Foreign Interface

This is a description of the foreign interface. The interface has some parts implemented in C (plt/src/foreign/foreign.c) which is available as a built-in #%foreign module. This module is not intended for general use as is, and further documentation can be found in the source. The relevant functionality is provided via the foreign module in MzLib (

For examples of common usage patterns, see the defined interfaces in the ffi collection.

2.1  Basic C Type Functions

C types are the main concept of the foreign interface (C is just used for conventions). They can roughly be divided into primitive types and user-defined types. The foreign interface deals with primitive types internally, converting them to/from C types. A user type is one that is made on top of existing primitive types (or other user types), by supplying an existing type, and conversion functions that go from Scheme to that type and from that type to Scheme (`Scheme' is misleading here: the translation is from some Scheme objects to other objects that the system already knows how to translate).

(make-ctype ctype scheme-to-C-proc C-to-scheme-proc)      PROCEDURE

Create a new C type object, with the given conversions functions. The conversion functions can be #f meaning that there is no conversion for the corresponding direction. If both functions are #f, ctype is returned.

(ctype? ctype)      PROCEDURE

A predicate for C type objects (both primitive and user-defined).

(ctype-sizeof ctype)      PROCEDURE

(ctype-alignof ctype)      PROCEDURE

Functions that return the platform-dependent size and alignment of a given ctype.

(compiler-sizeof symbols)      PROCEDURE

This procedure expects a description of a C type, which is a symbol that names a type. Possible values are 'int, 'char, 'short, 'long, '*, 'void, 'float, 'double. It uses the C sizeof operator to return the size of the named C type directly. It should be used to gather information about the current platform, for example, it is used to define alias types to ones with know size (e.g., binding _int to _int32).

2.2  Simple Types

2.2.1  Numeric Types

There are basic integer types at various sizes. These are: _int8, _sint8, _uint8, _int16, _sint16, _uint16, _int32, _sint32, _uint32, _int64, _sint64, and _uint64. The `s' or `u' prefix specifies a signed or an unsigned integer respectively; the ones with no prefix are signed.

In addition, there are several type `aliases' (extra bindings for some of the above types):

In cases where speed matters, and you know that the integer is small enough, you can use the _fixnum and _ufixnum, which are similar to _long and _ulong but assume that the quantities fit in MzScheme's immediate integers (not bignums). If you need this but you want to be sure that the C level integer is an integer (32 bit) size, then use _fixint and _ufixint.

Finally, there are two floating point types, _float and _double for the corresponding C types; and _double* that implicitly coerces any non-complex number to a C double.

2.2.2  String Types  Primitive String Types

There are several built-in primitive string types.

_bytes      C TYPE

This is a type for Scheme byte-string, which corresponds to C's char* type. In addition to translating byte strings, #f corresponds to the NULL pointer. Note that this is also a custom-type macro, see section 2.8.1 below.

_string/ucs-4      C TYPE

A type for MzScheme's native Unicode strings, in UCS-4 format. These correspond to the C mzchar* type used by MzScheme.

_string/utf-16      C TYPE

Unicode strings in UTF-16 format.

_path      C TYPE

Simple char* strings, corresponding to MzScheme's path strings.

_symbol      C TYPE

Simple char* strings as Scheme symbols (encoded in UTF-8). Return values that use this type are interned.  Additional String Types

In addition to the above string types, there are several bytes-based types that are provided. _string/utf-8, _string/locale, and _string/latin-1 are defined using the corresponding built-in conversion procedures from strings (they do treat #f as NULL). _string*/utf-8, _string*/locale, and _string*/latin-1 are similar but accept a wider range of values: byte strings are passed as is, and paths are converted using path->bytes.  The _string Type

The _string/ucs-4 type is rarely useful when interacting with foreign code, but using _bytes is somewhat unnatural since it forces users to use byte strings. The solution is the _string `type'.

_string      C TYPE

This is actually a syntax, which expands to a usage of the default-_string-type parameter. Note that the parameter is used when this identifier is evaluated, meaning that the parameter should be set before interface definition are being made (which is when the types are used).

(It is not difficult to create a type that uses a customizable conversion, but this means that all usages of this type will always use the same conversion, and that the result will take one more step when executing.)

