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Posted 22 May 2006

Embedding Python In Your C++ Application

, 22 May 2006 BSD
Wrapper classes to embed the Python interpreter in Standard C++ code
One Man's GUI
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, its' 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?

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

"Gtk? or wxWidgets?" 

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

Now you feel stuck.
Its' 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 it's 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.

The "pyembed" classes

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

Consider, the following Python script:

Listing 1 - :-

 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 return 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

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

      // 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"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.

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

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

Download all source code and resources here as a single zip file.

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


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 "" 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.

Please send me your comments using the email address:

If you make any additions/modifications/bug-fixes to the pyembed library,
please publish it on the intranet.

Thank you for staying this long. Bye.



The first and most important thing is stability.
		- Leonardo da Vinci (from his notes on architecture)

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