Calling C Functions

Starting from the 1.3 beta version, Luna comes equipped with the ability to call foreign C functions from object files. This document describes how to use this system to create C based libraries.

Object files

Object files contain compiled code that can be dynamically loaded and used by other programs. The most common types are .so files on Linux, .dylib files on macOS and .dll on Windows. Luna is able to work with object files coming from two sources: 1. System-wide available dynamic libraries. If a library is installed on your machine, Luna will be able to use it. Unfortunately, this requires all the users of your library to have the dynamic library installed in their systems. For most libraries this is not a good solution, it will, however, work fine for bindings to the most popular libraries and for quick prototyping. 2. Object files inside the project tree. You can drop any shared object file into the native_libs/PLATFORM directory inside your project (PLATFORM is macos, linux or windows) and use it from Luna. This is a great solution for making sure users are able to use your library without any external dependencies. It's also the only way to include your own C extension or wrapper.

Using a shared library

[info] Changes ahead!

This describes the bare-bones way of interacting with foreign objects. There are some syntactic changes coming soon to cut down on boilerplate. The basic concepts, however, will remain unchanged.

OK, so you have your shared library in place, how to actually use it from Luna? For this example, we'll assume that we're working with the following directory structure:


The object files in this example contain just a single function, with the following C signature:

int awesomeFunction(int);

How do we use it?

Resolving the symbol

The workhorse of our FFI (Foreign Function Interface) is the lookupSymbol function from Std.Foreign module. It takes a shared object file name and a name of the symbol to lookup, and returns a FunPtr object. The library resolution takes into account the most common naming conventions, so that it is possible to use the same call with a file named awesome.dylib as well as So, in our example, you can just write:

def awesomeFunction i:
    funPtr = lookupSymbol "awesome" "awesomeFunction"

Calling the FunPtr

Now that we've obtained the function pointer, it's time to call the function. This is what the call method of FunPtr does. It takes two arguments – a representation for the output type and a list of objects of type CArg, representing the function arguments. Note that not every type can be represented as a C argument. The types that can (numeric types, pointers and a few more) are converted using their toCArg method. So, back to our example. The awesomeFunction expects and int and returns an int. Note that Luna's Ints are different from C's, so the latter are represented by the class CInt. This is what our function call looks like:

def awesomeFunction i:
    funPtr = lookupSymbol "awesome" "awesomeFunction"
    result = funPtr . call CInt [i.toCArg]

Translating between C and Luna data types

We have successfully called a C function. It is not very usable for most Luna code though – it requires us to use the C types throughout the program. We'll fix that with a few conversion methods. First of all, the function argument needs to be a CInt. Most Luna programs, however, use standard Ints and these cannot easily be represented in C. This can be fixed with the help of CInt.fromInt function, which converts an ordinary Int object into a CInt. It also returns a CInt, which again is not very handy. This can be fixed with the help of toInt method of CInt. The final version of our wrapper, which operates on Ints and from the outside is nearly indistinguishable from pure Luna code looks like this:

def awesomeFunction i:
    iArg = CInt.fromInt i
    funPtr = lookupSymbol "awesome" "awesomeFunction"
    result = funPtr . call CInt [iArg.toCArg]

Basic C Types

Luna defines counterparts of the standard C types in the Std.Foreign.C.Value module. This section is a short overview of all of them.

Integer types

There is a counterpart for integral types commonly used throughout C codebases. All these wrappers have a common API – they define the fromInt and toInt methods, support comparison and basic arithmetic operators. The following table shows the C types and their Luna counterparts.

C Type

Luna Class

(signed) char


unsigned char




(signed) int


unsigned int


(signed) long


unsigned long




















Floating point numbers

Luna defines the CDouble and CFloat classes as counterparts of C's double and float, respectively. Both classes define fromReal and toReal methods for conversion between them and Luna's Real. They also support basic arithmetic and comparison operators.


The basic pointer type is just Pointer. It takes a single argument denoting the type of its content. So, for example, Pointer CInt corresponds to int* in C, while Pointer (Pointer None) is void**.

Creating and freeing pointers

To create a pointer able to hold a single value of type X use the malloc method on pointer class:

ptr = Pointer X . malloc

For this to work, the X object must define a byteSize method, returning the size in bytes of the structure. You can also use mallocElems to create arrays like so:

arr = Pointer CInt . mallocElems 40

Any pointer can be freed using its free method – if you're done with your ptr just call

Reading and writing

Reading a pointer can be accomplished by its read method. It works on a Ptr X and returns a value of type X. Keep in mind that in order for this to work, the X type must define a readPtr method that takes a bare pointer and plucks the fields one by one.

Similarly, to write a value to ptr of type Pointer X, call ptr.write x. Again, this requires the type X to define writePtr method.

For the basic C types, the required methods are already defined in the standard library.

Pointer arithmetic

Any pointer can be moved by a specified number of bytes using the ptr.moveBytes i method – it returns a new pointer, resulting from adding i bytes to ptr. There is also a moveElems method, that will move the pointer by the specified number of elements (i.e. by number of elements * element.byteSize bytes).

Managed Pointers

With standard pointers we need to think about freeing unused memory, or it will clutter up our RAM. We can fix that issue with managed pointers – pointers that can be automatically garbage collected when no longer needed. Since managed pointers are available the regular pointers should not be used any more. To create managed pointer for single value of X type call, like for pointer, malloc method just on the managed pointer class:

ptr = ManagedPointer X . malloc

Allocating multiple elements with mallocElems works just like for regular poinetrs. To create array with managed pointer use:

arr = ManagedPointer CInt . mallocElems 40

It is also possible to create managed pointer from existing pointer ptr. For this finalizer function fin is required. Finalizer will be run when the pointer will be garbage collected:

ptr = ManagedPointer X . fromPtr fin ptr

Methods like read, write, moveElems works the same way for managed pointers like for regular pointers.

Real life example

Now that we've covered all the basics, let's dive into a more involved example – using the SHA1 function from openssl. It takes an input buffer of type unsigned char*, a size_t denoting the length of input and an output buffer of type unsigned char* and length 20. Suppose you have a list of Luna Ints and want to compute the SHA1 digest of this list, as another list of Ints. This is how this can be done with Luna's FFI:

import Std.Foreign
import Std.Foreign.C.Value

def sha1Digest inputList:
    # Inputs preparation
    inputLength = inputList . length
    inBuf  = ManagedPointer CUChar . mallocElems inputLength      # Allocate the input buffer.
    inSize = CSize.fromInt inputLength                            # Convert the length to a CSize.
    outBuf = ManagedPointer CUChar . mallocElems 20               # Allocate the output buffer.
    indexed = 0 . upto inputLength . zip inputList
    indexed . each (ix, elem):
        inBuf . moveElems ix . write (CUChar.fromInt elem) # Write each element to the buffer at correct position.

    # Calling the foreign function
    sha1FunPtr = lookupSymbol "openssl" "SHA1"                          # Get the function from dynamic library.
    sha1FunPtr . call None [inBuf.toCArg, inSize.toCArg, outBuf.toCArg] # Call the function passing all the arguments
                                                                        # and specifying the return type as None

    # Getting the final results                                                                    
    result = 0 . upto 19 . each i:
        outBuf . moveElems i . read . toInt    # Read from the output buffer at consecutive positions
                                               # and convert the values back to Ints.


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