(default-_string-type [ctype])      PROCEDURE

This is a parameter that determines what is the current _string type. It is initially set to _string/*utf-8. If you need to change it, make sure you do so before interfaces are defined.  Utility String Types

_file      C TYPE

This is just like _path, but when values go from Scheme to C, expand-path is used on the given value. As an output value, it is identical to _path.

_string/eof      C TYPE

This is similar to the _string type (it is a syntax for the same reason), except that a foreign return value of NULL (#f) is translated to a Scheme eof value.

2.2.3  Pointer Types

_pointer      C TYPE

This type corresponds to Scheme `C pointer' objects. These pointers can have an arbitrary Scheme object attached to them as a type tag. The tag is ignored by built-in functionality, it is intended to be used by interfaces. See section 2.6 for creating pointer types that use these tags for safety.

_scheme      C TYPE

This type can be used with any Scheme object, it corresponds to MzScheme's Scheme_Object* type. It is useful only for libraries that are aware of MzScheme's objects.

_fpointer      C TYPE

This is similar to _pointer, except that it should be used with function pointers. Using these pointers avoids one dereferencing, which is the proper way of dealing with function pointers. This type should be used only in rare situations where you need to pass a foreign function pointer to a foreign function -- Using a _cprocedure type is possible for such situations, but extremely inefficient as every call will go through Scheme. Otherwise, _cprocedure should be used (it is based on _fpointer).

2.2.4  Type Constructors

Since types are first-class values, there are several type constructors that build type objects. These are just the simple ones, more constructors are described below. Note that they are listed as procedures, but implemented as syntax, so it is possible to use a name where the syntactical context implies one (they can also be used as values, but error messages will not have a meaningful name in this case).

(_enum symbols [basetype])      PROCEDURE

This procedure takes in a list of symbols and generates an enumeration type. The enumeration maps between the given symbols and integers, counting from 0. The list of symbols can also set the values of symbols, if a symbol is followed by a `=' symbol and an integer, not in nested form to make it easy to copy, paste & modify C code. For example, the list '(x y = 10 z) maps 'x to 0, 'y to 10, and 'z to 11.

The optional basetype argument can specify the base type to use, defaulting to _ufixint.

(_bitmask symbols [basetype])      PROCEDURE

This is similar to _enum, but the resulting mapping translates a list of symbols to a number and back, using a logical or. A single symbol can be given as an input to make things a little more convenient. The default basetype for this is _uint, since high bits are often used for flags.

2.2.5  Misc Types

_bool      C TYPE

Translates #f to a 0 _int, and any other value to 1.

_void      C TYPE

This type indicates a Scheme void return value, and it cannot be used to translate values to C (i.e., this type cannot be used for function inputs).

2.3  Pointer Functions

(cpointer? x)      PROCEDURE

A predicate for pointer values: returns #t for C pointer objects as well as other values that can be used as pointers -- #f (used as a NULL pointer), byte strings (used as memory blocks), and some additional internal objects (ffi-objs and callbacks, see section 2.10). #f for other values.

(ptr-ref cptr ctype [['abs] offset])      PROCEDURE

This function returns the object referenced by cptr, using the given ctype.

(ptr-set! cptr ctype [['abs] offset] value)      PROCEDURE

This function stores the value in the memory cptr points to, using the given ctype for the conversion. Returns void.

offset defaults to 0 (which is the only value that should be used with ffi-obj objects, see section 2.10). If an offset index is given, the value is stored at that location, considering the pointer as a vector of ctypes -- so the actual address is the pointer plus the size of ctype multiplied by offset. In addition, a 'abs flag can be used to use the offset as counting bytes rather then increments of the specified ctype.

Caution: the ptr-ref and ptr-set! operations do not keep any meta-information on how pointers are used. It is the programmers responsibility to use this facility only when appropriate. For example, on a little-endian machine:

> (define block (malloc _int 5))
> (ptr-set! block _int 0 196353)
> (map (lambda (i) (ptr-ref block _byte i)) '(0 1 2 3))
(1 255 2 0)

In addition, there is no way to detect when offsets beyond the size of the block are used, so segmentation faults are easy to get.

