripts in the wild that describe LSL and its various configurations. You are encouraged to cite these as they are useful to you. A few examples are below: