33 SWIG and Perl5

Caution: This chapter is under repair!

This chapter describes SWIG's support of Perl5. Although the Perl5 module is one of the earliest SWIG modules, it has continued to evolve and has been improved greatly with the help of SWIG users. For the best results, it is recommended that SWIG be used with Perl 5.8 or later. We're no longer testing regularly with older versions, but Perl 5.6 seems to mostly work, while older versions don't.

33.1 Overview

To build Perl extension modules, SWIG uses a layered approach. At the lowest level, simple procedural wrappers are generated for functions, classes, methods, and other declarations in the input file. Then, for structures and classes, an optional collection of Perl proxy classes can be generated in order to provide a more natural object oriented Perl interface. These proxy classes simply build upon the low-level interface.

In describing the Perl interface, this chapter begins by covering the essentials. First, the problem of configuration, compiling, and installing Perl modules is discussed. Next, the low-level procedural interface is presented. Finally, proxy classes are described. Advanced customization features, typemaps, and other options are found near the end of the chapter.

33.2 Preliminaries

To build a Perl5 module, run SWIG using the -perl option as follows:

swig -perl example.i

This produces two files. The first file, example_wrap.c contains all of the C code needed to build a Perl5 module. The second file, example.pm contains supporting Perl code needed to properly load the module.

To build the module, you will need to compile the file example_wrap.c and link it with the rest of your program.

33.2.1 Getting the right header files

In order to compile, SWIG extensions need the following Perl5 header files:

#include "Extern.h"
#include "perl.h"
#include "XSUB.h"

These are typically located in a directory like this


The SWIG configuration script automatically tries to locate this directory so that it can compile examples. However, if you need to find out where the directory is located, an easy way to find out is to ask Perl itself:

$ perl -e 'use Config; print "$Config{archlib}\n";'

33.2.2 Compiling a dynamic module

The preferred approach to building an extension module is to compile it into a shared object file or DLL. Assuming you have code you need to link to in a file called example.c, you will need to compile your program using commands like this (shown for Linux):

$ swig -perl example.i
$ gcc -fPIC example.c
$ gcc -fPIC -c example_wrap.c -I/usr/lib/perl/5.14/CORE -Dbool=char
$ gcc -shared example.o example_wrap.o -o example.so

The exact compiler options vary from platform to platform. SWIG tries to guess the right options when it is installed. Therefore, you may want to start with one of the examples in the SWIG/Examples/perl5 directory. If that doesn't work, you will need to read the man-pages for your compiler and linker to get the right set of options. You might also check the SWIG Wiki for additional information.

When linking the module, the name of the shared object file must match the module name used in the SWIG interface file. If you used `%module example', then the target should be named `example.so', `example.sl', or the appropriate dynamic module name on your system.

33.2.3 Building a dynamic module with MakeMaker

It is also possible to use Perl to build dynamically loadable modules for you using the MakeMaker utility. To do this, write a Perl script such as the following:

# File : Makefile.PL
use ExtUtils::MakeMaker;
        `NAME'    => `example',                  # Name of package
        `LIBS'    => [`-lm'],                    # Name of custom libraries
        `OBJECT'  => `example.o example_wrap.o'  # Object files

Now, to build a module, simply follow these steps:

$ perl Makefile.PL
$ make
$ make install

If you are planning to distribute a SWIG-generated module, this is the preferred approach to compilation. More information about MakeMaker can be found in "Programming Perl, 2nd ed." by Larry Wall, Tom Christiansen, and Randal Schwartz.

33.2.4 Building a static version of Perl

If you machine does not support dynamic loading or if you've tried to use it without success, you can build a new version of the Perl interpreter with your SWIG extensions added to it. To build a static extension, you first need to invoke SWIG as follows:

$ swig -perl -static example.i

By default SWIG includes code for dynamic loading, but the -static option takes it out.

Next, you will need to supply a main() function that initializes your extension and starts the Perl interpreter. While, this may sound daunting, SWIG can do this for you automatically as follows:

%module example

%inline %{
extern double My_variable;
extern int fact(int);

// Include code for rebuilding Perl
%include <perlmain.i>

The same thing can be accomplished by running SWIG as follows:

$ swig -perl -static -lperlmain.i example.i

The perlmain.i file inserts Perl's main() function into the wrapper code and automatically initializes the SWIG generated module. If you just want to make a quick a dirty module, this may be the easiest way. By default, the perlmain.i code does not initialize any other Perl extensions. If you need to use other packages, you will need to modify it appropriately. You can do this by just copying perlmain.i out of the SWIG library, placing it in your own directory, and modifying it to suit your purposes.

To build your new Perl executable, follow the exact same procedure as for a dynamic module, but change the link line to something like this:

$ gcc example.o example_wrap.o -L/usr/lib/perl/5.14/CORE \
        -lperl -lsocket -lnsl -lm -o myperl

This will produce a new version of Perl called myperl. It should be functionality identical to Perl with your C/C++ extension added to it. Depending on your machine, you may need to link with additional libraries such as -lsocket, -lnsl, -ldl, etc.

33.2.5 Using the module

To use the module, simply use the Perl use statement. If all goes well, you will be able to do this:

$ perl
use example;
print example::fact(4), "\n";

A common error received by first-time users is the following:

use example;
Can't locate example.pm in @INC (@INC contains: /etc/perl /usr/local/lib/perl/5.14.2 /usr/local/share/perl/5.14.2 /usr/lib/perl5 /usr/share/perl5 /usr/lib/perl/5.14 /usr/share/perl/5.14 /usr/local/lib/site_perl .) at - line 1.
BEGIN failed--compilation aborted at - line 1.

This error is almost caused when the name of the shared object file you created doesn't match the module name you specified with the %module directive.

A somewhat related, but slightly different error is this:

use example;
Can't find 'boot_example' symbol in ./example.so
 at - line 1
BEGIN failed--compilation aborted at - line 1.

This error is generated because Perl can't locate the module bootstrap function in the SWIG extension module. This could be caused by a mismatch between the module name and the shared library name. However, another possible cause is forgetting to link the SWIG-generated wrapper code with the rest of your application when you linked the extension module.

Another common error is the following:

use example;
Can't load './example.so' for module example: ./example.so: 
undefined symbol: Foo at /usr/lib/perl/5.14/i386-linux/DynaLoader.pm line 169.

 at - line 1
BEGIN failed--compilation aborted at - line 1.

This error usually indicates that you forgot to include some object files or libraries in the linking of the shared library file. Make sure you compile both the SWIG wrapper file and your original program into a shared library file. Make sure you pass all of the required libraries to the linker.

Sometimes unresolved symbols occur because a wrapper has been created for a function that doesn't actually exist in a library. This usually occurs when a header file includes a declaration for a function that was never actually implemented or it was removed from a library without updating the header file. To fix this, you can either edit the SWIG input file to remove the offending declaration or you can use the %ignore directive to ignore the declaration. Better yet, update the header file so that it doesn't have an undefined declaration.

Finally, suppose that your extension module is linked with another library like this:

$ gcc -shared example.o example_wrap.o -L/home/beazley/projects/lib -lfoo \
      -o example.so

If the foo library is compiled as a shared library, you might get the following error when you try to use your module:

use example;
Can't load './example.so' for module example: libfoo.so: cannot open shared object file: 
No such file or directory at /usr/lib/perl/5.14/i386-linux/DynaLoader.pm line 169.

 at - line 1
BEGIN failed--compilation aborted at - line 1.

This error is generated because the dynamic linker can't locate the libfoo.so library. When shared libraries are loaded, the system normally only checks a few standard locations such as /usr/lib and /usr/local/lib. To get the loader to look in other locations, there are several things you can do. First, you can recompile your extension module with extra path information. For example, on Linux you can do this:

$ gcc -shared example.o example_wrap.o -L/home/beazley/projects/lib -lfoo \
      -Xlinker -rpath /home/beazley/projects/lib \
      -o example.so

Alternatively, you can set the LD_LIBRARY_PATH environment variable to include the directory with your shared libraries. If setting LD_LIBRARY_PATH, be aware that setting this variable can introduce a noticeable performance impact on all other applications that you run. To set it only for Perl, you might want to do this instead:

$ env LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/home/beazley/projects/lib perl

Finally, you can use a command such as ldconfig (Linux) or crle (Solaris) to add additional search paths to the default system configuration (this requires root access and you will need to read the man pages).

33.2.6 Compilation problems and compiling with C++

Compilation of C++ extensions has traditionally been a tricky problem. Since the Perl interpreter is written in C, you need to take steps to make sure C++ is properly initialized and that modules are compiled correctly.

On most machines, C++ extension modules should be linked using the C++ compiler. For example:

$ swig -c++ -perl example.i
$ g++ -fPIC -c example.cxx
$ g++ -fPIC -c example_wrap.cxx -I/usr/lib/perl/5.14/i386-linux/CORE
$ g++ -shared example.o example_wrap.o -o example.so

In addition to this, you may need to include additional library files to make it work. For example, if you are using the Sun C++ compiler on Solaris, you often need to add an extra library -lCrun like this:

$ swig -c++ -perl example.i
$ CC -Kpic -c example.cxx
$ CC -Kpic -c example_wrap.cxx -I/usr/lib/perl/5.14/i386-linux/CORE
$ CC -shared example.o example_wrap.o -o example.so -lCrun

Of course, the names of the extra libraries are completely non-portable---you will probably need to do some experimentation.

Another possible compile problem comes from recent versions of Perl (5.8.0) and the GNU tools. If you see errors having to do with _crypt_struct, that means _GNU_SOURCE is not defined and it needs to be. So you should compile the wrapper like:

$ g++ -fPIC -c example_wrap.cxx -I/usr/lib/perl/5.8.0/CORE -D_GNU_SOURCE

-D_GNU_SOURCE is also included in the Perl ccflags, which can be found by running

$ perl -e 'use Config; print "$Config{ccflags}\n";'

So you could also compile the wrapper like

$ g++ -fPIC -c example_wrap.cxx -I/usr/lib/perl/5.8.0/CORE \
`perl -MConfig -e 'print $Config{ccflags}'`

Sometimes people have suggested that it is necessary to relink the Perl interpreter using the C++ compiler to make C++ extension modules work. In the experience of this author, this has never actually appeared to be necessary on most platforms. Relinking the interpreter with C++ really only includes the special run-time libraries described above---as long as you link your extension modules with these libraries, it should not be necessary to rebuild Perl.

If you aren't entirely sure about the linking of a C++ extension, you might look at an existing C++ program. On many Unix machines, the ldd command will list library dependencies. This should give you some clues about what you might have to include when you link your extension module. For example, notice the first line of output here:

$ ldd swig
        libstdc++-libc6.1-1.so.2 => /usr/lib/libstdc++-libc6.1-1.so.2 (0x40019000)
        libm.so.6 => /lib/libm.so.6 (0x4005b000)
        libc.so.6 => /lib/libc.so.6 (0x40077000)
        /lib/ld-linux.so.2 => /lib/ld-linux.so.2 (0x40000000)

If linking wasn't enough of a problem, another major complication of C++ is that it does not define any sort of standard for binary linking of libraries. This means that C++ code compiled by different compilers will not link together properly as libraries nor is the memory layout of classes and data structures implemented in any kind of portable manner. In a monolithic C++ program, this problem may be unnoticed. However, in Perl, it is possible for different extension modules to be compiled with different C++ compilers. As long as these modules are self-contained, this probably won't matter. However, if these modules start sharing data, you will need to take steps to avoid segmentation faults and other erratic program behavior. Also, be aware that certain C++ features, especially RTTI, can behave strangely when working with multiple modules.

It should be noted that you may get a lot of error messages about the 'bool' datatype when compiling a C++ Perl module. If you experience this problem, you can try the following:

Finally, recent versions of Perl (5.8.0) have namespace conflict problems. Perl defines a bunch of short macros to make the Perl API function names shorter. For example, in /usr/lib/perl/5.8.0/CORE/embed.h there is a line:

#define do_open Perl_do_open

The problem is, in the <iostream> header from GNU libstdc++v3 there is a private function named do_open. If <iostream> is included after the perl headers, then the Perl macro causes the iostream do_open to be renamed, which causes compile errors. Hopefully in the future Perl will support a PERL_NO_SHORT_NAMES flag, but for now the only solution is to undef the macros that conflict. Lib/perl5/noembed.h in the SWIG source has a list of macros that are known to conflict with either standard headers or other headers. But if you get macro type conflicts from other macros not included in Lib/perl5/noembed.h while compiling the wrapper, you will have to find the macro that conflicts and add an #undef into the .i file. Please report any conflicting macros you find to swig-user mailing list.

33.2.7 Compiling for 64-bit platforms

On platforms that support 64-bit applications (Solaris, Irix, etc.), special care is required when building extension modules. On these machines, 64-bit applications are compiled and linked using a different set of compiler/linker options. In addition, it is not generally possible to mix 32-bit and 64-bit code together in the same application.

To utilize 64-bits, the Perl executable will need to be recompiled as a 64-bit application. In addition, all libraries, wrapper code, and every other part of your application will need to be compiled for 64-bits. If you plan to use other third-party extension modules, they will also have to be recompiled as 64-bit extensions.

If you are wrapping commercial software for which you have no source code, you will be forced to use the same linking standard as used by that software. This may prevent the use of 64-bit extensions. It may also introduce problems on platforms that support more than one linking standard (e.g., -o32 and -n32 on Irix).

33.3 Building Perl Extensions under Windows

Building a SWIG extension to Perl under Windows is roughly similar to the process used with Unix. Normally, you will want to produce a DLL that can be loaded into the Perl interpreter. This section assumes you are using SWIG with Microsoft Visual C++ although the procedure may be similar with other compilers.

33.3.1 Running SWIG from Developer Studio

If you are developing your application within Microsoft developer studio, SWIG can be invoked as a custom build option. The process roughly requires these steps:

Now, assuming you made it this far, SWIG will be automatically invoked when you build your project. Any changes made to the interface file will result in SWIG being automatically invoked to produce a new version of the wrapper file. To run your new Perl extension, simply run Perl and use the use command as normal. For example:

DOS > perl
use example;
$a = example::fact(4);
print "$a\n";

33.3.2 Using other compilers

SWIG is known to work with Cygwin and may work with other compilers on Windows. For general hints and suggestions refer to the Windows chapter.

33.4 The low-level interface

At its core, the Perl module uses a simple low-level interface to C function, variables, constants, and classes. This low-level interface can be used to control your application. However, it is also used to construct more user-friendly proxy classes as described in the next section.

33.4.1 Functions

C functions are converted into new Perl built-in commands (or subroutines). For example:

%module example
int fact(int a);

Now, in Perl:

use example;
$a = &example::fact(2);

33.4.2 Global variables

Global variables are handled using Perl's magic variable mechanism. SWIG generates a pair of functions that intercept read/write operations and attaches them to a Perl variable with the same name as the C global variable. Thus, an interface like this

%module example;
double Spam;

is accessed as follows:

use example;
print $example::Spam, "\n";
$example::Spam = $example::Spam + 4
# ... etc ...

