21 SWIG and D

21.1 Introduction

From the D Programming Language web site: D is a systems programming language. Its focus is on combining the power and high performance of C and C++ with the programmer productivity of modern languages like Ruby and Python. [...] The D language is statically typed and compiles directly to machine code. As such, it is not very surprising that D is able to directly interface with C libraries. Why would a SWIG module for D be needed then in the first place?

Well, besides the obvious downside that the C header files have to be manually converted to D modules for this to work, there is one major inconvenience with this approach: D code usually is on a higher abstraction level than C, and many of the features that make D interesting are simply not available when dealing with C libraries, requiring you e.g. to manually convert strings between pointers to \0-terminated char arrays and D char arrays, making the algorithms from the D2 standard library unusable with C arrays and data structures, and so on.

While these issues can be worked around relatively easy by hand-coding a thin wrapper layer around the C library in question, there is another issue where writing wrapper code per hand is not feasible: C++ libraries. D did not support interfacing to C++ in version 1 at all, and even if extern(C++) has been added to D2, the support is still very limited, and a custom wrapper layer is still required in many cases.

To help addressing these issues, the SWIG C# module has been forked to support D. Is has evolved quite a lot since then, but there are still many similarities, so if you do not find what you are looking for on this page, it might be worth having a look at the chapter on C# (and also on Java, since the C# module was in turn forked from it).

21.2 Command line invocation

To activate the D module, pass the -d option to SWIG at the command line. The same standard command line switches as with any other language module are available, plus the following D specific ones:


By default, SWIG generates code for D1/Tango. Use the -d2 flag to target D2/Phobos instead.


By default, SWIG generates two D modules: the proxy module, named like the source module (either specified via the %module directive or via the module command line switch), which contains all the proxy classes, functions, enums, etc., and the intermediary module (named like the proxy module, but suffixed with _im), which contains all the extern(C) function declarations and other private parts only used internally by the proxy module.

If the split proxy mode is enabled by passing this switch at the command line, all proxy classes and enums are emitted to their own D module instead. The main proxy module only contains free functions and constants in this case.

-package <pkg>

By default, the proxy D modules and the intermediary D module are written to the root package. Using this option, you can specify another target package instead.

-wrapperlibrary <wl>

The code SWIG generates to dynamically load the C/C++ wrapper layer looks for a library called $module_wrap by default. With this switch, you can override the name of the file the wrapper code loads at runtime (the lib prefix and the suffix for shared libraries are appended automatically, depending on the OS).

This might especially be useful if you want to invoke SWIG several times on separate modules, but compile the resulting code into a single shared library.

21.3 Typemaps

21.3.1 C# <-> D name comparison

If you already know the SWIG C# module, you might find the following name comparison table useful:

 ctype                  <->  ctype
 imtype                 <->  imtype
 cstype                 <->  dtype
 csin                   <->  din
 csout                  <->  dout
 csdirectorin           <->  ddirectorin
 csdirectorout          <->  ddirectorout
 csinterfaces           <->  dinterfaces
 csinterfaces_derived   <->  dinterfaces_derived
 csbase                 <->  dbase
 csclassmodifiers       <->  dclassmodifiers
 cscode                 <->  dcode
 csimports              <->  dimports
 csbody                 <->  dbody
 csfinalize             <->  ddestructor
 csdestruct             <->  ddispose
 csdestruct_derived     <->  ddispose_derived

21.3.2 ctype, imtype, dtype

Mapping of types between the C/C++ library, the C/C++ library wrapper exposing the C functions, the D wrapper module importing these functions and the D proxy code.

The ctype typemap is used to determine the types to use in the C wrapper functions. The types from the imtype typemap are used in the extern(C) declarations of these functions in the intermediary D module. The dtype typemap contains the D types used in the D proxy module/class.

21.3.3 in, out, directorin, directorout

Used for converting between the types for C/C++ and D when generating the code for the wrapper functions (on the C++ side).

The code from the in typemap is used to convert arguments to the C wrapper function to the type used in the wrapped code (ctype->original C++ type), the out typemap is utilized to convert values from the wrapped code to wrapper function return types (original C++ type->ctype).

The directorin typemap is used to convert parameters to the type used in the D director callback function, its return value is processed by directorout (see below).

21.3.4 din, dout, ddirectorin, ddirectorout

Typemaps for code generation in D proxy and type wrapper classes.

