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@settitle libffi
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@include version.texi
This manual is for Libffi, a portable foreign-function interface
Copyright @copyright{} 2008, 2010, 2011 Red Hat, Inc.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document
under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the
Free Software Foundation; either version 2, or (at your option) any
later version. A copy of the license is included in the
section entitled ``GNU General Public License''.
@end quotation
@end copying
@dircategory Development
* libffi: (libffi). Portable foreign-function interface library.
@end direntry
@title Libffi
@vskip 0pt plus 1filll
@end titlepage
@node Top
@top libffi
* Introduction:: What is libffi?
* Using libffi:: How to use libffi.
* Missing Features:: Things libffi can't do.
* Index:: Index.
@end menu
@end ifnottex
@node Introduction
@chapter What is libffi?
Compilers for high level languages generate code that follow certain
conventions. These conventions are necessary, in part, for separate
compilation to work. One such convention is the @dfn{calling
convention}. The calling convention is a set of assumptions made by
the compiler about where function arguments will be found on entry to
a function. A calling convention also specifies where the return
value for a function is found. The calling convention is also
sometimes called the @dfn{ABI} or @dfn{Application Binary Interface}.
@cindex calling convention
@cindex ABI
@cindex Application Binary Interface
Some programs may not know at the time of compilation what arguments
are to be passed to a function. For instance, an interpreter may be
told at run-time about the number and types of arguments used to call
a given function. @samp{Libffi} can be used in such programs to
provide a bridge from the interpreter program to compiled code.
The @samp{libffi} library provides a portable, high level programming
interface to various calling conventions. This allows a programmer to
call any function specified by a call interface description at run
@acronym{FFI} stands for Foreign Function Interface. A foreign
function interface is the popular name for the interface that allows
code written in one language to call code written in another language.
The @samp{libffi} library really only provides the lowest, machine
dependent layer of a fully featured foreign function interface. A
layer must exist above @samp{libffi} that handles type conversions for
values passed between the two languages.
@cindex FFI
@cindex Foreign Function Interface
@node Using libffi
@chapter Using libffi
* The Basics:: The basic libffi API.
* Simple Example:: A simple example.
* Types:: libffi type descriptions.
* Multiple ABIs:: Different passing styles on one platform.
* The Closure API:: Writing a generic function.
* Closure Example:: A closure example.
@end menu
@node The Basics
@section The Basics
@samp{Libffi} assumes that you have a pointer to the function you wish
to call and that you know the number and types of arguments to pass
it, as well as the return type of the function.
The first thing you must do is create an @code{ffi_cif} object that
matches the signature of the function you wish to call. This is a
separate step because it is common to make multiple calls using a
single @code{ffi_cif}. The @dfn{cif} in @code{ffi_cif} stands for
Call InterFace. To prepare a call interface object, use the function
@cindex cif
@findex ffi_prep_cif
@defun ffi_status ffi_prep_cif (ffi_cif *@var{cif}, ffi_abi @var{abi}, unsigned int @var{nargs}, ffi_type *@var{rtype}, ffi_type **@var{argtypes})
This initializes @var{cif} according to the given parameters.
@var{abi} is the ABI to use; normally @code{FFI_DEFAULT_ABI} is what
you want. @ref{Multiple ABIs} for more information.
@var{nargs} is the number of arguments that this function accepts.
@var{rtype} is a pointer to an @code{ffi_type} structure that
describes the return type of the function. @xref{Types}.
@var{argtypes} is a vector of @code{ffi_type} pointers.
@var{argtypes} must have @var{nargs} elements. If @var{nargs} is 0,
this argument is ignored.
@code{ffi_prep_cif} returns a @code{libffi} status code, of type
@code{ffi_status}. This will be either @code{FFI_OK} if everything
worked properly; @code{FFI_BAD_TYPEDEF} if one of the @code{ffi_type}
objects is incorrect; or @code{FFI_BAD_ABI} if the @var{abi} parameter
is invalid.
@end defun
If the function being called is variadic (varargs) then
@code{ffi_prep_cif_var} must be used instead of @code{ffi_prep_cif}.