If a variable is declared as const, it is wrapped as a read-only variable. Attempts to modify its value will result in an error.

To make ordinary variables read-only, you can also use the %immutable directive. For example:

extern char *path;
extern char *path;

The %immutable directive stays in effect until it is explicitly disabled or cleared using %mutable. See the Creating read-only variables section for further details.

It is also possible to tag a specific variable as read-only like this:

extern char *path;
%immutable path; 
extern char *path;       // Declared later in the input

33.4.3 Constants

By default, constants are wrapped as read-only Perl variables. For example:

%module example

#define FOO 42

In Perl:

use example;
print $example::FOO, "\n";   # OK
$example::FOO = 2;           # Error

Alternatively, if you use swig's -const option, constants are wrapped such that the leading $ isn't required (by using a constant subroutine), which usually gives a more natural Perl interface, for example:

use example;
print example::FOO, "\n";

33.4.4 Pointers

SWIG represents pointers as blessed references. A blessed reference is the same as a Perl reference except that it has additional information attached to it indicating what kind of reference it is. That is, if you have a C declaration like this:

Matrix *new_Matrix(int n, int m);

The module returns a value generated as follows:

$ptr = new_Matrix(int n, int m);     # Save pointer return result
bless $ptr, "p_Matrix";              # Bless it as a pointer to Matrix

SWIG uses the "blessing" to check the datatype of various pointers. In the event of a mismatch, an error or warning message is generated.

To check to see if a value is the NULL pointer, use the defined() command:

if (defined($ptr)) {
  print "Not a NULL pointer.";
} else {
  print "Is a NULL pointer.";

To create a NULL pointer, you should pass the undef value to a function.

The "value" of a Perl reference is not the same as the underlying C pointer that SWIG wrapper functions return. Suppose that $a and $b are two references that point to the same C object. In general, $a and $b will be different--since they are different references. Thus, it is a mistake to check the equality of $a and $b to check the equality of two C pointers. The correct method to check equality of C pointers is to dereference them as follows:

if ($$a == $$b) {
  print "a and b point to the same thing in C";
} else {
  print "a and b point to different objects.";

As much as you might be inclined to modify a pointer value directly from Perl, don't. Manipulating pointer values is architecture dependent and could cause your program to crash. Similarly, don't try to manually cast a pointer to a new type by reblessing a pointer. This may not work like you expect and it is particularly dangerous when casting C++ objects. If you need to cast a pointer or change its value, consider writing some helper functions instead. For example:

%inline %{
/* C-style cast */
Bar *FooToBar(Foo *f) {
  return (Bar *) f;

/* C++-style cast */
Foo *BarToFoo(Bar *b) {
  return dynamic_cast<Foo*>(b);

Foo *IncrFoo(Foo *f, int i) {
    return f+i;

Also, if working with C++, you should always try to use the new C++ style casts. For example, in the above code, the C-style cast may return a bogus result whereas as the C++-style cast will return NULL if the conversion can't be performed.

Compatibility Note: In earlier versions, SWIG tried to preserve the same pointer naming conventions as XS and xsubpp. Given the advancement of the SWIG typesystem and the growing differences between SWIG and XS, this is no longer supported.

33.4.5 Structures

Access to the contents of a structure are provided through a set of low-level accessor functions as described in the "SWIG Basics" chapter. For example,

struct Vector {
  double x, y, z;

gets mapped into the following collection of accessor functions:

struct Vector *new_Vector();
void           delete_Vector(Vector *v);
double         Vector_x_get(Vector *obj)
void           Vector_x_set(Vector *obj, double x)
double         Vector_y_get(Vector *obj)
void           Vector_y_set(Vector *obj, double y)
double         Vector_z_get(Vector *obj)
void           Vector_z_set(Vector *obj, double z)

These functions are then used to access structure data from Perl as follows:

$v = example::new_Vector();
print example::Vector_x_get($v), "\n";   # Get x component
example::Vector_x_set($v, 7.8);          # Change x component

Similar access is provided for unions and the data members of C++ classes.

const members of a structure are read-only. Data members can also be forced to be read-only using the %immutable directive. For example:

struct Foo {
  int x;        /* Read-only members */
  char *name;

When char * members of a structure are wrapped, the contents are assumed to be dynamically allocated using malloc or new (depending on whether or not SWIG is run with the -c++ option). When the structure member is set, the old contents will be released and a new value created. If this is not the behavior you want, you will have to use a typemap (described later).

Array members are normally wrapped as read-only. For example,

struct Foo {
  int x[50];

produces a single accessor function like this:

int *Foo_x_get(Foo *self) {
    return self->x;

If you want to set an array member, you will need to supply a "memberin" typemap described later in this chapter. As a special case, SWIG does generate code to set array members of type char (allowing you to store a Python string in the structure).

When structure members are wrapped, they are handled as pointers. For example,

struct Foo {

struct Bar {
  Foo f;

generates accessor functions such as this:

Foo *Bar_f_get(Bar *b) {
    return &b->f;

void Bar_f_set(Bar *b, Foo *val) {
    b->f = *val;

33.4.6 C++ classes

C++ classes are wrapped by building a set of low level accessor functions. Consider the following class:

class List {
  int  search(char *item);
  void insert(char *item);
  void remove(char *item);
  char *get(int n);
  int  length;
static void print(List *l);

When wrapped by SWIG, the following functions are created:

List    *new_List();
void     delete_List(List *l);
int      List_search(List *l, char *item);
void     List_insert(List *l, char *item);
void     List_remove(List *l, char *item);
char    *List_get(List *l, int n);
int      List_length_get(List *l);
void     List_length_set(List *l, int n);
void     List_print(List *l);

In Perl, these functions are used in a straightforward manner:

use example;
$l = example::new_List();
example::List_insert($l, "Ale");
example::List_insert($l, "Stout");
example::List_insert($l, "Lager")
print example::List_length_get($l), "\n";

At this low level, C++ objects are really just typed pointers. Member functions are accessed by calling a C-like wrapper with an instance pointer as the first argument. Although this interface is fairly primitive, it provides direct access to C++ objects. A higher level interface using Perl proxy classes can be built using these low-level accessors. This is described shortly.

33.4.7 C++ classes and type-checking

The SWIG type-checker is fully aware of C++ inheritance. Therefore, if you have classes like this

class Foo {

class Bar : public Foo {

and a function

void spam(Foo *f);

then the function spam() accepts Foo * or a pointer to any class derived from Foo. If necessary, the type-checker also adjusts the value of the pointer (as is necessary when multiple inheritance is used).

33.4.8 C++ overloaded functions

If you have a C++ program with overloaded functions or methods, you will need to disambiguate those methods using %rename. For example:

/* Forward renaming declarations */
%rename(foo_i) foo(int); 
%rename(foo_d) foo(double);
void foo(int);           // Becomes 'foo_i'
void foo(char *c);       // Stays 'foo' (not renamed)

class Spam {
  void foo(int);      // Becomes 'foo_i'
  void foo(double);   // Becomes 'foo_d'

Now, in Perl, the methods are accessed as follows:

use example;
$s = example::new_Spam();
example::Spam_foo_i($s, 3);
example::Spam_foo_d($s, 3.14);

Please refer to the "SWIG Basics" chapter for more information.

33.4.9 Operators

As of version 1.3.27 SWIG automatically renames the most common C++ operators, and maps them into the perl module with the proper 'use overload ...' so you don't need to do any work.