(ptr-equal? cptr1 cptr2)      PROCEDURE

Compares the values of the two pointers. (Note that two different Scheme pointer objects can contain the same pointer.)

(cpointer-tag cptr)      PROCEDURE

Returns the Scheme object that is the tag of the given cptr pointer.

(set-cpointer-tag! cptr tag)      PROCEDURE

Sets the tag of the given cptr. tag can be any arbitrary value, it is intended to be useful for users, and otherwise it is ignored. When a cpointer value is printed, its tag is shown if it's a symbol, a byte string, a string, or when it's a pair holding one of these in its car then that is shown. The reason for printing the car of a pair tag is to make it possible to use tags that contain more information, e.g., as used by cpointer-has-tag? and cpointer-push-tag!.

2.3.1  Memory Management

(malloc bytes-or-type [type-or-bytes] [cptr] [mode] ['fail-ok])      PROCEDURE

This function allocates a memory block of a specified size. Returns a cpointer to that location in memory. The four arguments can appear in any order since they are all different types of Scheme objects, at the least, a size specification is required:

If no mode is specified, then 'nonatomic allocation will be used when the type is any pointer-based type, otherwise, an 'atomic allocation is used. Note that raw allocations is sometimes needed when dealing with memory management issues (usually with the precise GC).

(free cpointer)      PROCEDURE

Uses the operating system's free function for raw-allocated pointers, and for pointers that a foreign library allocated and we should free. Note that this is useful as part of a finalizer (see below) procedure hook (e.g., on the Scheme pointer object, freeing the memory when the pointer object is collected, but beware of aliasing).

(end-stubborn-change cpointer)      PROCEDURE

Uses scheme_end_stubborn_change on the given stubborn-allocated pointer (see the MzScheme documentation).

(register-finalizer obj finalizer-proc)      PROCEDURE

Registers a finalizer procedure finalizer-proc with the given obj which can be any Scheme (GC-able) object. The finalizer is registered with a will executor (see section 13.3 in PLT MzScheme: Language Manual); it is invoked when obj is about to be collected. (This is done by a thread that is in charge of triggering these will executors.)

This is mostly intended to be used with cpointer objects, for freeing unused memory that is not under GC control, but it can be used with any Scheme object, even ones that have nothing to do with foreign code. Note, however, that the finalizer is registered for the Scheme object -- if you intend to free a pointer object, then you have to be careful to not register finalizers for two cpointers that point to the same address.

(make-sized-byte-string cptr length)      PROCEDURE

This function returns a byte string made out of the given pointer and the given length. No copying is done. This can be used as an alternative to make pointer values accessible in Scheme when the size is known.

2.4  Safe C Vectors

(make-cvector ctype length)      PROCEDURE

Creates a C vector using the given ctype and length. This will allocate a memory block for the vector.

(cvector ctype vals ···)      PROCEDURE

Creates a C vector using the given ctype, initialized to the given list of values.

(cvector? x)      PROCEDURE

Predicate for C vectors.

(cvector-length cvec)      PROCEDURE

Returns the length of a C vector.

(cvector-type cvec)      PROCEDURE

Returns the C type object of a C vector.

(cvector-ref cvec idx)      PROCEDURE

References the idxth element of the cvec C vector. The result will have the type that the C vector uses.

(cvector-set! cvec idx val)      PROCEDURE

Sets the idxth element of the cvec C vector to val. val should be a value that can be used with the type that the C vector uses.

(cvector->list cvec)      PROCEDURE

Converts the cvec C vector object to a list of values.

(list->cvector list ctype)      PROCEDURE

Converts the list list to a C vector of the given ctype.

(make-cvector* cptr ctype length)      PROCEDURE

This constructs a C vector using an existing pointer object. This operation is not safe, so it is intended to be used in specific situations where the ctype and length are known.

_cvector      C TYPE

This can be used as an input type for C vectors, which uses the pointer to the memory block. Also, see the _cvector custom type in section 2.8.1.

2.4.1  SRFI-4 Vectors

SRFI-4 vectors are similar to the above C vector, except it defines different types of vectors, each with a hard-wired type.