The din typemap is used for converting function parameter types from the type used in the proxy module or class to the type used in the intermediary D module (the $dinput macro is replaced). To inject further parameter processing code before or after the call to the intermediary layer, the pre, post and terminator attributes can be used (please refer to the C# date marshalling example for more information on these).

The dout typemap is used for converting function return values from the return type used in the intermediary D module to the type returned by the proxy function. The $excode special variable in dout typemaps is replaced by the excode typemap attribute code if the method can throw any exceptions from unmanaged code, otherwise by nothing (the $imcall and $owner macros are replaced).

The code from the ddirectorin and ddirectorout typemaps is used for conversion in director callback functions. Arguments are converted to the type used in the proxy class method they are calling by using the code from ddirectorin, the proxy class method return value is converted to the type the C++ code expects via the ddirectorout typemap (the $dcall and $winput macros are replaced).

The full chain of type conversions when a director callback is invoked looks like this:

      type              CPPClass::method(type a)
        ↑                       ↓
   <directorout>          <directorin>
        ↑                       ↓
      ctype             methodCallback(ctype a)           C++
      imtype            methodCallback(imtype a)           D
        ↑                       ↓
  <ddirectorout>          <ddirectorin>
        ↑                       ↓
      dtype             DClass.method(dtype a)

21.3.5 typecheck typemaps

Because, unlike many scripting languages supported by SWIG, D does not need any dynamic dispatch helper to access an overloaded function, the purpose of these is merely to issue a warning for overloaded C++ functions that cannot be overloaded in D (as more than one C++ type maps to a single D type).

21.3.6 Code injection typemaps

These typemaps are used for generating the skeleton of proxy classes for C++ types.

By overriding dbase, dinterfaces or dinterfaces_derived, the inheritance chain of the generated proxy class for a type can be modified. dclassmodifiers allows you to add any custom modifiers around the class keyword.

Using dcode and dimports, you can specify additional D code which will be emitted into the class body respectively the imports section of the D module the class is written to.

dconstructor, ddestructor, ddispose and ddispose_derived are used to generate the class constructor, destructor and dispose() method, respectively. The auxiliary code for handling the pointer to the C++ object is stored in dbody and dbody_derived. You can override them for specific types.

21.3.7 Special variable macros

The standard SWIG special variables are available for use within typemaps as described in the Typemaps documentation, for example $1, $input, $result etc.

When generating D wrappers, a few additional macros are available:

$dclassname (C#: $csclassname)

This special variable works similar to $n_type in that it returns the name of a type - it expands to the D proxy class name of the type being wrapped. If the type does not have an associated proxy class, it expands to the type wrapper class name, for example, SWIGTYPE_p_p_SomeCppClass is generated when wrapping SomeCppClass **.

There are two other variants available, $&dclassname and $*dclassname. The former adds a level of indirection, while the latter removes one. For instance, when wrapping Foo **, $*dclassname would be replaced by the proxy class name corresponding to Foo *.

$dclazzname (C#: $csclazzname)

This special variable expands the fully qualified C++ class into the package name, if used by the nspace feature, and the proxy class name, mangled for use as a function name. For example, Namespace1::Namespace2::Klass is expanded into Namespace1_Namespace2_Klass_.

This special variable might be useful for calling certain functions in the wrapper layer (e.g. upcast wrappers) which are mangled like this.


In code inserted into the generated C/C++ wrapper functions, this variable is replaced by either 0 or nothing at all, depending on whether the function has a return value or not. It can be used to bail out early e.g. in case of errors (return $null;).

$dinput (C#: $csinput)

This variable is used in din typemaps and is replaced by the expression which is to be passed to C/C++.

For example, this input

%typemap(din) SomeClass * "SomeClass.getCPointer($dinput)"

%inline %{
  class SomeClass {};
  void foo(SomeClass *arg);

leads to the following D proxy code being generated:

void foo(SomeClass arg) {
$imcall and $owner (C#: $imcall)

These variables are used in dout typemaps. $imcall contains the call to the intermediary module which provides the value to be used, and $owner signals if the caller is responsible for managing the object lifetime (that is, if the called method is a constructor or has been marked via %newobject).

