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Binding D to C Part Three

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This is the (long overdue) third part of a series on creating bindings to C libraries for the D programming language.

In part one, I introduced the difference between dynamic and static bindings and some of the things to consider when choosing which kind to implement. In part two, I talked about the different linkage attributes to be aware of when declaring external C functions in D. Here in part three, I'm going to begin discussing how to translate C type declarations into D. I'll continue the discussion in part four.

First off, I want to mention a particular page over at called Converting C .h Files to D Modules. This is required reading for anyone planning to work on a D binding to a C library. This series should be considered a companion to that page.

Dealing With Types

When translating C types to D, the large majority take only a handful of forms:

* typedefs
* #defines
* struct declarations
* function parameters

All of the translation guidelines discussed in this post cover all four situations, but there are special cases regarding function parameters that will be covered in part five when I talk about function declarations. It's also possible to find global variable declarations in a C header. But, in my experience, they aren't generally encountered when creating library bindings.

Typedefs, Aliases, and Native Types

D used to have typedefs. And they were strict in that they actually created a new type. Given an int typdefed to a Foo, a type Foo would actually be created rather than it being just another name for int. But D also has alias, which doesn't create a new type but just makes a new name for an existing type. In D2, typedef was deprecated. Now we are left with alias.

alias is what should be used in D when a typedef is encountered in C, excluding struct declarations (more on that in part four). Most C headers have a number of typedefs that create alternative names for native types. For example, you might see something like this in a C header.

typedef int foo_t;
typedef float bar_t;

In a D binding, it's typically a very good idea to preserve the original typenames. The D interface should match the C interface as closely as possible. That way, existing C code from examples or other projects can be easily ported to D. So the first thing to consider is how to translate the native types int and long into D.

Fortunately, on the dlang page I mentioned above, there is a table that lists how all the C native types translate to D. If you look it up, you'll see that an int is an int, a float is a float, and so on. So to port the two declarations above, simply replace typedef with alias and all is well.

alias int foo_t;
alias float bar_t;

One thing I'd like to point out about that table, though. It lists the D int as equivalent to the C long. In most cases, this is true. But there is a possibility that the C long type could actually be 64-bits on some platforms, whereas D's int type is always 32-bits and D's long type is always 64-bits. As a measure of protection against this possible snafu, it's prudent to use a couple of handy aliases on the D side that are declared in core.stdc.config: c_long and c_ulong.

// In the C header
typedef long mylong_t;
typedef unsigned long myulong_t;

// In the D module
import core.stdc.config;

// Although the import above is private to the module, the aliases are public
// and visible outside of the module.
alias c_long mylong_t;
alias c_ulong myulong_t;

One more thing. If you are translating typedefs that use types from C's stdint.h, you have two options for the aliases. You can use native D types, since the sizes are fixed, or you can include core.stdc.stdint, which mirrors the C header, and just replace typedef with alias. For example, here are some types from SDL2 translated into D.

// From SDL_stdinc.h
typedef int8_t Sint8;
typedef uint8_t Uint8;
typedef int16_t Sint16;
typedef uint16_t Uint16;

// In D, without core.stdc.stdint
alias byte Sint8;
alias ubyte Uint8;
alias short Sint16;
alias ushort Uint16;

// And with the import
import core.stdc.stdint;

alias int8_t Sint8;
alias uint8_t Uint8;
alias int16_t Sint16;
alias uint16_t Uint16;


Translating anonymous enums from C to D requires nothing more than a copy/paste.

// In C

// In D

Note that enums in D do not require a final semicolon. Also, the last member may be followed by a comma.

For named enums, you may want to do just a bit more than a direct copy/paste. Named enums in D require the name be prefixed when accessing members. Example:

// In C
typedef enum
} MyEnum;

// In D
enum MyEnum

// In some function...
MyEnum me = MyEnum.ME_FOO;

There's nothing wrong with this in and of itself. In fact, there is a benefit in that it gives you some type safety. For example, if a function takes a parameter of type MyEnum, you can't just pass any old int in its place. The compiler will complain that int is not implicitly convertible to MyEnum. That may be acceptable for an internal project, but for a publicly available binding it is bound to cause confusion because it breaks compatibility with existing code samples. One work around that maintains type safety is the following.

alias MyEnum.ME_FOO ME_FOO;
alias MyEnum.ME_BAR ME_BAR;
alias MyEnum.ME_BAZ ME_BAZ;

// Now this works
MyEnum me = ME_FOO;

It's obvious how tedious this could become for large enums. If type safety is not important, there's one more workaround.

alias int MyEnum;

This will behave exactly as the C version.


Often in C, #define is used to declare constant values. OpenGL uses this approach to declare values that are intended to be interpreted as the type GLenum. Though these values could be translated to D using the immutable type modifier, there is a better way.

D's enum keyword is used to denote traditional enums and also manifest constants. In D, a manifest constant is an enum that has only one member, in which case you can omit the braces in the declaration. Here's an example:

// This is a manifest constant of type float
enum float Foo = 1.003f;

// We can declare the same thing using auto inference
enum Foo = 1.003f; // float
enum Bar = 1.003; // double
enum Baz = "Baz!" // string

For single #defined values in C, these manifest constants work like a charm. But often, such values are logically grouped according to function. Given that a manifest constant is essentially the same as a one-member enum, it follows that we can group several #defined C values into a single, anonymous D enum.

// On the C side.
#define FOO_SOME_NUMBER 100

// On the D side
enum FOO_SOME_NUMBER = 100

// Or, alternatively

Personally, I tend to use the latter approach if there are more than two or three related #defines, and the former if it's only one or two values.

But let's get back to the manifest constants I used in the example up above. I had a float, a double and a string. What if there are multiple #defined strings? Do you have to declare a seperate manifest constant for each one? No, not if you don't want to. D's enums can be typed to any existing type. Even structs.

// In C
#define LIBNAME "Some Awesome C Library"
#define AUTHOR "John Foo"
#define COMPANY "FooBar Studios"

// In D, collect all the values into one enum declaration of type string
enum : string
LIBNAME = "Some Awesome C Library",
AUTHOR = "John Foo",
COMPANY = "FooBar Studios",

Neat, eh? Again, note the trailing comma on the last enum field. I tend to always include these in case a later version of the C library adds a new value that I need to tack on at the end. A minor convenience.

More to Come

I think that's about enough for this session. In part four, we'll take a look at structs. There are a couple of pitfalls to be aware of when porting them over to D and I'll give you some advice to get around them.
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[quote name='Jeff.Leigh' timestamp='1337463987']
Very interesting. Honestly, I should learn more about D.

Agreed, I need to do the same.

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alias int MyEnum;
One more problem with this is that it doesn't work with final switch.

BTW: There's a better C<=>D type table on this page: [url=""][/url] It's too bad we often have duplicate and outdated information on the D website.

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Thanks for the link. I could have sworn I had seen a different page on the D site before. I wasn't imagining things after all.

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