An internal `make-srfi-4' macro defines and provides 8 functions for each TAG type -- a `make-TAGvector' constructor, a `TAGvector' constructor (uses its arguments), a `TAGvector?' predicate, a `TAGvector-length' function, a `TAGvector-ref' accessor and a `TAGvector-set!' setter, and conversions to and from a list, `TAGvector->list' and `list->TAGvector'. The functions are the same as the corresponding cvector functions above, except that there is no type argument.

In addition, there is a _TAGvector type similar to _cvector that can be used when interfacing foreign functions. Just like _cvector, _TAGvector can be used both as a simple type to pass a pointer value to foreign code, or as a custom type, expecting a mode flag for input, output, or input-output, where output-mode requires specifying the size of the result.

These following homogeneous vector types are defined, for a total of 80 functions.

2.5  Foreign Libraries

(ffi-lib path [version])      PROCEDURE

Opens a foreign library in an OS-specific way (using LoadLibrary on Windows, and dlopen on Unix), and returns an ffi-lib object. The path is not expected to contain the library suffix, which is added according to the current platform. If this fails, several other filename variations are tried -- retrying without an automatically added suffix and using a full path of a file if it exists (dlopen always searches its path, unless the path is absolute).

An optional version string can be supplied, which is appended to the name.

(ffi-lib? x)      PROCEDURE

A predicate for ffi-lib objects.

(get-ffi-obj objname lib type [failure-thunk])      PROCEDURE

Looks for the given object name objname (a string, a byte string, or a symbol), in the given lib library (a string, a library object, or #f). Specifying a string for the library will look for the named library (using ffi-lib), and using #f will open up the executable (the MzScheme or MrEd process) as a library -- using this it is possible to use internal (see Inside PLT MzScheme) functionality directly from Scheme. If the object is found, it is converted to Scheme using the given type. This is most often used with function types (see section 2.8).

If the object is not found, failure-thunk is used to produce a return value, or if it is not provided an exception is raised. This can be used to find a foreign function, or provide an error stub if it is not there, for example:

  (define foo
    (get-ffi-obj "foo" foolib (_fun _int -> _int)
      (lambda ()
        (lambda (x)
          (error 'foolib
                 "your installed foolib version does not provide \"foo\"")))))

(Reminder: get-ffi-obj is an unsafe procedure, see the beginning of Chapter 1 for details.)

(set-ffi-obj! objname lib type new)      PROCEDURE

Looks for the objname in lib similarly to get-ffi-obj, but then it stores the given new value into the library, converting it to a C value. This can be used for setting library customization variables that are part of its interface, including Scheme callbacks.

(make-c-parameter objname lib ctype)      PROCEDURE

Returns a parameter-like procedure that can either reference the specified foreign value, or set it. This is useful in case Scheme code and library code interact through a library value. It can be used with any type, but it is not recommended to use this for foreign functions since each reference through this will construct the low-level interface before the actual call.

(define-c var lib type)      SYNTAX

This syntax uses make-c-parameter above: it defines a var syntax that behaves like a Scheme binding, referencing and setting it is achieved through such a C parameter (so the same comments apply). The var part is used both for the Scheme binding and for the foreign object's name.

(ffi-obj-ref objname lib)      FAILURE-THUNK


Returns a pointer object for the required foreign object. This is for rare cases where make-c-parameter is insufficient because there is no type to cast the foreign object to (e.g., a vector of numbers).

2.6  Tagged C Pointer Types

(cpointer-has-tag? cptr tag)      PROCEDURE

(cpointer-push-tag! cptr tag)      PROCEDURE

These two functions treat pointer tags as lists of tags. As described in Section 2.3, a pointer tag does not have any role except for Scheme code that uses it to distinguish pointers -- these functions treat the tag value as a list of tags, which makes it possible to construct pointer types that can be treated as other pointer types, mainly for implementing inheritance via upcasts (when a struct contains a super struct as its first element).

cpointer-has-tag? checks if the given cptr has the tag -- a pointer has a tag t when its tag is either eq? to t or a list that contains (memq) t.

cpointer-push-tag! pushes the given tag value on cptr's tags. The main properties of this operation are: (a) pushing any tag will make later calls to cpointer-has-tag? succeed with this tag, (b) the pushed tag will be used when printing the pointer (until a new value is pushed). (Technically, pushing a tag will simply set it if there is no tag set, otherwise push it on an existing list or an existing value (treated as a single-element list).)