Consider the following example:

%typemap(dout) SomeClass * {
  return new SomeClass($imcall, $owner);

%inline %{
  class SomeClass;
  SomeClass *foo();

  %newobject bar();
  SomeClass *bar();

The code generated for foo() and bar() looks like this:

SomeClass foo() {
  return new SomeClass(example_im.foo(), false);

SomeClass bar() {
  return new SomeClass(example_im.bar(), true);
$dcall and $winput (C#: $cscall, $iminput)

These variables are used in the director-specific typemaps ddirectorin and ddirectorout. They are more or less the reverse of the $imcall and $dinput macros: $dcall contains the invocation of the D proxy method of which the return value is to be passed back to C++, $winput contains the parameter value from C++.


This variable is used in dout and dconstructor typemaps and is filled with the contents of the excode typemap attribute if an exception could be thrown from the C++ side. See the C# documentation for details.


Currently for internal use only, it contains the D name of the C++ base class (if any) inside proxy classes.


This macro is only valid inside the dconstructor typemap and contains the value of the dconstructor typemap attribute if the currently wrapped class has directors enabled.

This is how the default dconstructor typemap looks like (you usually do not want to specify a custom one):

%typemap(dconstructor, excode=SWIGEXCODE,
         directorconnect="\n  swigDirectorConnect();") SWIGTYPE {
  this($imcall, true);$excode$directorconnect

This macro is used in the dimports typemap if a dependency on another D type generated by SWIG is added by a custom typemap.

Consider the following code snippet:

%typemap(dinterfaces) SomeClass "AnInterface, AnotherInterface";

This causes SWIG to add AnInterface and AnotherInterface to the base class list of SomeClass:

class SomeClass : AnInterface, AnotherInterface {

For this to work, AnInterface and AnotherInterface have to be in scope. If SWIG is not in split proxy mode, this is already the case, but it it is, they have to be added to the import list via the dimports typemap. Additionally, the import statement depends on the package SWIG is configured to emit the modules to.

The $importtype macro helps you to elegantly solve this problem:

%typemap(dimports) RemoteMpe %{

If SWIG is in split proxy mode, it expands to an import statement for the specified type, to nothing if not.


Expands to the name of the main proxy D module.


Contains the fully qualified name of the intermediary D module.

21.4 %features

The D module defines a number of directives which modify the SWIG features set globally or for a specific declaration:

%dmanifestconst and %dconstvalue(value)

Out of the box, SWIG generates accessor methods for C #defines and C++ constants. The %dmanifestconst directive enables wrapping these constants as D manifest constants (const in D1, enum in D2).

For this to work, the C/C++ code for the constant value must directly compile as D code, though. If this is not the case, you can manually override the expression written to the D proxy module using the %dconstvalue directive, passing the new value as parameter.

For enums, again %dconstvalue can be used to override the value of an enum item if the initializer should not compile in D.


This directive can be used to override the modifiers for a proxy function. For instance, you could make a public C++ member function private in D like this:

%dmethodmodifiers A::foo "private";

%inline %{
struct A {
  void foo();

21.5 Pragmas

There are a few SWIG pragmas specific to the D module, which you can use to influence the D code SWIG generates:

%pragma(d) imdmodulecode

The passed text (D code) is copied verbatim to the intermediary D module. For example, it can be (and is, internally) used to emit additional private helper code for the use by proxy typemaps.

%pragma(d) imdmoduleimports

Additional code to be emitted to the imports section of the intermediary D module (the $importtype macro can be used here). You probably want to use this in conjunction with the imdmodulecode pragma.

%pragma(d) proxydmodulecode

Just like proxydmodulecode, the argument is copied to the proxy D module (if SWIG is in split proxy mode and/or the nspace feature is used, it is emitted to the main proxy D module only).

%pragma(d) globalproxyimports

The D module currently does not support specifying dependencies on external modules (e.g. from the standard library) for the D typemaps. To add the import statements to the proxy modules (resp. to all proxy modules if in split proxy mode), you can use the globalproxyimports directive.

For example:

%typemap(din) char[] "($dinput ? tango.stdc.stringz.toStringz($dinput) : null)"
%pragma(d) globalproxyimports = "static import tango.stdc.stringz;";
%pragma(d) wrapperloadercode

The D code for loading the wrapper library (it is copied to the intermediary D module). The $wrapperloaderbindcode variable is replaced by the list of commands for binding the functions from the wrapper library to the symbols in the intermediary D module.

Each time this pragma is specified, the previous value is overwritten.

%pragma(d) wrapperloaderbindcommand

The D command to use for binding the wrapper functions from the C/C++ library to the symbols in the intermediary D module. The $function variable contains the name of the D function in the wrap module, the $symbol variable is replaced by the name of the symbol in the library.

