Seriously, just use D to call C from Python

Last week I suggested that if you want to call C code from Python that you should use D. I still think that 4 lines of code (two of which are header includes) and a build system is hard to beat if that indeed is your goal. The internet, of course, had different ideas.

I think most of the comments I got can be summarised as:

In all cases, the general sentiment was that these were easy options to get the task done. Either they didn’t read the blog post, or they’re nowhere near as lazy as I am.

I described how writing basically no code gave you access to nanomsg from Python, including macros. No glue code, no struct definitions, nothing. “I can haz C headers in Python?” and some boring build system things were the long and short of it. 4 lines of code that scale with O(1) is hard to beat.

Let’s look at the suggestions then, starting with ctypes. It can call symbols in loaded shared libraries, which is great if you’re calling int foo(int, int) but not so great for real code (like, you know, nanomsg). No enums, no macros, and you have to declare C structs yourself. I shudder to think of what I’d have to write to get anything done. Next.

Some acknowledged that ctypes wasn’t all that, and that cffi should be used instead. I just tried using it today, thinking that it’d be amazing if I could just give Python some C headers and magic happened. But I can’t. I can pass in C declarations as a Python string, which I can manually copy from a header. But not just tell it what header I want (or worse, two in the case of my nanomsg example). I tried reading the headers myself, concatenating the strings and giving that to cdef, but that doesn’t work,  because:

  • Real headers have pesky things like #include directives in themcausing ParseErrors to be raised. Oops. So much for valid C syntax.
  • Struct definitions usually have members that are structs defined in another header, which have members that are structs defined in another header, which…
  • Macros

I soon realised how much work calling nanomsg with cffi would be and gave up. I wanted to show how much more code it takes, but as previously mentioned I’m lazy so no. Just… no. I figured someone would have written a generator for cffi, and I was right. It requires installing something called Irkit. Turns out it’s a parser generator, so cffi-gen  doesn’t use a industrial grade C compiler. Good luck compiling C code in the wild with that.

I’ve used Cython before and it’s even more work than cffi. Cython is the reason that I wrote autowrap in the first place.

Both boost::python and pybind11 are to C++ what pyd is to D. And pyd is another reason I wrote autowrap, because it has the gall to require users to specify one by one all of the things (functions, classes, etc.) they want to make available. With D’s compile-time reflection, I find that requirement quite insulting.

Last week I presented a way of calling C from Python which I find incredibly easy.  I got told there were viable alternatives, and since I didn’t know any better at the time I stroked my beard and thought “iiiinteresting”.

This week I can confidently state my belief that the easiest way to call C code from Python is D. Disagree? Show me how you can call nanomsg from Python your way. Github or it didn’t happen.

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One thought on “Seriously, just use D to call C from Python

  1. ricardo says:

    Nice work, your video about emacs and c++ is really nice (even when I don’t use c++)

    I am a researcher and I use emacs for literate programming and I quite like the way you focus on productivity, it’s inspirational, right to the point, nothing else, so please keep going on this kind of presentations

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