(_cpointer tag [ptr-type [scheme-to-C-proc C-to-scheme-proc]])      PROCEDURE

(_cpointer/null tag [ptr-type [scheme-to-C-proc C-to-scheme-proc]])      PROCEDURE

These functions constructs a kind of a pointer that gets a specific tag when converted to Scheme, and accept only such tagged pointers when going to C. An optional ptr-type can be given to be used as the base pointer type, instead of _pointer. (See set-cpointer-tag! and cpointer-tag in section 2.3 for more details.)

Pointer tags are checked with cpointer-has-tag? and changed with cpointer-push-tag! which means that other tags are preserved. Specifically, if a base ptr-type is given and is itself a _cpointer, then the new type will handle pointers that have the new tag in addition to ptr-type's tag(s). When the tag is a pair, its first value is used for printing, so the most recently pushed tag which corresponds to the inheriting type will be displayed.

Note that tags are compared with eq? (or memq), which means an interface can hide its value from users (e.g., not provide the cpointer-tag accessor), which makes such pointers un-fake-able.

_cpointer/null is similar to _cpointer except that it tolerates NULL pointers both going to C and back. Note that NULL pointers are represented as #f in Scheme, so they are not tagged.

(define-cpointer-type _name [ptr-type [scheme-to-C-proc C-to-scheme-proc]])      SYNTAX

A macro version of _cpointer and _cpointer/null above, using the defined name for a tag string, and defining a predicate too. The name should look like `_foo', the predicate will be `foo?', and the tag will be "foo". In addition, `foo-tag' will be bound to the tag. The optional arguments are the same as those of _cpointer. `_foo' will be bound to the _cpointer type, and `_foo/null' to the _cpointer/null type.

2.7  C Struct Types

(make-cstruct-type ctypes)      PROCEDURE

This is the primitive type constructor for creating new C struct types. These types are actually new primitive types -- they don't have any conversion functions associated. The corresponding Scheme objects that are used for structs are pointers, but when these types are used, the value that the pointer refers to is used rather than the pointer itself. This value is basically made of a number of bytes that is known according to the given list of ctypes list. There is no other primitive support, the following wrap this in a more functional way.

(_list-struct ctypes ···1)      PROCEDURE

This is a type constructor that builds a struct type using the above make-cstruct-type function, and wraps it in a type that marshals a struct as a list of its components. Note that space for structs needs to be allocated, and this type immediately allocates and uses a list from the allocated space, which means that using it is inefficient -- use define-cstruct below for a more efficient approach.

(define-cstruct _name ((fieldname ctype) ···))      SYNTAX

This macro defines a new C struct type, but unlike `_list-struct', the resulting type deals with C structs in binary form rather than marshal them to Scheme values. It uses a define-struct-like approach, providing accessor functions for raw struct values (which are pointer objects). The new type uses pointer tags to guarantee that only proper struct objects are used. The name must have a form of `_foo'. The form and the generated bindings are intentionally similar to define-struct only with type specification for the slots -- the identifiers that will be bound as a result are:

Objects of this new type are actually cpointers, with a type tag that is a list that contains "foo". Since structs are implemented as pointers, they can be used for a _pointer input to a foreign function: their address will be used. To make this a little safer, the corresponding cpointer type is defined as _foo-pointer. The _foo type should not be used when a pointer is expected -- it will cause the struct to be copied rather than use the pointer value, leading to memory corruption.

If the first slot is itself a cstruct type, its tag will be used in addition to the new tag. This supports common cases of object inheritance, where a sub-struct is made by having a first field that is its super-struct. Instances of the sub-struct can be considered as instances of the super-struct since they share the same initial layout. Using the tag of an initial cstruct slot means that the same behavior is implemented in Scheme, for example, accessors and mutators of the super-cstruct can be used with the new sub-cstruct. See Section 2.7.1 for an example.

Note that structs are allocated as atomic blocks, which means that the garbage collector ignores their content. Currently, there is no safe way to store pointers to GC-managed objects in structs (even if you keep a reference to avoid collecting the referenced objects, a moving GC will invalidate the pointer's value). This means that only non-pointer values, and pointers to memory that is outside the GC's control can be used.