Each time this pragma is specified, the previous value is overwritten.

21.6 D Exceptions

Out of the box, C++ exceptions are fundamentally incompatible to their equivalent in the D world and cannot simply be propagated to a calling D method. There is, however, an easy way to solve this problem: Just catch the exception in the C/C++ wrapper layer, pass the contents to D, and make the wrapper code rethrow the exception in the D world.

The implementation details of this are a bit crude, but the SWIG D module automatically takes care of this, as long as it is able to detect that an exception could potentially be thrown (e.g. because the C++ method has a throw(...) exception specification).

As this feature is implemented in exactly the same way it is for C#, please see the C# documentation for a more detailed explanation.

21.7 D Directors

When the directors feature is activated, SWIG generates extra code on both the C++ and the D side to enable cross-language polymorphism. Essentially, this means that if you subclass a proxy class in D, C++ code can access any overridden virtual methods just as if you created a derived class in C++.

There is no D specific documentation yet, but the way the feature is implemented is very similar to how it is done in Java and C#.

21.8 Other features

21.8.1 Extended namespace support (nspace)

By default, SWIG flattens all C++ namespaces into a single target language namespace, but as for Java and C#, the nspace feature is supported for D. If it is active, C++ namespaces are mapped to D packages/modules. Note, however, that like for the other languages, free variables and functions are not supported yet; currently, they are all allows written to the main proxy D module.

21.8.2 Native pointer support

Contrary to many of the scripting languages supported by SWIG, D fully supports C-style pointers. The D module thus includes a custom mechanism to wrap C pointers directly as D pointers where applicable, that is, if the type that is pointed to is represented the same in C and D (on the bit-level), dubbed a primitive type below.

Central to this custom pointer handling scheme are two typemap attributes: the cprimitive attribute on the dtype typemap and the nativepointer attribute on all the typemaps which influence the D side of the code (dtype, din, dout, ...). When a D typemap is looked up, the following happens behind the scenes:

First, the matching typemap is determined by the usual typemap lookup rules. Then, it is checked if the result has the nativepointer attribute set. If it is present, it means that its value should replace the typemap value if and only if the actual type the typemap is looked up for is a primitive type, a pointer to a primitive type (through an arbitrary level of indirections), or a function pointer with only primitive types in its signature.

To determine if a type should be considered primitive, the cprimitive attribute on its dtype attribute is used. For example, the dtype typemap for float has cprimitive="1", so the code from the nativepointer attribute is taken into account e.g. for float ** or the function pointer float (*)(float *).

21.8.3 Operator overloading

The D module comes with basic operator overloading support for both D1 and D2. There are, however, a few limitations arising from conceptual differences between C++ and D:

The first key difference is that C++ supports free functions as operators (along with argument-dependent lookup), while D requires operators to be member functions of the class they are operating on. SWIG can only automatically generate wrapping code for member function operators; if you want to use operators defined as free functions in D, you need to handle them manually.

Another set of differences between C++ and D concerns individual operators. For example, there are quite a few operators which are overloadable in C++, but not in D, for example && and ||, but also !, and prefix increment/decrement operators in D1 resp. their postfix pendants in D2.

There are also some cases where the operators can be translated to D, but the differences in the implementation details are big enough that a rather involved scheme would be required for automatic wrapping them, which has not been implemented yet. This affects, for example, the array subscript operator, [], in combination with assignments - while operator [] in C++ simply returns a reference which is then written to, D resorts to a separate opIndexAssign method -, or implicit casting (which was introduced in D2 via alias this). Despite the lack of automatic support, manually handling these cases should be perfectly possible.

21.8.4 Running the test-suite

As with any other language, the SWIG test-suite can be built for D using the *-d-test-suite targets of the top-level Makefile. By default, D1 is targeted, to build it with D2, use the optional D_VERSION variable, e.g. make check-d-test-suite D_VERSION=2.

Note: If you want to use GDC on Linux or another platform which requires you to link libdl for dynamically loading the shared library, you might have to add -ldl manually to the d_compile target in Examples/Makefile, because GDC does not currently honor the pragma(lib,...) statement.

21.9 D Typemap examples

There are no D-specific typemap examples yet. However, with the above name comparison table, you should be able to get an idea what can be done by looking at the corresponding C# section.

21.10 Work in progress and planned features

There are a couple of features which are not implemented yet, but would be very useful and might be added in the near future:

Some generated code might also be a bit rough around the edges, particularly in the following areas: