Low-level code

C code and older C++ code sometimes makes use of low-level features such as pointers to builtin types, some of which do not have any Python equivalent (e.g. unsigned short*). Furthermore, such codes tend to be ambiguous: the information from header file is not sufficient to determine the full purpose. For example, an int* type may refer to the address of a single int (an out-parameter, say) or it may refer to an array of int, the ownership of which is not clear either. cppyy provides a few low-level helpers and integration with the Python ctypes module to cover these cases.

Use of these low-level helpers will obviously lead to very “C-like” code and it is recommended to pythonize the code, perhaps using the Cling JIT and embedded C++.

Note: the low-level module is not loaded by default (since its use is, or should be, uncommon). It needs to be imported explicitly:

>>> import cppyy.ll

C/C++ casts

C++ instances are auto-casted to the most derived available type, so do not require explicit casts even when a function returns a pointer to a base class or interface. However, when given only a void* or intptr_t type on return, a cast is required to turn it into something usable.

  • bind_object: This is the preferred method to proxy a C++ address, and lives in cppyy, not cppyy.ll, as it is not a low-level C++ cast, but a cppyy API that is also used internally. It thus plays well with object identity, references, etc. Example:

    >>> cppyy.cppdef("""
    ... struct MyStruct { int fInt; };
    ... void* create_mystruct() { return new MyStruct{42}; }
    ... """)
    >>> s = cppyy.gbl.create_mystruct()
    >>> print(s)
    <cppyy.LowLevelView object at 0x10559d430>
    >>> sobj = cppyy.bind_object(s, 'MyStruct')
    >>> print(sobj)
    <cppyy.gbl.MyStruct object at 0x7ff25e28eb20>
    >>> print(sobj.fInt)

    Instead of the type name as a string, bind_object can also take the actual class (here: cppyy.gbl.MyStruct).

  • Typed nullptr: A Python side proxy can pass through a pointer to pointer function argument, but if the C++ side allocates memory and stores it in the pointer, the result is a memory leak. In that case, use bind_object to bind cppyy.nullptr instead, to get a typed nullptr to pass to the function. Example (continuing from the example above):

    >>> cppyy.cppdef("""
    ... void create_mystruct(MyStruct** ptr) { *ptr = new MyStruct{42}; }
    ... """)
    >>> s = cppyy.bind_object(cppyy.nullptr, 'MyStruct')
    >>> print(s)
    <cppyy.gbl.MyStruct object at 0x0>
    >>> cppyy.gbl.create_mystruct(s)
    >>> print(s)
    <cppyy.gbl.MyStruct object at 0x7fc7d85b91c0>
    >>> print(s.fInt)
  • C-style cast: This is the simplest option for builtin types. The syntax is “template-style”, example:

    >>> cppyy.cppdef("""
    ... void* get_data(int sz) {
    ... int* iptr = (int*)malloc(sizeof(int)*sz);
    ... for (int i=0; i<sz; ++i) iptr[i] = i;
    ... return iptr;
    ... }""")
    >>> NDATA = 4
    >>> d = cppyy.gbl.get_data(NDATA)
    >>> print(d)
    <cppyy.LowLevelView object at 0x1068cba30>
    >>> d = cppyy.ll.cast['int*'](d)
    >>> d.reshape((NDATA,))
    >>> print(list(d))
    [0, 1, 2, 3]
  • C++-style casts: Similar to the C-style cast, there are ll.static_cast and ll.reinterpret_cast. There should never be a reason for a dynamic_cast, since that only applies to objects, for which auto-casting will work. The syntax is “template-style”, just like for the C-style cast above.

NumPy casts

The cppyy.LowLevelView type returned for pointers to basic types, including for void*, is a simple and light-weight view on memory, given a pointer, type, and number of elements (or unchecked, if unknown). It only supports basic operations such as indexing and iterations, but also the buffer protocol for integration with full-fledged functional arrays such as NumPy`s ndarray.

In addition, specifically when dealing with void* returns, you can use NumPy’s low-level frombuffer interface to perform the cast. Example:

>>> cppyy.cppdef("""
... void* create_float_array(int sz) {
...     float* pf = (float*)malloc(sizeof(float)*sz);
...     for (int i = 0; i < sz; ++i) pf[i] = 2*i;
...     return pf;
... }""")
>>> import numpy as np
>>> NDATA = 8
>>> arr = cppyy.gbl.create_float_array(NDATA)
>>> print(arr)
<cppyy.LowLevelView object at 0x109f15230>
>>> arr.reshape((NDATA,))   # adjust the llv's size
>>> v = np.frombuffer(arr, dtype=np.float32, count=NDATA)  # cast to float
>>> print(len(v))
>>> print(v)
array([ 0.,  2.,  4.,  6.,  8., 10., 12., 14.], dtype=float32)

Note that NumPy will internally check the total buffer size, so if the size you are casting to is larger than the size you are casting from, then the number of elements set in the reshape call needs to be adjusted accordingly.