The following C++ operators are currently supported by the Perl module:

33.4.10 Modules and packages

When you create a SWIG extension, everything gets placed into a single Perl module. The name of the module is determined by the %module directive. To use the module, do the following:

$ perl5
use example;                      # load the example module
print example::fact(4), "\n"      # Call a function in it

Usually, a module consists of a collection of code that is contained within a single file. A package, on the other hand, is the Perl equivalent of a namespace. A package is a lot like a module, except that it is independent of files. Any number of files may be part of the same package--or a package may be broken up into a collection of modules if you prefer to think about it in this way.

SWIG installs its functions into a package with the same name as the module.

Incompatible Change: previous versions of SWIG enabled you to change the name of the package by using the -package option, this feature has been removed in order to properly support modules that used nested namespaces, e.g. Foo::Bar::Baz. To give your module a nested namespace simply provide the fully qualified name in your %module directive:

%module "Foo::Bar::Baz"

NOTE: the double quotes are necessary.

Using the package option of the %module directive allows you to specify what Perl namespace that the module will be living in when installed. This is useful in the situation where a module maintainer wants to split a large module into smaller pieces to make maintenance easier, but doesn't want to have that affect the module name used by applications. So for example, if I wanted to split XML::Xerces into XML::Xerces::SAX, etc. , but I wanted all the applications to be able to access the classes using the XML::Xerces namespace I could use:

%module(package="XML::Xerces") "XML::Xerces::SAX

And now all the applications could use the class XML::Xerces::SAXParser. Without the package directive splitting the module would force applications to use the class XML::Xerces::SAX::SAXParser. This could break compatibility for existing applications that are already using the class under the name XML::Xerces::SAXParser.

33.5 Input and output parameters

A common problem in some C programs is handling parameters passed as simple pointers. For example:

void add(int x, int y, int *result) {
  *result = x + y;

or perhaps

int sub(int *x, int *y) {
  return *x+*y;

The easiest way to handle these situations is to use the typemaps.i file. For example:

%module example
%include "typemaps.i"

void add(int, int, int *OUTPUT);
int  sub(int *INPUT, int *INPUT);

In Perl, this allows you to pass simple values. For example:

$a = example::add(3, 4);
print "$a\n";
$b = example::sub(7, 4);
print "$b\n";

Notice how the INPUT parameters allow integer values to be passed instead of pointers and how the OUTPUT parameter creates a return result.

If you don't want to use the names INPUT or OUTPUT, use the %apply directive. For example:

%module example
%include "typemaps.i"

%apply int *OUTPUT { int *result };
%apply int *INPUT  { int *x, int *y};

void add(int x, int y, int *result);
int  sub(int *x, int *y);

If a function mutates one of its parameters like this,

void negate(int *x) {
  *x = -(*x);

you can use INOUT like this:

%include "typemaps.i"
void negate(int *INOUT);

In Perl, a mutated parameter shows up as a return value. For example:

$a = example::negate(3);
print "$a\n";

The most common use of these special typemap rules is to handle functions that return more than one value. For example, sometimes a function returns a result as well as a special error code:

/* send message, return number of bytes sent, along with success code */
int send_message(char *text, int len, int *success);

To wrap such a function, simply use the OUTPUT rule above. For example:

%module example
%include "typemaps.i"
%apply int *OUTPUT { int *success };
int send_message(char *text, int *success);

When used in Perl, the function will return multiple values.

($bytes, $success) = example::send_message("Hello World");

Another common use of multiple return values are in query functions. For example:

void get_dimensions(Matrix *m, int *rows, int *columns);

To wrap this, you might use the following:

%module example
%include "typemaps.i"
%apply int *OUTPUT { int *rows, int *columns };
void get_dimensions(Matrix *m, int *rows, *columns);

Now, in Perl:

($r, $c) = example::get_dimensions($m);

In certain cases, it is possible to treat Perl references as C pointers. To do this, use the REFERENCE typemap. For example:

%module example
%include "typemaps.i"

void add(int x, int y, int *REFERENCE);

In Perl:

use example;
$c = 0.0;
example::add(3, 4, \$c);
print "$c\n";

Note: The REFERENCE feature is only currently supported for numeric types (integers and floating point).

33.6 Exception handling

The SWIG %exception directive can be used to create a user-definable exception handler for converting exceptions in your C/C++ program into Perl exceptions. The chapter on customization features contains more details, but suppose you have a C++ class like the following:

class RangeError {};   // Used for an exception

class DoubleArray {
    int n;
    double *ptr;
    // Create a new array of fixed size
    DoubleArray(int size) {
      ptr = new double[size];
      n = size;
    // Destroy an array
    ~DoubleArray() {
      delete ptr;
    // Return the length of the array
    int   length() {
      return n;

    // Get an item from the array and perform bounds checking.
    double getitem(int i) {
      if ((i >= 0) && (i < n))
        return ptr[i];
        throw RangeError();

    // Set an item in the array and perform bounds checking.
    void setitem(int i, double val) {
      if ((i >= 0) && (i < n))
        ptr[i] = val;
      else {
        throw RangeError();

Since several methods in this class can throw an exception for an out-of-bounds access, you might want to catch this in the Perl extension by writing the following in an interface file:

%exception {
  try {
  catch (RangeError) {
    croak("Array index out-of-bounds");

class DoubleArray {

The exception handling code is inserted directly into generated wrapper functions. The $action variable is replaced with the C/C++ code being executed by the wrapper. When an exception handler is defined, errors can be caught and used to gracefully generate a Perl error instead of forcing the entire program to terminate with an uncaught error.

As shown, the exception handling code will be added to every wrapper function. Since this is somewhat inefficient. You might consider refining the exception handler to only apply to specific methods like this:

%exception getitem {
  try {
  catch (RangeError) {
    croak("Array index out-of-bounds");

%exception setitem {
  try {
  catch (RangeError) {
    croak("Array index out-of-bounds");

In this case, the exception handler is only attached to methods and functions named getitem and setitem.

If you had a lot of different methods, you can avoid extra typing by using a macro. For example:

  try {
  catch (RangeError) {
    croak("Array index out-of-bounds");

%exception getitem RANGE_ERROR;
%exception setitem RANGE_ERROR;

Since SWIG's exception handling is user-definable, you are not limited to C++ exception handling. See the chapter on "Customization features" for more examples.

Compatibility note: In SWIG1.1, exceptions were defined using the older %except directive:

%except(python) {
  try {
  catch (RangeError) {
    croak("Array index out-of-bounds");

This is still supported, but it is deprecated. The newer %exception directive provides the same functionality, but it has additional capabilities that make it more powerful.

33.7 Remapping datatypes with typemaps

This section describes how you can modify SWIG's default wrapping behavior for various C/C++ datatypes using the %typemap directive. This is an advanced topic that assumes familiarity with the Perl C API as well as the material in the "Typemaps" chapter.

Before proceeding, it should be stressed that typemaps are not a required part of using SWIG---the default wrapping behavior is enough in most cases. Typemaps are only used if you want to change some aspect of the primitive C-Perl interface.

33.7.1 A simple typemap example

A typemap is nothing more than a code generation rule that is attached to a specific C datatype. For example, to convert integers from Perl to C, you might define a typemap like this:

%module example

%typemap(in) int {
  $1 = (int) SvIV($input);
  printf("Received an integer : %d\n", $1);
%inline %{
extern int fact(int n);

Typemaps are always associated with some specific aspect of code generation. In this case, the "in" method refers to the conversion of input arguments to C/C++. The datatype int is the datatype to which the typemap will be applied. The supplied C code is used to convert values. In this code a number of special variable prefaced by a $ are used. The $1 variable is placeholder for a local variable of type int. The $input variable is the input object (usually a SV *).