(define-cstruct (_name _super) ((fieldname ctype) ···))      SYNTAX

This alternative form of define-cstruct, is shorthand for using an initial slot named super using _super as its type. Remember that the new struct will use _super's tag in addition to its own tag, meaning that instances of _name can be used as instances of _super. Aside from the syntactic sugar, the constructor function will be different when this syntax is used: instead of expecting a first argument which is an instance of _super, it will expect arguments for each of _super's slots in addition for the new slots. This is, again, in analogy to using a super-struct with define-struct.

2.7.1  C Struct Examples

A few examples will help understanding how to use structs. Assuming the following C code:

 typedef struct { int x; char y; } A;
 typedef struct { A a; int z; } B;

 A* makeA() {
   A *p = malloc(sizeof(A));
   p->x = 1;
   p->y = 2;
   return p;

 B* makeB() {
   B *p = malloc(sizeof(B));
   p->a.x = 1;
   p->a.y = 2;
   p->z   = 3;
   return p;

 char gety(A* a) {
   return a->y;

First, using the simple _list-struct, you might expect this code to work:

 (define makeB
   (get-ffi-obj 'makeB ""
     (_fun -> (_list-struct (_list-struct _int _byte) _int))))
 (makeB) ; should return ((1 2) 3)

The problem here is that makeB returns a pointer to the struct rather than the struct itself. The following works as expected:

 (define makeB
   (get-ffi-obj 'makeB "" (_fun -> _pointer)))
 (ptr-ref (makeB) (_list-struct (_list-struct _int _byte) _int))

As described above, _list-structs should be used in cases where efficiency is not an issue. We continue using define-cstruct, first define a type for `A' which makes it possible to use `makeA':

 (define-cstruct _A ([x _int] [y _byte]))
 (define makeA
   (get-ffi-obj 'makeA ""
     (_fun -> _A-pointer))) ; using _A is a memory-corrupting bug!
 (define a (makeA))
 (list a (A-x a) (A-y a))
   ; -> (#<cpointer:A> 1 2)

`gety' is also simple to use from Scheme:

 (define gety
   (get-ffi-obj 'gety ""
     (_fun _A-pointer -> _byte)))
 (gety a)
   ; -> 2

We now define another C struct for `B', and expose `makeB' using it:

 (define-cstruct _B ([a _A] [z _int]))
 (define makeB
   (get-ffi-obj 'makeB ""
     (_fun -> _B-pointer)))
 (define b (makeB))

We can access all values of b using a naive approach:

 (list (A-x (B-a b)) (A-y (B-a b)) (B-z b))

but this is inefficient as it allocates and copies an instance of `A' on every access. Inspecting the tags (cpointer-tag b) we can see that A's tag is included, so we can simply use its accessors and mutators, as well as any function that is defined to take an A pointer:

 (list (A-x b) (A-y b) (B-z b))
 (gety b)

Constructing a B instance in Scheme requires allocating a temporary A struct:

 (define b (make-B (make-A 1 2) 3))

To make this more efficient, we switch to the alternative define-cstruct syntax, which creates a constructor that expects arguments for both the super fields ands the new ones:

 (define-cstruct (_B _A) ([z _int]))
 (define b (make-B 1 2 3))

2.8  Function Types

(_cprocedure input-types output-type [wrapper-proc])      PROCEDURE

This is a procedure type constructor: it creates a new function type, specified by the given input-types list and output-type. Usually, the _fun syntax (described below) should be used instead, since it can deal with a wide range of complicated cases.

The resulting type can be used to reference foreign functions (usually ffi-objs, but any pointer object can be referenced with this type), generating a matching foreign callout object. Such objects are new primitive procedure objects that can be used like any other Scheme procedure.

This type can also be used for passing Scheme procedures to foreign functions, which will generate a foreign function pointer that calls the given Scheme procedure when it is used. There are no restrictions on the Scheme procedure, specifically, its lexical context is properly preserved.

