C Foreign Function Interface and JIT using Clang/LLVM
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Latest commit b364f04 Feb 9, 2018



DragonFFI is a C Foreign Function Interface (FFI) library written in C++ and based on Clang/LLVM. It allows any language to call C functions throught the provided APIs and bindings.

For now, only python bindings and a C++ API are provided.

Please note that this project is still in alpha stage. Documentation is far from complete and, although many efforts have been put into it, its APIs aren't considered stable yet!

Linux is for now the only supported OS (OSX and Windows are on the way).

Why another FFI?

libffi is a famous library that provides FFI for the C language. cffi are python bindings around this library that also uses pycparser to be able to easily declare interfaces and types.

libffi has the issue that it doesn't support recent calling conventions (for instance the MS x64 ABI under Linux x64 OSes), and every ABI has to be hand written in assembly. Moreover, ABIs can become really complex (especially for instance when structure are passed/returned by values).

cffi has the disadvantage of using a C parser that does not support includes and some function attributes. Thus, using a C library usually means adapting by hand the library's headers, which isn't always easily maintainable.

DragonFFI is based on Clang/LLVM, and thanks to that is able to get around these issues:

  • it uses Clang to parse header files, allowing direct usage of a C library headers without adaptation
  • Clang and LLVM allows on-the-fly compilation of C functions
  • support as many calling conventions and function attributes as Clang/LLVM do

Moreover, in theory, thanks to the LLVM jitter, it would be possible for every language bindings to JIT the glue code needed for every function interface, so that the cost of going from on a language to another could be as small as possible. This is not yet implemented but an idea for future versions!


Python wheels are provided for Linux. Simply use pip to install the pydffi package:

$ pip install pydffi

Compilation from source

This is based on a patched version of LLVM5, which needs to be compiled with RTTI enabled.

LLVM5 compilation

$ cd /path/to/llvm
$ wget http://releases.llvm.org/5.0.1/llvm-5.0.1.src.tar.xz
$ wget http://releases.llvm.org/5.0.1/cfe-5.0.1.src.tar.xz
$ tar xf llvm-5.0.1.src.tar.xz && tar xf cfe-5.0.1.src.tar.xz
$ ln -s cfe-5.0.1.src llvm-5.0.1.src/tools/clang
$ cd llvm-5.0.1.src && patch -p1 </path/to/dragonffi/third-party/cc-llvm.patch
$ cd llvm-5.0.1.src/tools/clang && patch -p1 </path/to/dragonffi/third-party/cc-clang.patch
$ cd build && make

DragonFFI compilation

After compiling LLVM, DragonFFI can be build:

$ cd /path/to/dragonffi
$ mkdir build && cd build && cmake -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=release -DLLVM_CONFIG=/path/to/llvm/build/bin/llvm-config ..
$ cd build && make

Usage examples

Let's compile a C function that performs an addition:

import pydffi

# First, declare an FFI context
F = pydffi.FFI()

# Then, compile a module and get a compilation unit
CU = F.compile("int add(int a, int b) { return a+b; }")

# And call the function
print(int(CU.funcs.add(4, 5)))

The compile API exposes every defined functions . Declared-only functions won't be exposed. cdef can be used for this case, like in this example:

import pydffi

F = pydffi.FFI()
CU = F.cdef("#include <stdio.h>")
CU.funcs.puts("hello world!")

Structures can also be used:

import pydffi

F = pydffi.FFI()
CU = F.compile('''
#include <stdio.h>
struct A {
  int a;
  int b;

void print_struct(struct A a) {
  printf("%d %d\\n", a.a, a.b);
a = CU.types.A(a=1,b=2)

Note that, due to current limitation in the way Clang emits LLVM modules, types that are only defined but not used in any function API wont be exposed (see limitations below).

More advanced usage examples are provided in the examples directory.

Current limitations

Some C features are still not supported by dffi (but will be in future releases):

  • C structures with bitfields
  • functions with variadic arguments
  • functions with the noreturn attribute
  • cdef of types that are not used by any function won't be visible to dffi
  • support for atomic operations

The python bindings also does not support yet:

  • proper int128_t support (need support in pybind11)
  • proper memoryview for multi-dimensional arrays

Do not hesitate to report bugs!



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