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Embedding Python In Your C++ Application

By , 22 May 2006
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Introduction

You have a problem.
You wrote a cross-platform mail server in C++.
It runs on Windows, Linux and Mac.

Well, is that a problem?
No, it's cool.

But now, you feel pathetic about yourself.
Your manager says, "all is fine, but I want the users to edit the config file using a GUI."

Yes, just a single dialog box, with a few input fields.
But how to add it to your command line application?

"Qt?"

"No, we can't spend big cash for just a single window."

"Gtk? or wxWidgets?"

"No, we can't add that much bloat to our executable."
"And mind it, I need it fast, 1 day, at-most".

Now you feel stuck.
It's itching your sole and steaming your brow.

I tell you, stay cool - read on.

Embed Python

Yes, that is the answer to your woes, embed Python.
Python comes bundled with Tkinter - the lightweight, mature, cross-platform UI toolkit.

You can handcraft your UI in a matter of few minutes. And it won't add much to the size of your application.

I will show you how easy it is.

"But one word before that, why Python?"
Well, these are some of the reasons that I personally like it:

  1. It is straightforward. You can write useful stuff just after playing around with the language for a few minutes.
  2. The syntax forces the lazy programmer to write clean, well indented code. Still it does not force a particular programming style on you.
  3. Though interpreted, performance is commendable.
  4. You can extend and embed it.

Many smart people are using it in demanding systems. Some of the most celebrated Python users include:

  1. Google
  2. NASA
  3. Industrial Light and Magic (Yes, StarWars owes much to Python !)

"Ok, Ok. I agree that, on its own, Python is a good language."
"But I have had enough, trying to embed it."
"The C API is very low-level, and it never worked as documented."

Yes, I agree that the documentation on embedding Python is missing something. But remember what I said, 'I will show you an easy way.'

I have written a C++ wrapper over the Python API. Just use it.

You no longer need to worry about mapping Python objects to C/C++ types. You don't need to reference count objects on heap, for garbage collection.

All is taken care of. Just use it.

Using the Code

The classes that we are going to use are declared in 'pyembed.h'.

Consider the following Python script:

Listing 1 - test.py

 def multiply(a,b):
     "Finds a product, the other way round!"
     c = 0
     for i in range(0, a):
      c = c + b
     return c

The function "multiply" takes two integers as arguments and returns an integer. Let us write some code to call this function from C++.

Listing 2 - test_pyembed.cpp

#include <iostream>
#include "pyembed.h"
using namespace pyembed; // for brevity

int
main(int argc, char** argv)
{
  try // always check for Python_exceptions
    {

      // Create an instance of the interpreter.
      Python py(argc, argv);

      // Load the test module into the interpreter
      py.load("test");           

      // value returned by python is stored here    
      long ret = 0; 

      // our argument list that maps string values 
      // to their python types    
      Arg_map args; 

      // fill up argument strings and their types.
      args["10"] = Py_long;
      args["20"] = Py_long;

      // make the call
      py.call("multiply", args, ret);

      // will print 200
      std::cout << ret << '\n'; 

      return 0;
    }
  catch (Python_exception ex)
    {
      std::cout << ex.what();
    }
  return 0;
}

I am not going to explain the code, as it is well commented. Our main actor here is the class "Python". It has a large variety of "call" functions, that can be used to call Python functions that return different kind of objects. The following Python types are handled as return values and mapped to C++ types:

Python return Mapped to
PyString std::string
PyLong/PyInt long
PyFloat double
PyTuple std::vector<std::string> (typedefed as String_list)
PyList std::vector<std::string> (typedefed as String_list)
PyDict std::map<std::string, std::string> (typedefed as String_map)

Tuples, lists and dictionaries embedded inside other objects are returned as comma or colon delimited strings, which you further need to parse. But such values are seldom required.

You can pass the following C++ types as arguments to Python functions:

long (Py_long)
double (Py_real)
std::string or char (Py_string)

You can also execute arbitrary Python scripts using the "run_string" function.
To execute a script file as it is, use the "run_file" function.

Example:

py.run_string("print 'Hello World from Python!');

py.run_file("test.py");

Just go through pyembed.h to get a feel of all the facilities offered by our "Python" class.

The downloadable zip file contains the code of the pyembed library, along with a small C++ commandline program that demonstrates a GUI using Tkinter.

Compiling

Here is the command I used on Linux to compile the sample application "users.cpp":

g++ -o users -I/usr/local/include/python2.4 pyembed.cpp 
	users.cpp -L/usr/local/lib/python2.4/config -Xlinker 
	-export-dynamic -lpython2.4 -lm -lpthread -ltk -lutil

You need to change the -I and -L options to point to your Python installation folders.

For compiling on Windows (or any other platform), download and install Python and link the application with the platform specific Python library. If you are using Visual C++, you may also need to link with the multi-threaded runtime library. I don't work on Windows, so this is just an imagination. Always remember to add pyembed.cpp and pyembed.h to your project.

Play around with the sample code. Make changes to "adduserform.py" while the application is still running, and see if the changes are reflected immediately. Yes, you can modify the UI, without recompiling the program. You can modify it on-the-fly. This is just one of the advantages of giving your application a Python face.

The py_embed library is not yet complete. But still it can be put to many useful purposes. Please send me your comments, suggestions and bug reports. Thank you for staying this long. Bye.

History

  • 23rd May, 2006: Initial post

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The BSD License

About the Author

No Biography provided

Comments and Discussions

 
QuestionWhere's the source code Pinmemberbillthu215-Mar-14 19:54 
QuestionBuild errors - Visual Studio 2005 Pinmemberrmp25127-Oct-12 14:48 
QuestionCall Python program from C++ PinmemberBenPen9513-Jul-11 4:28 
Generalsequence of the arguments PinmemberOka Kurniawan21-Sep-10 0:11 
GeneralProblem with "RE" module Pinmembertito20718-Jun-08 21:10 
GeneralWindows PinmemberALEXNG8823-Jul-07 21:43 
hi how can I compile if I am uisng Windows?
 
Do I need to use Boost.Python?
GeneralRe: Windows PinmemberVijay Mathew Pandyalakal24-Jul-07 1:01 
Questioncan you help me? [modified] Pinmemberyzslhawk8-Jul-06 22:52 
AnswerRe: can you help me? [modified] PinmemberVijay Mathew Pandyalakal9-Jul-06 18:29 
GeneralRe: can you help me? Pinmemberyzslhawk12-Jul-06 3:45 
GeneralRe: can you help me? Pinmemberyzslhawk12-Jul-06 4:14 
GeneralArticles on the same topic... PinmemberJun Du23-May-06 4:16 

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