It is not possible to pass proxies from cppyy through function arguments of another binder (and vice versa, with the exception of ctypes, see below), because each will use a different internal representation, including for type checking and extracting the C++ object address. However, all Python binders are able to rebind (just like bind_object above for cppyy) the result of at least one of the following:

  • ll.addressof: Takes a cppyy bound C++ object and returns its address as an integer value. Takes an optional byref parameter and if set to true, returns a pointer to the address instead.
  • ll.as_capsule: Takes a cppyy bound C++ object and returns its address as a PyCapsule object. Takes an optional byref parameter and if set to true, returns a pointer to the address instead.
  • ll.as_cobject: Takes a cppyy bound C++ object and returns its address as a PyCObject object for Python2 and a PyCapsule object for Python3. Takes an optional byref parameter and if set to true, returns a pointer to the address instead.
  • ll.as_ctypes: Takes a cppyy bound C++ object and returns its address as a ctypes.c_void_p object. Takes an optional byref parameter and if set to true, returns a pointer to the address instead.


The ctypes module has been part of Python since version 2.5 and provides a Python-side foreign function interface. It is clunky to use and has very bad performance, but it is guaranteed to be available. It does not have a public C interface, only the Python one, but its internals have been stable since its introduction, making it safe to use for tight and efficient integration at the C level (with a few Python helpers to assure lazy lookup).

Objects from ctypes can be passed through arguments of functions that take a pointer to a single C++ builtin, and ctypes pointers can be passed when a pointer-to-pointer is expected, e.g. for array out-parameters. This leads to the following set of possible mappings:

C++ ctypes
by value (ex.: int) .value (ex.: c_int(0).value)
by const reference (ex.: const int&) .value (ex.: c_int(0).value)
by reference (ex.: int&) direct (ex.: c_int(0))
by pointer (ex.: int*) direct (ex.: c_int(0))
by ptr-ref (ex.: int*&) pointer (ex.: pointer(c_int(0)))
by ptr-ptr in (ex.: int**) pointer (ex.: pointer(c_int(0)))
by ptr-ptr out (ex.: int**) POINTER (ex.: POINTER(c_int)())

The ctypes pointer objects (from POINTER, pointer, or byref) can also be used for pass by reference or pointer, instead of the direct object, and ctypes.c_void_p can pass through all pointer types. The addresses will be adjusted internally by cppyy.

Note that ctypes.c_char_p is expected to be a NULL-terminated C string, not a character array (see the ctypes module documentation), and that ctypes.c_bool is a C _Bool type, not C++ bool.


C++ has three ways of allocating heap memory (malloc, new, and new[]) and three corresponding ways of deallocation (free, delete, and delete[]). Direct use of malloc and new should be avoided for C++ classes, as these may override operator new to control their allocation own. However these low-level allocators can be necessary for builtin types on occasion if the C++ side takes ownership (otherwise, prefer either array from the builtin module array or ndarray from Numpy).

The low-level module adds the following functions:

  • ll.malloc: an interface on top of C’s malloc. Use it as a template with the number of elements (not the number types) to be allocated. The result is a cppyy.LowLevelView with the proper type and size:

    >>> arr = cppyy.ll.malloc[int](4)   # allocates memory for 4 C ints
    >>> print(len(arr))
    >>> print(type(arr[0]))
    <type 'int'>

    The actual C malloc can also be used directly, through cppyy.gbl.malloc, taking the number of bytes to be allocated and returning a void*.

  • ll.free: an interface to C’s free, to deallocate memory allocated by C’s malloc. To continue to example above:

    >>> cppyy.ll.free(arr)

    The actual C free can also be used directly, through cppyy.gbl.free.

  • ll.array_new: an interface on top of C++’s new[]. Use it as a template; the result is a cppyy.LowLevelView with the proper type and size:

    >>> arr = cppyy.ll.array_new[int](4)   # allocates memory for 4 C ints
    >>> print(len(arr))
    >>> print(type(arr[0]))
    <type 'int'>
  • ll.array_delete: an interface on top of C++’s delete[]. To continue to example above:

    >>> cppyy.ll.array_delete(arr)


C/C++’s main function can take the number of command line arguments (argc) and their values (argv) as function arguments. A common idiom has these values subsequently passed on to the entry point of e.g. a framework or library. Since the type of argv in particular (char*[]) is clunky to work with in Python, the low level module contains two convenient helper functions, ll.argc() and ll.argv(), that convert the command line arguments as provided by Python’s sys module, into typed values that are can be passed to by C/C++.