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Function pointers and Delegates - Closing the gap!

, 17 Jun 2005 Ms-PL
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Explains the usage of the Marshal class methods GetFunctionPointerForDelegate and GetDelegateForFunctionPointer, and compares their performance with the P/Invoke mechanism.


3 years ago, I had written an article titled Implementing Callback functions using IJW (avoiding DllImport) that described a technique by which you could call API functions requiring callbacks without using the DllImport mechanism. The technique I used involved declaring an __gc class with an inner __nogc class with the __gc class wrapping the inner class and exposing a managed interface to the outer world. While it was rather contorted a technique, it was the only option at that time. But today, with the release of Whidbey around the corner, things have got a whole lot better, with the introduction of two new methods in the Marshal class - GetFunctionPointerForDelegate and GetDelegateForFunctionPointer. Now you can take a function pointer and wrap a delegate around it, or the reverse - take a delegate and use it as a function pointer. This article demonstrates both techniques using the almost proverbial EnumWindows example everyone uses when they want to demonstrate something to do with callback functions.

Sample usage

delegate BOOL EnumWindowsDelegateProc(HWND hwnd,LPARAM lParam);

I've declared the delegate type that'll be exposed to the .NET world (or at least to the C++ .NET world given that I've used some native types). The delegate type matches the callback prototype for the EnumWindows function

ref class WindowEnumerator
    EnumWindowsDelegateProc^ _WindowFound;
        _WindowFound = nullptr;
    event EnumWindowsDelegateProc^ WindowFound
        void add(EnumWindowsDelegateProc^ d)
            if(_WindowFound == nullptr)
                _WindowFound = d;                
        void remove(EnumWindowsDelegateProc^)
            _WindowFound = nullptr;
    void Init()
        pin_ptr<EnumWindowsDelegateProc^> tmp =  &_WindowFound;
            _WindowFound).ToPointer(), 0);        

I have a non-trivial event (WindowFound) that's of the delegate type declared earlier - the reason I had to use a non-trivial event is that C++/CLI does not treat an event as a regular class member and won't allow operations like & (address of) on an event member. Notice how I check for nullptr before assigning the event handler - this is done to ensure that there is only one delegate associated with the event. The crux of the code is in the Init method where I've called EnumWindows directly and have used GetFunctionPointerForDelegate to convert the delegate object into a function pointer. If you look at the mscorlib source using Reflector or ILDasm, you'll see that GetFunctionPointerForDelegate does a nullptr check and then calls an extern function GetFunctionPointerForDelegateInternal. GetFunctionPointerForDelegateInternal creates a native callable stub around the delegate that has been passed in and my best guess as to where it's defined in would be mscorwks.dll (just a guess, someone who works in the CLR team will know better). Notice how I pin the delegate object using a temporary pin_ptr variable, this is because I do not want the delegate object to be moved around on the CLR heap while I am using the function pointer in native code.

delegate int DispProc(String^, String^);

Here, I've declared my second delegate (which I'll use to wrap the printf function provided in the CRT library).

ref class MyClass
    static BOOL HandleFoundWindow(HWND hwnd,LPARAM lParam)
        char buff[512];
        GetWindowText(hwnd, buff, 511);
        if(IsWindowVisible(hwnd) && pDispProc && strlen(buff))
            pDispProc("%s\r\n",gcnew String(buff));
        return TRUE;
    static DispProc^ pDispProc =  nullptr;

This class simply defines a static HandleFoundWindow method that matches the delegate prototype expected by the WindowEnumerator class. Notice that I could have used Console::WriteLine here, but I wanted to use a delegate that wrapped a function pointer (so I could demonstrate the use of the GetDelegateForFunctionPointer method. After having written so many articles and a technical book, I've lost any traces of shame when I invent unusually contorted examples to demonstrate coding techniques. Many others like me who do technical authoring are notorious for creating the most beautiful pieces of code that'll never ever serve any purpose in a real-world production environment. So, kindly have mercy on me guys.