@findex ffi_prep_cif_var
@defun ffi_status ffi_prep_cif_var (ffi_cif *@var{cif}, ffi_abi var{abi}, unsigned int @var{nfixedargs}, unsigned int var{ntotalargs}, ffi_type *@var{rtype}, ffi_type **@var{argtypes})
This initializes @var{cif} according to the given parameters for
a call to a variadic function. In general it's operation is the
same as for @code{ffi_prep_cif} except that:
@var{nfixedargs} is the number of fixed arguments, prior to any
variadic arguments. It must be greater than zero.
@var{ntotalargs} the total number of arguments, including variadic
and fixed arguments.
Note that, different cif's must be prepped for calls to the same
function when different numbers of arguments are passed.
Also note that a call to @code{ffi_prep_cif_var} with
@var{nfixedargs}=@var{nototalargs} is NOT equivalent to a call to
@end defun
To call a function using an initialized @code{ffi_cif}, use the
@code{ffi_call} function:
@findex ffi_call
@defun void ffi_call (ffi_cif *@var{cif}, void *@var{fn}, void *@var{rvalue}, void **@var{avalues})
This calls the function @var{fn} according to the description given in
@var{cif}. @var{cif} must have already been prepared using
@var{rvalue} is a pointer to a chunk of memory that will hold the
result of the function call. This must be large enough to hold the
result, no smaller than the system register size (generally 32 or 64
bits), and must be suitably aligned; it is the caller's responsibility
to ensure this. If @var{cif} declares that the function returns
@code{void} (using @code{ffi_type_void}), then @var{rvalue} is
@var{avalues} is a vector of @code{void *} pointers that point to the
memory locations holding the argument values for a call. If @var{cif}
declares that the function has no arguments (i.e., @var{nargs} was 0),
then @var{avalues} is ignored. Note that argument values may be
modified by the callee (for instance, structs passed by value); the
burden of copying pass-by-value arguments is placed on the caller.
@end defun
@node Simple Example
@section Simple Example
Here is a trivial example that calls @code{puts} a few times.
#include <stdio.h>
#include <ffi.h>
int main()
ffi_cif cif;
ffi_type *args[1];
void *values[1];
char *s;
ffi_arg rc;
/* Initialize the argument info vectors */
args[0] = &ffi_type_pointer;
values[0] = &s;
/* Initialize the cif */
if (ffi_prep_cif(&cif, FFI_DEFAULT_ABI, 1,
&ffi_type_sint, args) == FFI_OK)
s = "Hello World!";
ffi_call(&cif, puts, &rc, values);
/* rc now holds the result of the call to puts */
/* values holds a pointer to the function's arg, so to
call puts() again all we need to do is change the
value of s */
s = "This is cool!";
ffi_call(&cif, puts, &rc, values);
return 0;
@end example
@node Types
@section Types
* Primitive Types:: Built-in types.
* Structures:: Structure types.
* Type Example:: Structure type example.
* Complex:: Complex types.
* Complex Type Example:: Complex type example.
@end menu
@node Primitive Types
@subsection Primitive Types
@code{Libffi} provides a number of built-in type descriptors that can
be used to describe argument and return types:
@table @code
@item ffi_type_void
@tindex ffi_type_void
The type @code{void}. This cannot be used for argument types, only
for return values.
@item ffi_type_uint8
@tindex ffi_type_uint8
An unsigned, 8-bit integer type.
@item ffi_type_sint8
@tindex ffi_type_sint8
A signed, 8-bit integer type.
@item ffi_type_uint16
@tindex ffi_type_uint16
An unsigned, 16-bit integer type.
@item ffi_type_sint16
@tindex ffi_type_sint16
A signed, 16-bit integer type.
@item ffi_type_uint32
@tindex ffi_type_uint32
An unsigned, 32-bit integer type.
@item ffi_type_sint32
@tindex ffi_type_sint32
A signed, 32-bit integer type.
@item ffi_type_uint64
@tindex ffi_type_uint64
An unsigned, 64-bit integer type.
@item ffi_type_sint64
@tindex ffi_type_sint64
A signed, 64-bit integer type.
@item ffi_type_float
@tindex ffi_type_float
The C @code{float} type.
@item ffi_type_double
@tindex ffi_type_double
The C @code{double} type.
@item ffi_type_uchar
@tindex ffi_type_uchar
The C @code{unsigned char} type.
@item ffi_type_schar
@tindex ffi_type_schar
The C @code{signed char} type. (Note that there is not an exact
equivalent to the C @code{char} type in @code{libffi}; ordinarily you
should either use @code{ffi_type_schar} or @code{ffi_type_uchar}
depending on whether @code{char} is signed.)
@item ffi_type_ushort
@tindex ffi_type_ushort
The C @code{unsigned short} type.
@item ffi_type_sshort
@tindex ffi_type_sshort
The C @code{short} type.
@item ffi_type_uint
@tindex ffi_type_uint
The C @code{unsigned int} type.
@item ffi_type_sint
@tindex ffi_type_sint
The C @code{int} type.
@item ffi_type_ulong
@tindex ffi_type_ulong
The C @code{unsigned long} type.
@item ffi_type_slong
@tindex ffi_type_slong
The C @code{long} type.
@item ffi_type_longdouble
@tindex ffi_type_longdouble
On platforms that have a C @code{long double} type, this is defined.
On other platforms, it is not.
@item ffi_type_pointer
@tindex ffi_type_pointer
A generic @code{void *} pointer. You should use this for all
pointers, regardless of their real type.
@item ffi_type_complex_float
@tindex ffi_type_complex_float
The C @code{_Complex float} type.
@item ffi_type_complex_double
@tindex ffi_type_complex_double
The C @code{_Complex double} type.
@item ffi_type_complex_longdouble
@tindex ffi_type_complex_longdouble
The C @code{_Complex long double} type.
On platforms that have a C @code{long double} type, this is defined.
On other platforms, it is not.
@end table
Each of these is of type @code{ffi_type}, so you must take the address
when passing to @code{ffi_prep_cif}.
@node Structures
@subsection Structures
Although @samp{libffi} has no special support for unions or
bit-fields, it is perfectly happy passing structures back and forth.
You must first describe the structure to @samp{libffi} by creating a
new @code{ffi_type} object for it.
@tindex ffi_type
@deftp {Data type} ffi_type
The @code{ffi_type} has the following members:
@table @code
@item size_t size
This is set by @code{libffi}; you should initialize it to zero.
@item unsigned short alignment
This is set by @code{libffi}; you should initialize it to zero.
@item unsigned short type
For a structure, this should be set to @code{FFI_TYPE_STRUCT}.
@item ffi_type **elements
This is a @samp{NULL}-terminated array of pointers to @code{ffi_type}
objects. There is one element per field of the struct.
@end table
@end deftp
@node Type Example
@subsection Type Example
The following example initializes a @code{ffi_type} object
representing the @code{tm} struct from Linux's @file{time.h}.
Here is how the struct is defined:
struct tm @{
int tm_sec;
int tm_min;
int tm_hour;
int tm_mday;
int tm_mon;
int tm_year;
int tm_wday;
int tm_yday;
int tm_isdst;
/* Those are for future use. */
long int __tm_gmtoff__;
__const char *__tm_zone__;
@end example
Here is the corresponding code to describe this struct to
ffi_type tm_type;
ffi_type *tm_type_elements[12];
int i;
tm_type.size = tm_type.alignment = 0;
tm_type.type = FFI_TYPE_STRUCT;
tm_type.elements = &tm_type_elements;
for (i = 0; i < 9; i++)
tm_type_elements[i] = &ffi_type_sint;
tm_type_elements[9] = &ffi_type_slong;
tm_type_elements[10] = &ffi_type_pointer;
tm_type_elements[11] = NULL;
/* tm_type can now be used to represent tm argument types and
return types for ffi_prep_cif() */
@end example
@node Complex
@subsection Complex Types
@samp{libffi} supports the complex types defined by the C99
standard (@code{_Complex float}, @code{_Complex double} and
@code{_Complex long double} with the built-in type descriptors
@code{ffi_type_complex_float}, @code{ffi_type_complex_double} and
Custom complex types like @code{_Complex int} can also be used.
An @code{ffi_type} object has to be defined to describe the
complex type to @samp{libffi}.
@tindex ffi_type
@deftp {Data type} ffi_type
@table @code
@item size_t size
This must be manually set to the size of the complex type.
@item unsigned short alignment
This must be manually set to the alignment of the complex type.
@item unsigned short type
For a complex type, this must be set to @code{FFI_TYPE_COMPLEX}.
@item ffi_type **elements
This is a @samp{NULL}-terminated array of pointers to
@code{ffi_type} objects. The first element is set to the
@code{ffi_type} of the complex's base type. The second element
must be set to @code{NULL}.
@end table
@end deftp
The section @ref{Complex Type Example} shows a way to determine
the @code{size} and @code{alignment} members in a platform
independent way.
For platforms that have no complex support in @code{libffi} yet,
the functions @code{ffi_prep_cif} and @code{ffi_prep_args} abort
the program if they encounter a complex type.
@node Complex Type Example
@subsection Complex Type Example
This example demonstrates how to use complex types:
#include <stdio.h>
#include <ffi.h>
#include <complex.h>
void complex_fn(_Complex float cf,
_Complex double cd,
_Complex long double cld)
(float)creal (cf), (float)cimag (cf),
(float)creal (cd), (float)cimag (cd),
(float)creal (cld), (float)cimag (cld));
int main()
ffi_cif cif;
ffi_type *args[3];
void *values[3];
_Complex float cf;
_Complex double cd;
_Complex long double cld;
/* Initialize the argument info vectors */
args[0] = &ffi_type_complex_float;
args[1] = &ffi_type_complex_double;
args[2] = &ffi_type_complex_longdouble;
values[0] = &cf;
values[1] = &cd;
values[2] = &cld;
/* Initialize the cif */
if (ffi_prep_cif(&cif, FFI_DEFAULT_ABI, 3,
&ffi_type_void, args) == FFI_OK)
cf = 1.0 + 20.0 * I;
cd = 300.0 + 4000.0 * I;
cld = 50000.0 + 600000.0 * I;
/* Call the function */
ffi_call(&cif, (void (*)(void))complex_fn, 0, values);
return 0;
@end example
This is an example for defining a custom complex type descriptor
for compilers that support them:
* This macro can be used to define new complex type descriptors
* in a platform independent way.
* name: Name of the new descriptor is ffi_type_complex_<name>.
* type: The C base type of the complex type.
#define FFI_COMPLEX_TYPEDEF(name, type, ffitype) \
static ffi_type *ffi_elements_complex_##name [2] = @{ \
(ffi_type *)(&ffitype), NULL \
@}; \
struct struct_align_complex_##name @{ \
char c; \
_Complex type x; \
@}; \
ffi_type ffi_type_complex_##name = @{ \
sizeof(_Complex type), \
offsetof(struct struct_align_complex_##name, x), \
(ffi_type **)ffi_elements_complex_##name \
/* Define new complex type descriptors using the macro: */
/* ffi_type_complex_sint */
FFI_COMPLEX_TYPEDEF(sint, int, ffi_type_sint);
/* ffi_type_complex_uchar */
FFI_COMPLEX_TYPEDEF(uchar, unsigned char, ffi_type_uint8);
@end example
The new type descriptors can then be used like one of the built-in
type descriptors in the previous example.
@node Multiple ABIs
@section Multiple ABIs
A given platform may provide multiple different ABIs at once. For
instance, the x86 platform has both @samp{stdcall} and @samp{fastcall}
@code{libffi} provides some support for this. However, this is
necessarily platform-specific.
@c FIXME: document the platforms
@node The Closure API
@section The Closure API
@code{libffi} also provides a way to write a generic function -- a
function that can accept and decode any combination of arguments.
This can be useful when writing an interpreter, or to provide wrappers
for arbitrary functions.