The optional wrapper-proc, if provided, is expected to be a function that can change a callout procedure: when a callout is generated, the wrapper is applied on the newly created primitive procedure, and its result is used as the new function. This is provided as a hook that can perform various argument manipulations before the foreign function is invoked, and return different results (for example, grabbing a value stored in an `output' pointer and returning multiple values). It can also be used for callbacks, as an additional layer that tweaks arguments from the foreign code before they reach the Scheme procedure, and possibly changes the result values too.

(_fun [args ::] input-type ···  -> output-type [-> output-expr])      

Creates a new function type. This is a convenient syntax for the _cprocedure type constructor, that can handle complicated cases of argument handling. In its simplest form, only the input-types and the output-type are specified and each one is a simple expression, which creates a straightforward function type.

In its full form, the _fun syntax provides an IDL-like language that can be used to create a wrapper function around the primitive foreign function. These wrappers can implement complex foreign interfaces given simple specifications. First, the full form of each of the types can include an optional label and an expression:

type-spec is one of
  (label : type)
  (type = expr)
  (label : type = expr)

If an expression is provided, then the resulting function will be a wrapper that calculates the argument for that position itself, meaning that it does not expect an argument for that position. The expression can use previous arguments if they were labeled. In addition, the result of a function call need not be the value returned from the foreign call: if the optional output-expr is specified, or if an expression is provided for the output type, then this specifies an expression that will be used as a return value. This expression can use any of the previous labels, including a label given for the output which can be used to access the actual foreign return value.

In rare cases where complete control over the input arguments is needed, the wrapper's argument list can be specified as args, in any form (including a `rest' argument). Identifiers in this place are related to type labels, so if an argument is there is no need to use an expression, for example:

(_fun (n s) :: (s : _string) (n : _int) -> _int)

specifies a function that receives an integer and a string, but the foreign function will get the string first.

2.8.1  Custom Function Types

The behavior of the _fun type can be customized via custom function types. These are pieces of syntax that can behave as C types and C type constructors, but they can interact with function calls in several ways that are not possible otherwise. When the _fun form is expanded, it tries to expand each of the given type expressions, and ones that expand to certain keyword-value lists interact with the generation of the foreign function wrapper. This makes it possible to construct a single wrapper function, avoiding the costs involved in compositions of higher-order functions.

Custom function types are macros that expand to a list that looks like: `(key: val ...)', where all of the `key:'s are from a short list of known keys. Each key interacts with generated wrapper functions in a different way, which affects how its corresponding argument is treated:

All of the special custom types that are described here are defined this way.

Most custom types are meaningful only in a _fun context, and will raise a syntax error if used elsewhere. A few such types can be used in non-_fun contexts: types which use only type:, pre:, post:, and no others. Such custom types can be used outside a _fun by expanding them into a usage of make-ctype, using other keywords makes this impossible -- it means that the type has specific interaction with a function call.

(define-fun-syntax identifier transformer)      SYNTAX

The results of expanding custom type macros is taken apart by the _fun macro, which will lead to code certificate problems. To solve this, do use define-fun-syntax instead of define-syntax. It is used in the same way, but will avoid such problems.


This is not a conventional C type, it is a marker for expressions that should not be sent to the ffi function. Use this to bind local values in a computation that is part of an ffi wrapper interface, or to specify wrapper arguments that are not sent to the foreign function (e.g., an argument that is used for processing the foreign output).

(_ptr mode type)      CUSTOM C TYPE

This is for C pointers, where mode indicates input or output pointers (or both). mode can be one of the following:

For example, the _ptr type can be used in output mode to create a foreign function wrapper that returns more than a single argument. The following type:

(_fun (i : (_ptr o _int))
      -> (d : _double)
      -> (values d i))

will create a function that calls the foreign function with a fresh integer pointer, and use the value that is placed there as a second return value.

(_box type)      CUSTOM C TYPE

This is similar to a (_ptr io type) argument, where the input is expected to be a box holding an appropriate value, which is unboxed on entry and modified accordingly on exit.

(_list mode type [len])      CUSTOM C TYPE

Similar to _ptr, except that it is used for converting lists to/from C vectors. The optional len argument is needed for output values where it is used in the post code, and in the pre code of an output mode to allocate the block. In any case it can refer to a previous binding for the length of the list which the C function will most likely require.