When this example is used in Perl5, it will operate as follows:

use example;
$n = example::fact(6);
print "$n\n";

Received an integer : 6

The application of a typemap to specific datatypes and argument names involves more than simple text-matching--typemaps are fully integrated into the SWIG type-system. When you define a typemap for int, that typemap applies to int and qualified variations such as const int. In addition, the typemap system follows typedef declarations. For example:

%typemap(in) int n {
  $1 = (int) SvIV($input);
  printf("n = %d\n", $1);
%inline %{
typedef int Integer;
extern int fact(Integer n);    // Above typemap is applied

It should be noted that the matching of typedef only occurs in one direction. If you defined a typemap for Integer, it is not applied to arguments of type int.

Typemaps can also be defined for groups of consecutive arguments. For example:

%typemap(in) (char *str, unsigned len) {
    $1 = SvPV($input, $2);

int count(char c, char *str, unsigned len);

When a multi-argument typemap is defined, the arguments are always handled as a single Perl object. This allows the function to be used like this (notice how the length parameter is omitted):

example::count("e", "Hello World");

33.7.2 Perl5 typemaps

The previous section illustrated an "in" typemap for converting Perl objects to C. A variety of different typemap methods are defined by the Perl module. For example, to convert a C integer back into a Perl object, you might define an "out" typemap like this:

%typemap(out) int {
    $result = sv_newmortal();
    set_setiv($result, (IV) $1);

The following typemap methods are available:


Converts Perl5 object to input function arguments.


Converts function return value to a Perl5 value.


Converts a Perl5 object to a global variable.


Converts a global variable to a Perl5 object.


Cleans up a function argument after a function call


Output argument handling


Clean up return value from a function.


Setting of C++ member data (all languages).


Return of C++ member data (all languages).


Check value of input parameter.

33.7.3 Typemap variables

Within typemap code, a number of special variables prefaced with a $ may appear. A full list of variables can be found in the "Typemaps" chapter. This is a list of the most common variables:


A C local variable corresponding to the actual type specified in the %typemap directive. For input values, this is a C local variable that's supposed to hold an argument value. For output values, this is the raw result that's supposed to be returned to Perl.


A Perl object holding the value of an argument of variable value.


A Perl object that holds the result to be returned to Perl.


The parameter name that was matched.


The actual C datatype matched by the typemap.


An assignable version of the datatype matched by the typemap (a type that can appear on the left-hand-side of a C assignment operation). This type is stripped of qualifiers and may be an altered version of $1_type. All arguments and local variables in wrapper functions are declared using this type so that their values can be properly assigned.


The Perl name of the wrapper function being created.

33.7.4 Useful functions

When writing typemaps, it is necessary to work directly with Perl5 objects. This, unfortunately, can be a daunting task. Consult the "perlguts" man-page for all of the really ugly details. A short summary of commonly used functions is provided here for reference. It should be stressed that SWIG can be used quite effectively without knowing any of these details--especially now that there are typemap libraries that can already been written.

Perl Integer Functions

int   SvIV(SV *);
void  sv_setiv(SV *sv, IV value);
SV   *newSViv(IV value);
int   SvIOK(SV *);

Perl Floating Point Functions

double SvNV(SV *);
void   sv_setnv(SV *, double value);
SV    *newSVnv(double value);
int    SvNOK(SV *);

Perl String Functions

char     *SvPV(SV *, STRLEN len);
void      sv_setpv(SV *, char *val);
void      sv_setpvn(SV *, char *val, STRLEN len);
SV       *newSVpv(char *value, STRLEN len);
int       SvPOK(SV *);
void      sv_catpv(SV *, char *);
void      sv_catpvn(SV *, char *, STRLEN);

Perl References

void      sv_setref_pv(SV *, char *, void *ptr);
int       sv_isobject(SV *);
SV       *SvRV(SV *);
int       sv_isa(SV *, char *0;

33.8 Typemap Examples

This section includes a few examples of typemaps. For more examples, you might look at the files "perl5.swg" and "typemaps.i" in the SWIG library.

33.8.1 Converting a Perl5 array to a char **

A common problem in many C programs is the processing of command line arguments, which are usually passed in an array of NULL terminated strings. The following SWIG interface file allows a Perl5 array reference to be used as a char ** datatype.

%module argv

// This tells SWIG to treat char ** as a special case
%typemap(in) char ** {
  AV *tempav;
  I32 len;
  int i;
  SV  **tv;
  if (!SvROK($input))
    croak("Argument $argnum is not a reference.");
  if (SvTYPE(SvRV($input)) != SVt_PVAV)
    croak("Argument $argnum is not an array.");
  tempav = (AV*)SvRV($input);
  len = av_len(tempav);
  $1 = (char **) malloc((len+2)*sizeof(char *));
  for (i = 0; i <= len; i++) {
    tv = av_fetch(tempav, i, 0);
    $1[i] = (char *) SvPV(*tv, PL_na);
  $1[i] = NULL;

// This cleans up the char ** array after the function call
%typemap(freearg) char ** {

// Creates a new Perl array and places a NULL-terminated char ** into it
%typemap(out) char ** {
  AV *myav;
  SV **svs;
  int i = 0, len = 0;
  /* Figure out how many elements we have */
  while ($1[len])
  svs = (SV **) malloc(len*sizeof(SV *));
  for (i = 0; i < len ; i++) {
    svs[i] = sv_newmortal();
    sv_setpv((SV*)svs[i], $1[i]);
  myav = av_make(len, svs);
  $result = newRV_noinc((SV*)myav);

// Now a few test functions
%inline %{
  int print_args(char **argv) {
    int i = 0;
    while (argv[i]) {
      printf("argv[%d] = %s\n", i, argv[i]);
    return i;

  // Returns a char ** list
  char **get_args() {
    static char *values[] = { "Dave", "Mike", "Susan", "John", "Michelle", 0};
    return &values[0];

When this module is compiled, the wrapped C functions can be used in a Perl script as follows:

use argv;
@a = ("Dave", "Mike", "John", "Mary");           # Create an array of strings
argv::print_args(\@a);                           # Pass it to our C function
$b = argv::get_args();                           # Get array of strings from C
print @$b, "\n";                                 # Print it out

33.8.2 Return values

Return values are placed on the argument stack of each wrapper function. The current value of the argument stack pointer is contained in a variable argvi. Whenever a new output value is added, it is critical that this value be incremented. For multiple output values, the final value of argvi should be the total number of output values.

The total number of return values should not exceed the number of input values unless you explicitly extend the argument stack. This can be done using the EXTEND() macro as in:

%typemap(argout) int *OUTPUT {
  if (argvi >= items) {
    EXTEND(sp, 1);              /* Extend the stack by 1 object */
  $result = sv_newmortal();
  sv_setiv($target, (IV) *($1));

33.8.3 Returning values from arguments

Sometimes it is desirable for a function to return a value in one of its arguments. This example describes the implementation of the OUTPUT typemap.

%module return

// This tells SWIG to treat an double * argument with name 'OutDouble' as
// an output value.  

%typemap(argout) double *OUTPUT {
  $result = sv_newmortal();
  sv_setnv($result, *$input);
  argvi++;                     /* Increment return count -- important! */

// We don't care what the input value is. Ignore, but set to a temporary variable

%typemap(in, numinputs=0) double *OUTPUT(double junk) {
  $1 = &junk;

// Now a function to test it
/* Returns the first two input arguments */
int multout(double a, double b, double *out1, double *out2) {
  *out1 = a;
  *out2 = b;
  return 0;

// If we name both parameters OutDouble both will be output

int multout(double a, double b, double *OUTPUT, double *OUTPUT);

When this function is called, the output arguments are appended to the stack used to return results. This shows up an array in Perl. For example:

@r = multout(7, 13);
print "multout(7, 13) = @r\n";
($x, $y) = multout(7, 13);

33.8.4 Accessing array structure members

Consider the following data structure:

#define SIZE  8
typedef struct {
    int   values[SIZE];
} Foo;

By default, SWIG doesn't know how to the handle the values structure member it's an array, not a pointer. In this case, SWIG makes the array member read-only. Reading will simply return a pointer to the first item in the array. To make the member writable, a "memberin" typemap can be used.