This facility is called the @dfn{closure API}. Closures are not
supported on all platforms; you can check the @code{FFI_CLOSURES}
define to determine whether they are supported on the current
@cindex closures
@cindex closure API
Because closures work by assembling a tiny function at runtime, they
require special allocation on platforms that have a non-executable
heap. Memory management for closures is handled by a pair of
@findex ffi_closure_alloc
@defun void *ffi_closure_alloc (size_t @var{size}, void **@var{code})
Allocate a chunk of memory holding @var{size} bytes. This returns a
pointer to the writable address, and sets *@var{code} to the
corresponding executable address.
@var{size} should be sufficient to hold a @code{ffi_closure} object.
@end defun
@findex ffi_closure_free
@defun void ffi_closure_free (void *@var{writable})
Free memory allocated using @code{ffi_closure_alloc}. The argument is
the writable address that was returned.
@end defun
Once you have allocated the memory for a closure, you must construct a
@code{ffi_cif} describing the function call. Finally you can prepare
the closure function:
@findex ffi_prep_closure_loc
@defun ffi_status ffi_prep_closure_loc (ffi_closure *@var{closure}, ffi_cif *@var{cif}, void (*@var{fun}) (ffi_cif *@var{cif}, void *@var{ret}, void **@var{args}, void *@var{user_data}), void *@var{user_data}, void *@var{codeloc})
Prepare a closure function.
@var{closure} is the address of a @code{ffi_closure} object; this is
the writable address returned by @code{ffi_closure_alloc}.
@var{cif} is the @code{ffi_cif} describing the function parameters.
@var{user_data} is an arbitrary datum that is passed, uninterpreted,
to your closure function.
@var{codeloc} is the executable address returned by
@var{fun} is the function which will be called when the closure is
invoked. It is called with the arguments:
@table @var
@item cif
The @code{ffi_cif} passed to @code{ffi_prep_closure_loc}.
@item ret
A pointer to the memory used for the function's return value.
@var{fun} must fill this, unless the function is declared as returning
@c FIXME: is this NULL for void-returning functions?
@item args
A vector of pointers to memory holding the arguments to the function.
@item user_data
The same @var{user_data} that was passed to
@end table
@code{ffi_prep_closure_loc} will return @code{FFI_OK} if everything
went ok, and something else on error.
@c FIXME: what?
After calling @code{ffi_prep_closure_loc}, you can cast @var{codeloc}
to the appropriate pointer-to-function type.
@end defun
You may see old code referring to @code{ffi_prep_closure}. This
function is deprecated, as it cannot handle the need for separate
writable and executable addresses.
@node Closure Example
@section Closure Example
A trivial example that creates a new @code{puts} by binding
@code{fputs} with @code{stdout}.
#include <stdio.h>
#include <ffi.h>
/* Acts like puts with the file given at time of enclosure. */
void puts_binding(ffi_cif *cif, void *ret, void* args[],
void *stream)
*(ffi_arg *)ret = fputs(*(char **)args[0], (FILE *)stream);
typedef int (*puts_t)(char *);
int main()
ffi_cif cif;
ffi_type *args[1];
ffi_closure *closure;
void *bound_puts;
int rc;
/* Allocate closure and bound_puts */
closure = ffi_closure_alloc(sizeof(ffi_closure), &bound_puts);
if (closure)
/* Initialize the argument info vectors */
args[0] = &ffi_type_pointer;
/* Initialize the cif */
if (ffi_prep_cif(&cif, FFI_DEFAULT_ABI, 1,
&ffi_type_sint, args) == FFI_OK)
/* Initialize the closure, setting stream to stdout */
if (ffi_prep_closure_loc(closure, &cif, puts_binding,
stdout, bound_puts) == FFI_OK)
rc = ((puts_t)bound_puts)("Hello World!");
/* rc now holds the result of the call to fputs */
/* Deallocate both closure, and bound_puts */
return 0;
@end example
@node Missing Features
@chapter Missing Features
@code{libffi} is missing a few features. We welcome patches to add
support for these.
@itemize @bullet
Variadic closures.
There is no support for bit fields in structures.
The ``raw'' API is undocumented.
@c argument promotion?
@c unions?
@c anything else?
@end itemize
Note that variadic support is very new and tested on a relatively
small number of platforms.
@node Index
@unnumbered Index
@printindex cp