Welcome to The Specs Book, an introduction to ECS and the Specs API. This book is targeted at beginners; guiding you through all the difficulties of setting up, building, and structuring a game with an ECS.

Specs is an ECS library that allows parallel system execution, with both low overhead and high flexibility, different storage types and a type-level system data model. It is mainly used for games and simulations, where it allows to structure code using composition over inheritance.

Additional documentation is available on

There also is a reference-style documentation available here:

You don't yet know what an ECS is all about? The next section is for you! In case you already know what an ECS is, just skip it.

What's an ECS?

The term ECS is a shorthand for Entity-component system. These are the three core concepts. Each entity is associated with some components. Those entities and components are processed by systems. This way, you have your data (components) completely separated from the behaviour (systems). An entity just logically groups components; so a Velocity component can be applied to the Position component of the same entity.

ECS is sometimes seen as a counterpart to Object-Oriented Programming. I wouldn't say that's one hundred percent true, but let me give you some comparisons.

In OOP, your player might look like this (I've used Java for the example):

public class Player extends Character {
    private final Transform transform;
    private final Inventory inventory;

There are several limitations here:

  • There is either no multiple inheritance or it brings other problems with it, like the diamond problem; moreover, you have to think about "is the player a collider or does it have a collider?"
  • You cannot easily extend the player with modding; all the attributes are hardcoded.
  • Imagine you want to add a NPC, which looks like this:
public class Npc extends Character {
    private final Transform transform;
    private final Inventory inventory;
    private final boolean isFriendly;

Now you have stuff duplicated; you would have to write mostly identical code for your player and the NPC, even though e.g. they both share a transform.

Entity-component relationship

This is where ECS comes into play: Components are associated with entities; you can just insert components, whenever you like. One entity may or may not have a certain component. You can see an Entity as an ID into component tables, as illustrated in the diagram below. We could theoretically store all the components together with the entity, but that would be very inefficient; you'll see how these tables work in chapter 5.

This is how an Entity is implemented; it's just

struct Entity(u32, Generation);

where the first field is the id and the second one is the generation, used to check if the entity has been deleted.

Here's another illustration of the relationship between components and entities. Force, Mass and Velocity are all components here.

Component tables

Entity 1 has each of those components, Entity 2 only a Force, etc.

Now we're only missing the last character in ECS - the "S" for System. Whereas components and entities are purely data, systems contain all the logic of your application. A system typically iterates over all entities that fulfill specific constraints, like "has both a force and a mass". Based on this data a system will execute code, e.g. produce a velocity out of the force and the mass. This is the additional advantage I wanted to point out with the Player / Npc example; in an ECS, you can simply add new attributes to entities and that's also how you define behaviour in Specs (this is called data-driven programming).

System flow

By simply adding a force to an entity that has a mass, you can make it move, because a Velocity will be produced for it.

Where to use an ECS?

In case you were looking for a general-purpose library for doing things the data-oriented way, I have to disappoint you; there are none. ECS libraries are best-suited for creating games or simulations, but they do not magically make your code more data-oriented.

Okay, now that you were given a rough overview, let's continue to Chapter 2 where we'll build our first actual application with Specs.