%typemap(memberin) int [SIZE] {
    int i;
    for (i = 0; i < SIZE; i++) {
        $1[i] = $input[i];

Whenever a int [SIZE] member is encountered in a structure or class, this typemap provides a safe mechanism for setting its value.

As in the previous example, the typemap can be generalized for any dimension. For example:

%typemap(memberin) int [ANY] {
  int i;
  for (i = 0; i < $1_dim0; i++) {
    $1[i] = $input[i];

When setting structure members, the input object is always assumed to be a C array of values that have already been converted from the target language. Because of this, the memberin typemap is almost always combined with the use of an "in" typemap. For example, the "in" typemap in the previous section would be used to convert an int[] array to C whereas the "memberin" typemap would be used to copy the converted array into a C data structure.

33.8.5 Turning Perl references into C pointers

A frequent confusion on the SWIG mailing list is errors caused by the mixing of Perl references and C pointers. For example, suppose you have a C function that modifies its arguments like this:

void add(double a, double b, double *c) {
  *c = a + b;

A common misinterpretation of this function is the following Perl script:

# Perl script
$a = 3.5;
$b = 7.5;
$c = 0.0;          # Output value
add($a, $b, \$c);    # Place result in c (Except that it doesn't work)

To make this work with a reference, you can use a typemap such as this:

%typemap(in) double * (double dvalue) {
  SV* tempsv;
  if (!SvROK($input)) {
    croak("expected a reference\n");
  tempsv = SvRV($input);
  if ((!SvNOK(tempsv)) && (!SvIOK(tempsv))) {
    croak("expected a double reference\n");
  dvalue = SvNV(tempsv);
  $1 = &dvalue;

%typemap(argout) double * {
  SV *tempsv;
  tempsv = SvRV($input);
  sv_setnv(tempsv, *$1);

Now, if you place this before the add function, you can do this:

$a = 3.5;
$b = 7.5;
$c = 0.0;
add($a, $b, \$c);            # Now it works!
print "$c\n";

33.8.6 Pointer handling

Occasionally, it might be necessary to convert pointer values that have been stored using the SWIG typed-pointer representation. To convert a pointer from Perl to C, the following function is used:

int SWIG_ConvertPtr(SV *obj, void **ptr, swig_type_info *ty, int flags)

Converts a Perl object obj to a C pointer. The result of the conversion is placed into the pointer located at ptr. ty is a SWIG type descriptor structure. flags is used to handle error checking and other aspects of conversion. flags is currently undefined and reserved for future expansion. Returns 0 on success and -1 on error.

void *SWIG_MakePtr(SV *obj, void *ptr, swig_type_info *ty, int flags)

Creates a new Perl pointer object. obj is a Perl SV that has been initialized to hold the result, ptr is the pointer to convert, ty is the SWIG type descriptor structure that describes the type, and flags is a flag that controls properties of the conversion. flags is currently undefined and reserved.

Both of these functions require the use of a special SWIG type-descriptor structure. This structure contains information about the mangled name of the datatype, type-equivalence information, as well as information about converting pointer values under C++ inheritance. For a type of Foo *, the type descriptor structure is usually accessed as follows:

Foo *f;
if (!SWIG_IsOK(SWIG_ConvertPtr($input, (void **) &f, SWIGTYPE_p_Foo, 0))) {
  SWIG_exception_fail(SWIG_TypeError, "in method '$symname', expecting type Foo");

SV *sv = sv_newmortal();
SWIG_MakePtr(sv, f, SWIGTYPE_p_Foo, 0);

In a typemap, the type descriptor should always be accessed using the special typemap variable $1_descriptor. For example:

%typemap(in) Foo * {
  if (!SWIG_IsOK(SWIG_ConvertPtr($input, (void **) &$1, $1_descriptor, 0))) {
    SWIG_exception_fail(SWIG_TypeError, "in method '$symname', expecting type Foo");

If necessary, the descriptor for any type can be obtained using the $descriptor() macro in a typemap. For example:

%typemap(in) Foo * {
  if (!SWIG_IsOK(SWIG_ConvertPtr($input, (void **) &$1, $descriptor(Foo *), 0))) {
    SWIG_exception_fail(SWIG_TypeError, "in method '$symname', expecting type Foo");

33.9 Proxy classes

Out of date. Needs update.

Using the low-level procedural interface, SWIG can also construct a high-level object oriented interface to C structures and C++ classes. This is done by constructing a Perl proxy class (also known as a shadow class) that provides an OO wrapper to the underlying code. This section describes the implementation details of the proxy interface.

33.9.1 Preliminaries

Proxy classes, are generated by default. If you want to turn them off, use the -noproxy command line option. For example:

$ swig -c++ -perl -noproxy example.i

When proxy classes are used, SWIG moves all of the low-level procedural wrappers to another package name. By default, this package is named 'modulec' where 'module' is the name of the module you provided with the %module directive. Then, in place of the original module, SWIG creates a collection of high-level Perl wrappers. In your scripts, you will use these high level wrappers. The wrappers, in turn, interact with the low-level procedural module.

33.9.2 Structure and class wrappers

Suppose you have the following SWIG interface file:

%module example
struct Vector {
  Vector(double x, double y, double z);
  double x, y, z;

When wrapped, SWIG creates the following set of low-level accessor functions as described in previous sections.

Vector *new_Vector(double x, double y, double z);
void    delete_Vector(Vector *v);
double  Vector_x_get(Vector *v);
double  Vector_x_set(Vector *v, double value);
double  Vector_y_get(Vector *v);
double  Vector_y_set(Vector *v, double value);
double  Vector_z_get(Vector *v);
double  Vector_z_set(Vector *v, double value);

However, when proxy classes are enabled, these accessor functions are wrapped inside a Perl class like this:

package example::Vector;
@ISA = qw( example );
%OWNER = ();

sub new () {
    my $self = shift;
    my @args = @_;
    $self = vectorc::new_Vector(@args);
    return undef if (!defined($self));
    bless $self, "example::Vector";
    $OWNER{$self} = 1;
    my %retval;
    tie %retval, "example::Vector", $self;
    return bless \%retval, "Vector";

    return unless $_[0]->isa('HASH');
    my $self = tied(%{$_[0]});
    delete $ITERATORS{$self};
    if (exists $OWNER{$self}) {
        delete $OWNER{$self};

sub FETCH {
    my ($self, $field) = @_;
    my $member_func = "vectorc::Vector_${field}_get";
    my $val = &$member_func($self);
    if (exists $BLESSEDMEMBERS{$field}) {
        return undef if (!defined($val));
        my %retval;
        tie %retval, $BLESSEDMEMBERS{$field}, $val;
        return bless \%retval, $BLESSEDMEMBERS{$field};
    return $val;

sub STORE {
    my ($self, $field, $newval) = @_;
    my $member_func = "vectorc::Vector_${field}_set";
    if (exists $BLESSEDMEMBERS{$field}) {
        &$member_func($self, tied(%{$newval}));
    } else {
        &$member_func($self, $newval);

Each structure or class is mapped into a Perl package of the same name. The C++ constructors and destructors are mapped into constructors and destructors for the package and are always named "new" and "DESTROY". The constructor always returns a tied hash table. This hash table is used to access the member variables of a structure in addition to being able to invoke member functions. The %OWNER and %BLESSEDMEMBERS hash tables are used internally and described shortly.