_vector      CUSTOM C TYPE

Same as _list, except that it uses Scheme vectors instead of lists.

_bytes      CUSTOM C TYPE

_bytes can be used by itself as a simple type that uses a byte string as a C pointer. Alternatively, it can be used as a `(_bytes o len)' form is for a pointer return value, where the size should be explicitly specified. There is no need for other modes: input or input/output would be just like _bytes since the string carries its size information (there is no real need for the `o' part of the syntax, but it's there for consistency with the above macros).

(_cvector Custom C Type)      SYNTAX

Like _bytes, _cvector can be used as a simple type that corresponds to a pointer that is managed as a safe C vector on the Scheme side -- this is described in section 2.4 above. The syntax specified here is an alternative that makes it behave similarly to the _list and _vector custom types, except that this is more efficient since no Scheme list or vector are needed. (It can be used with all three modes.)

2.9  Miscellaneous Support

(regexp-replaces name substs)      PROCEDURE

This is a function that is convenient for many interfaces where the foreign library has some naming convention that you want to use in your interface as well. The first name argument can be any value that will be used to name the foreign object -- a symbol, a string, a byte string etc. This is first converted into a string, and then modified according to the given substs list in sequence, where each element in this list is a list of a regular expression and a substitution string. Usually, regexp-replace* is used to perform the substitution, except for cases where the regular expression begins with a ``^'' or ends with a ``$'' where regexp-replace is used.

For example, the following makes it convenient to define Scheme bindings such as foo-bar for foreign names like MyLib_foo_bar:

(define mylib (ffi-lib "mylib"))
(define-syntax defmyobj
  (syntax-rules (:)
    [(_ name : type ...)
     (define name
       (get-ffi-obj (regexp-replaces 'name '((#rx"-" "_") (#rx"^" "MyLib_")))
                    mylib (_fun type ...)))]))
(defmyobj foo-bar : _int -> _int)

(list->cblock list ctype)      PROCEDURE

This function allocates a memory block of an appropriate size, and initializes it using values from list and the given ctype. The list must hold values that can all be converted to C values according to the given ctype.

(cblock->list cblock ctype length)      PROCEDURE

This function converts C pointers cblock to vectors of ctype, to Scheme lists. The arguments are the same as in the list->cblock. length must be specified because there is no way to know where the block ends.

(vector->cblock vector ctype)      PROCEDURE

Same as the list->cblock function, only for Scheme vectors.

(cblock->vector cblock ctype length)      PROCEDURE

Same as the cblock->vector function, only for Scheme vectors.

2.10  Functions in the C part

These functions are provided by the internal #%foreign, but not re-provided from foreign. They are listed with brief explanations. If you find any of these useful, please let us know.

(ffi-obj objname ffi-lib-or-libname)      PROCEDURE

Pulls out a foreign object from a library, returning a Scheme value that can be used as a pointer. If a name is provided instead of a library object, ffi-lib is used to create a library object.

(ffi-obj? x)      PROCEDURE

(ffi-obj-lib ffi-obj)      PROCEDURE
(ffi-obj-name ffi-obj)      PROCEDURE

A predicate for objects returned by ffi-obj, and accessor functions that return its corresponding library object and name. These values can also be used as C pointer objects.

(ctype-basetype ctype)      PROCEDURE

(ctype-scheme->c ctype)      PROCEDURE
(ctype-c->scheme ctype)      PROCEDURE

Accessors for the components of a C type object, made by make-ctype. ctype-basetype returns #f for primitive types (including cstruct types).

(ffi-call ptr in-types out-type)      PROCEDURE

This is the primitive mechanism that creates Scheme `callout' values. The given ptr (any pointer value, including ffi-obj values) is wrapped in a Scheme-callable primitive function that uses the types to specify how values are marshaled.

(ffi-callback proc in-types out-type)      PROCEDURE

This operation is the symmetric counterpart of ffi-call. It receives a Scheme procedure and creates a callback object, which can also be used as a pointer. This object can be used as a C-callable function, which will invoke proc using the types to specify how values are marshaled.

(ffi-callback? x)      PROCEDURE

A predicate for callback values that are created by ffi-callback.