int main(array<System::String ^> ^args)
    WindowEnumerator wenum;
    EnumWindowsDelegateProc^ d1 = gcnew EnumWindowsDelegateProc(
    wenum.WindowFound += d1;        
    HMODULE h1 = LoadLibrary("msvcrt.dll");
        typedef int (*FUNC_PTR)(const char *, ...); 
        FUNC_PTR pfn = reinterpret_cast<FUNC_PTR>(GetProcAddress(h1, "printf"));
            DispProc^ d2 = (DispProc^)Marshal::GetDelegateForFunctionPointer(
            MyClass::pDispProc = d2;
    return 0;

I get a pointer to the printf function using LoadLibrary/GetProcAddress and call GetDelegateForFunctionPointer to create a delegate that wraps this function pointer. If you look at the implementation of GetDelegateForFunctionPointer, you'll see that it does some nullptr checks, then checks to see that you've actually passed in a Delegate type and then calls an extern function GetDelegateForFunctionPointerInternal. GetDelegateForFunctionPointerInternal creates a new delegate that wraps a native function pointer (similar to the P/Invoke mechanism) and is defined in an undocumented DLL - my best guess, as I mentioned earlier is mscorwks.dll, but I might be wrong there. MSDN says that the function pointer that's passed must be a pure unmanaged function pointer - means you cannot safely pass in a native pointer in a mixed-mode module. Though when I tested it with a local function in a mixed-mode project, things worked pretty smooth - but it's safer to follow MSDN guidelines - you never know when something'll break otherwise.

Performance improvement

I did a little speed test to see which is more performant. I wrote two classes - both of them enumerating windows using the EnumWindows API, one of which used P/Invoke while the other used the Marshal::GetFunctionPointerForDelegate method to manually do the delegate to function pointer conversion. Just as I expected, the latter method was more efficient and this efficiency improvement was seen to be pretty consistent as I increased the iterations.

Here are the two classes :-

delegate int DEnumWindowsProc(IntPtr hWnd, IntPtr lParam);

ref class Base abstract
    static int EnumWindowsProc(IntPtr hWnd, IntPtr lParam)
        return TRUE;
    virtual void Init() abstract;

ref class PIClass : Base
    static bool EnumWindows(DEnumWindowsProc^ lpEnumFunc, 
        IntPtr lParam);

    virtual void Init() override
        EnumWindows(gcnew DEnumWindowsProc(EnumWindowsProc), 


ref class FuncPtrClass : Base
    static DEnumWindowsProc^ dg = gcnew DEnumWindowsProc(EnumWindowsProc);

    virtual void Init() override
        pin_ptr<DEnumWindowsProc^> tmp =  &dg;
            Marshal::GetFunctionPointerForDelegate(dg).ToPointer(), 0);            

And here's my test code :-

generic<typename T> where T : Base int CalcSpeed(int count)
        "Checking class : {0} with {1} iterations", T::typeid, count);
    T t = Activator::CreateInstance<T>();        
    DWORD start = GetTickCount();
    DWORD stop = GetTickCount();
    Console::WriteLine("{0} milliseconds", stop - start);
    return stop - start;

void DoCalc(int count)
    int t1 = CalcSpeed<PIClass^>(count);
    int t2 = CalcSpeed<FuncPtrClass^>(count);
    float pc = (float)(t1-t2)/t1 * 100;
    int pcrounded = (int)pc;
        "{0}% improvement for {1} iterations\r\n", pc, count);

int main(array<System::String ^> ^args)
    return 0;

Here's the output I got (you'll get slightly varying results obviously) :-


  • June 17, 2005 : Article first published.


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Microsoft Public License (Ms-PL)


About the Author

Nish Sivakumar

United States United States
Nish is a real nice guy who has been writing code since 1990 when he first got his hands on an 8088 with 640 KB RAM. Originally from sunny Trivandrum in India, he has been living in various places over the past few years and often thinks it’s time he settled down somewhere.
Nish has been a Microsoft Visual C++ MVP since October, 2002 - awfully nice of Microsoft, he thinks. He maintains an MVP tips and tricks web site - where you can find a consolidated list of his articles, writings and ideas on VC++, MFC, .NET and C++/CLI. Oh, and you might want to check out his blog on C++/CLI, MFC, .NET and a lot of other stuff -
Nish loves reading Science Fiction, P G Wodehouse and Agatha Christie, and also fancies himself to be a decent writer of sorts. He has authored a romantic comedy Summer Love and Some more Cricket as well as a programming book – Extending MFC applications with the .NET Framework.
Nish's latest book C++/CLI in Action published by Manning Publications is now available for purchase. You can read more about the book on his blog.
Despite his wife's attempts to get him into cooking, his best effort so far has been a badly done omelette. Some day, he hopes to be a good cook, and to cook a tasty dinner for his wife.

Comments and Discussions

News[My vote of 1] how do I pass pass a method adress from win32 application to c# library method which has Action as a parameter Pinmembera ahole26-Jun-11 6:37 
Questionhow do I pass pass a method adress from win32 application to c# library method which has Action as a parameter Pinmembera ahole26-Jun-11 6:19 
GeneralMore comment: can't cast IntPtr directly to function pointer Pinmemberdtr2228-Oct-08 2:53 
QuestionHow about translating it to the managed world? Pinmembermarsboee18-Oct-06 9:38 
GeneralTrivial Event woes Pinmembertonyt28-Sep-06 5:19 
GeneralPinning unnecessart (I think...) PinmemberA Debaene30-Aug-06 2:42 
I believe pinning the delegate in the GetFunctionPointerForDelegate is useless : The delegate must be kept in memory (ie, it must not be freed while it might be called back by the unmanaged code), but it can be moved freely by the GC.
At least, this is how I understand this :[^]
GeneralRe: Pinning unnecessart (I think...) PinstaffNishant Sivakumar30-Aug-06 3:00 
Generalpin_ptr Pinmemberphilipp__p10-Jul-06 6:12 
GeneralFunction pointers PinmemberParag Gadkari23-May-06 6:57 
Questionpointer to member functions?? PinmemberTheLion4-May-06 10:51 
AnswerRe: pointer to member functions?? PinmemberSameer Khan29-Oct-07 8:32 
GeneralRe: pointer to member functions?? PinmemberTheLion29-Oct-07 9:01 
GeneralRe: pointer to member functions?? PinmemberSameer Khan30-Oct-07 5:47 
QuestionC# example? PinmemberCalibus_22-Feb-06 4:40 
AnswerRe: C# example? PinstaffNishant Sivakumar22-Feb-06 4:51 
GeneralRe: C# example? PinmemberCalibus_22-Feb-06 6:09 
GeneralRe: C# example? PinmemberM i s t e r L i s t e r24-Mar-06 9:05 
QuestionVS 2005 solution? Pinmemberericwilliamg8-Nov-05 12:39 
AnswerRe: VS 2005 solution? Pinmemberericwilliamg8-Nov-05 12:54 
Question^ accent usage ? Pinmembertoxcct23-Jun-05 2:50 
AnswerRe: ^ accent usage ? PinstaffNishant Sivakumar23-Jun-05 2:56 
GeneralRe: ^ accent usage ? Pinmembertoxcct23-Jun-05 6:20 
GeneralRe: ^ accent usage ? PinstaffNishant Sivakumar24-Jun-05 3:04 
GeneralInitialization lists PinmemberNemanja Trifunovic17-Jun-05 10:54 
GeneralRe: Initialization lists PinstaffNishant Sivakumar17-Jun-05 19:11 
GeneralRe: Initialization lists PinmemberNemanja Trifunovic18-Jun-05 4:20 
GeneralRe: Initialization lists PinstaffNishant Sivakumar18-Jun-05 4:33 
GeneralRe: Initialization lists PinstaffNishant Sivakumar17-Jun-05 19:12 
GeneralRe: Initialization lists PinmemberNemanja Trifunovic18-Jun-05 3:42 

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