To use our new proxy class we can simply do the following:

# Perl code using Vector class
$v = new Vector(2, 3, 4);
$w = Vector->new(-1, -2, -3);

# Assignment of a single member
$v->{x} = 7.5;

# Assignment of all members
%$v = ( x=>3,

# Reading members
$x = $v->{x};

# Destruction

33.9.3 Object Ownership

In order for proxy classes to work properly, it is necessary for Perl to manage some mechanism of object ownership. Here's the crux of the problem---suppose you had a function like this:

Vector *Vector_get(Vector *v, int index) {
  return &v[i];

This function takes a Vector pointer and returns a pointer to another Vector. Such a function might be used to manage arrays or lists of vectors (in C). Now contrast this function with the constructor for a Vector object:

Vector *new_Vector(double x, double y, double z) {
  Vector *v;
  v = new Vector(x, y, z);        // Call C++ constructor
  return v;

Both functions return a Vector, but the constructor is returning a brand-new Vector while the other function is returning a Vector that was already created (hopefully). In Perl, both vectors will be indistinguishable---clearly a problem considering that we would probably like the newly created Vector to be destroyed when we are done with it.

To manage these problems, each class contains two methods that access an internal hash table called %OWNER. This hash keeps a list of all of the objects that Perl knows that it has created. This happens in two cases: (1) when the constructor has been called, and (2) when a function implicitly creates a new object (as is done when SWIG needs to return a complex datatype by value). When the destructor is invoked, the Perl proxy class module checks the %OWNER hash to see if Perl created the object. If so, the C/C++ destructor is invoked. If not, we simply destroy the Perl object and leave the underlying C object alone (under the assumption that someone else must have created it).

This scheme works remarkably well in practice but it isn't foolproof. In fact, it will fail if you create a new C object in Perl, pass it on to a C function that remembers the object, and then destroy the corresponding Perl object (this situation turns out to come up frequently when constructing objects like linked lists and trees). When C takes possession of an object, you can change Perl's ownership by simply deleting the object from the %OWNER hash. This is done using the DISOWN method.

# Perl code to change ownership of an object
$v = new Vector(x, y, z);

To acquire ownership of an object, the ACQUIRE method can be used.

# Given Perl ownership of a file
$u = Vector_get($v);

As always, a little care is in order. SWIG does not provide reference counting, garbage collection, or advanced features one might find in sophisticated languages.

33.9.4 Nested Objects

Suppose that we have a new object that looks like this:

struct Particle {
  Vector r;
  Vector v;
  Vector f;
  int type;

In this case, the members of the structure are complex objects that have already been encapsulated in a Perl proxy class. To handle these correctly, we use the %BLESSEDMEMBERS hash which would look like this (along with some supporting code):

package Particle;
        r => `Vector',
        v => `Vector',
        f => `Vector',

When fetching members from the structure, %BLESSEDMEMBERS is checked. If the requested field is present, we create a tied-hash table and return it. If not, we just return the corresponding member unmodified.

This implementation allows us to operate on nested structures as follows:

# Perl access of nested structure
$p = new Particle();
$p->{f}->{x} = 0.0;
%${$p->{v}} = ( x=>0, y=>0, z=>0);         

33.9.5 Proxy Functions

When functions take arguments involving a complex object, it is sometimes necessary to write a proxy function. For example:

double dot_product(Vector *v1, Vector *v2);

Since Vector is an object already wrapped into a proxy class, we need to modify this function to accept arguments that are given in the form of tied hash tables. This is done by creating a Perl function like this:

sub dot_product {
    my @args = @_;
    $args[0] = tied(%{$args[0]});         # Get the real pointer values
    $args[1] = tied(%{$args[1]});
    my $result = vectorc::dot_product(@args);
    return $result;

This function replaces the original function, but operates in an identical manner.

33.9.6 Inheritance

Simple C++ inheritance is handled using the Perl @ISA array in each class package. For example, if you have the following interface file:

// shapes.i
// SWIG interface file for shapes class
%module shapes
#include "shapes.h"

class Shape {
  virtual double area() = 0;
  virtual double perimeter() = 0;
  void    set_location(double x, double y);
class Circle : public Shape {
  Circle(double radius);
  double area();
  double perimeter();
class Square : public Shape {
  Square(double size);
  double area();
  double perimeter();

The resulting, Perl wrapper class will create the following code:

Package Shape;
@ISA = (shapes);
Package Circle;
@ISA = (shapes Shape);
Package Square;
@ISA = (shapes Shape);

The @ISA array determines where to look for methods of a particular class. In this case, both the Circle and Square classes inherit functions from Shape so we'll want to look in the Shape base class for them. All classes also inherit from the top-level module shapes. This is because certain common operations needed to implement proxy classes are implemented only once and reused in the wrapper code for various classes and structures.

Since SWIG proxy classes are implemented in Perl, it is easy to subclass from any SWIG generated class. To do this, simply put the name of a SWIG class in the @ISA array for your new class. However, be forewarned that this is not a trivial problem. In particular, inheritance of data members is extremely tricky (and I'm not even sure if it really works).

33.9.7 Modifying the proxy methods

It is possible to override the SWIG generated proxy/shadow methods, using %feature("shadow"). It works like all the other %feature directives. Here is a simple example showing how to add some Perl debug code to the constructor:

/* Let's make the constructor of the class Square more verbose */
%feature("shadow") Square(double w)
  sub new {
    my $pkg = shift;
    my $self = examplec::new_Square(@_);
    print STDERR "Constructed an @{[ref($self)]}\n";
    bless $self, $pkg if defined($self);

class Square {
  Square(double w);

33.10 Adding additional Perl code

If writing support code in C isn't enough, it is also possible to write code in Perl. This code gets inserted in to the .pm file created by SWIG. One use of Perl code might be to supply a high-level interface to certain functions. For example:

void set_transform(Image *im, double x[4][4]);

/* Rewrite the high level interface to set_transform */
%perlcode %{
sub set_transform
  my ($im, $x) = @_;
  my $a = new_mat44();
  for (my $i = 0; $i < 4, $i++)
    for (my $j = 0; $j < 4, $j++)
      mat44_set($a, $i, $j, $x->[i][j])
  example.set_transform($im, $a);

In this example, set_transform() provides a high-level Perl interface built on top of low-level helper functions. For example, this code now seems to work:

my $a =
  [[1, 0, 0, 0],
  [0, 1, 0, 0],
  [0, 0, 1, 0],
  [0, 0, 0, 1]];
set_transform($im, $a);

33.11 Cross language polymorphism

Proxy classes provide a more natural, object-oriented way to access extension classes. As described above, each proxy instance has an associated C++ instance, and method calls to the proxy are passed to the C++ instance transparently via C wrapper functions.

This arrangement is asymmetric in the sense that no corresponding mechanism exists to pass method calls down the inheritance chain from C++ to Perl. In particular, if a C++ class has been extended in Perl (by extending the proxy class), these extensions will not be visible from C++ code. Virtual method calls from C++ are thus not able access the lowest implementation in the inheritance chain.

Changes have been made to SWIG to address this problem and make the relationship between C++ classes and proxy classes more symmetric. To achieve this goal, new classes called directors are introduced at the bottom of the C++ inheritance chain. The job of the directors is to route method calls correctly, either to C++ implementations higher in the inheritance chain or to Perl implementations lower in the inheritance chain. The upshot is that C++ classes can be extended in Perl and from C++ these extensions look exactly like native C++ classes. Neither C++ code nor Perl code needs to know where a particular method is implemented: the combination of proxy classes, director classes, and C wrapper functions takes care of all the cross-language method routing transparently.

33.11.1 Enabling directors

The director feature is disabled by default. To use directors you must make two changes to the interface file. First, add the "directors" option to the %module directive, like this:

%module(directors="1") modulename

Without this option no director code will be generated. Second, you must use the %feature("director") directive to tell SWIG which classes and methods should get directors. The %feature directive can be applied globally, to specific classes, and to specific methods, like this:

// generate directors for all classes that have virtual methods

// generate directors for all virtual methods in class Foo
%feature("director") Foo;      

You can use the %feature("nodirector") directive to turn off directors for specific classes or methods. So for example,

%feature("director") Foo;
%feature("nodirector") Foo::bar;

will generate directors for all virtual methods of class Foo except bar().

Directors can also be generated implicitly through inheritance. In the following, class Bar will get a director class that handles the methods one() and two() (but not three()):

%feature("director") Foo;
class Foo {
    Foo(int foo);
    virtual void one();
    virtual void two();

class Bar: public Foo {
    virtual void three();

then at the Perl side you can define

use mymodule;

package MyFoo;
use base 'mymodule::Foo';

sub one {
  print "one from Perl\n";

33.11.2 Director classes

For each class that has directors enabled, SWIG generates a new class that derives from both the class in question and a special Swig::Director class. These new classes, referred to as director classes, can be loosely thought of as the C++ equivalent of the Perl proxy classes. The director classes store a pointer to their underlying Perl object and handle various issues related to object ownership.

For simplicity let's ignore the Swig::Director class and refer to the original C++ class as the director's base class. By default, a director class extends all virtual methods in the inheritance chain of its base class (see the preceding section for how to modify this behavior). Thus all virtual method calls, whether they originate in C++ or in Perl via proxy classes, eventually end up in at the implementation in the director class. The job of the director methods is to route these method calls to the appropriate place in the inheritance chain. By "appropriate place" we mean the method that would have been called if the C++ base class and its extensions in Perl were seamlessly integrated. That seamless integration is exactly what the director classes provide, transparently skipping over all the messy extension API glue that binds the two languages together.

In reality, the "appropriate place" is one of only two possibilities: C++ or Perl. Once this decision is made, the rest is fairly easy. If the correct implementation is in C++, then the lowest implementation of the method in the C++ inheritance chain is called explicitly. If the correct implementation is in Perl, the Perl API is used to call the method of the underlying Perl object (after which the usual virtual method resolution in Perl automatically finds the right implementation).

Now how does the director decide which language should handle the method call? The basic rule is to handle the method in Perl, unless there's a good reason not to. The reason for this is simple: Perl has the most "extended" implementation of the method. This assertion is guaranteed, since at a minimum the Perl proxy class implements the method. If the method in question has been extended by a class derived from the proxy class, that extended implementation will execute exactly as it should. If not, the proxy class will route the method call into a C wrapper function, expecting that the method will be resolved in C++. The wrapper will call the virtual method of the C++ instance, and since the director extends this the call will end up right back in the director method. Now comes the "good reason not to" part. If the director method were to blindly call the Perl method again, it would get stuck in an infinite loop. We avoid this situation by adding special code to the C wrapper function that tells the director method to not do this. The C wrapper function compares the pointer to the Perl object that called the wrapper function to the pointer stored by the director. If these are the same, then the C wrapper function tells the director to resolve the method by calling up the C++ inheritance chain, preventing an infinite loop.

One more point needs to be made about the relationship between director classes and proxy classes. When a proxy class instance is created in Perl, SWIG creates an instance of the original C++ class. This is exactly what happens without directors and is true even if directors are enabled for the particular class in question. When a class derived from a proxy class is created, however, SWIG then creates an instance of the corresponding C++ director class. The reason for this difference is that user-defined subclasses may override or extend methods of the original class, so the director class is needed to route calls to these methods correctly. For unmodified proxy classes, all methods are ultimately implemented in C++ so there is no need for the extra overhead involved with routing the calls through Perl.

33.11.3 Ownership and object destruction

Memory management issues are slightly more complicated with directors than for proxy classes alone. Perl instances hold a pointer to the associated C++ director object, and the director in turn holds a pointer back to a Perl object. By default, proxy classes own their C++ director object and take care of deleting it when they are garbage collected.

This relationship can be reversed by calling the special DISOWN() method of the proxy class. After calling this method the director class increments the reference count of the Perl object. When the director class is deleted it decrements the reference count. Assuming no outstanding references to the Perl object remain, the Perl object will be destroyed at the same time. This is a good thing, since directors and proxies refer to each other and so must be created and destroyed together. Destroying one without destroying the other will likely cause your program to segfault.

Also note that due to the proxy implementation, the DESTROY() method on directors can be called for several reasons, many of which have little to do with the teardown of an object instance. To help disambiguate this, a second argument is added to the DESTROY() call when a C++ director object is being released. So, to avoid running your clean-up code when an object is not really going away, or after it has already been reclaimed, it is suggested that custom destructors in Perl subclasses looks something like:

  my($self, $final) = @_;
  if($final) {
    # real teardown code

33.11.4 Exception unrolling

With directors routing method calls to Perl, and proxies routing them to C++, the handling of exceptions is an important concern. By default, the directors ignore exceptions that occur during method calls that are resolved in Perl. To handle such exceptions correctly, it is necessary to temporarily translate them into C++ exceptions. This can be done with the %feature("director:except") directive. The following code should suffice in most cases:

%feature("director:except") {
    if ($error != NULL) {
        throw Swig::DirectorMethodException();

This code will check the Perl error state after each method call from a director into Perl, and throw a C++ exception if an error occurred. This exception can be caught in C++ to implement an error handler.

It may be the case that a method call originates in Perl, travels up to C++ through a proxy class, and then back into Perl via a director method. If an exception occurs in Perl at this point, it would be nice for that exception to find its way back to the original caller. This can be done by combining a normal %exception directive with the director:except handler shown above. Here is an example of a suitable exception handler:

%exception {
    try { $action }
    catch (Swig::DirectorException &e) { SWIG_fail; }

The class Swig::DirectorException used in this example is actually a base class of Swig::DirectorMethodException, so it will trap this exception. Because the Perl error state is still set when Swig::DirectorMethodException is thrown, Perl will register the exception as soon as the C wrapper function returns.

33.11.5 Overhead and code bloat

Enabling directors for a class will generate a new director method for every virtual method in the class' inheritance chain. This alone can generate a lot of code bloat for large hierarchies. Method arguments that require complex conversions to and from target language types can result in large director methods. For this reason it is recommended that you selectively enable directors only for specific classes that are likely to be extended in Perl and used in C++.

Compared to classes that do not use directors, the call routing in the director methods does add some overhead. In particular, at least one dynamic cast and one extra function call occurs per method call from Perl. Relative to the speed of Perl execution this is probably completely negligible. For worst case routing, a method call that ultimately resolves in C++ may take one extra detour through Perl in order to ensure that the method does not have an extended Perl implementation. This could result in a noticeable overhead in some cases.

Although directors make it natural to mix native C++ objects with Perl objects (as director objects) via a common base class pointer, one should be aware of the obvious fact that method calls to Perl objects will be much slower than calls to C++ objects. This situation can be optimized by selectively enabling director methods (using the %feature directive) for only those methods that are likely to be extended in Perl.

33.11.6 Typemaps

Typemaps for input and output of most of the basic types from director classes have been written. These are roughly the reverse of the usual input and output typemaps used by the wrapper code. The typemap operation names are 'directorin', 'directorout', and 'directorargout'. The director code does not currently use any of the other kinds of typemaps. It is not clear at this point which kinds are appropriate and need to be supported.