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2.1 The Basics

The Python runtime sees all Python objects as variables of type PyObject*. A PyObject is not a very magnificent object - it just contains the refcount and a pointer to the object's ``type object''. This is where the action is; the type object determines which (C) functions get called when, for instance, an attribute gets looked up on an object or it is multiplied by another object. These C functions are called ``type methods'' to distinguish them from things like [].append (which we call ``object methods'').

So, if you want to define a new object type, you need to create a new type object.

This sort of thing can only be explained by example, so here's a minimal, but complete, module that defines a new type:

#include <Python.h>

typedef struct {
    PyObject_HEAD
    /* Type-specific fields go here. */
} noddy_NoddyObject;

static PyTypeObject noddy_NoddyType = {
    PyObject_HEAD_INIT(NULL)
    0,                         /*ob_size*/
    "noddy.Noddy",             /*tp_name*/
    sizeof(noddy_NoddyObject), /*tp_basicsize*/
    0,                         /*tp_itemsize*/
    0,                         /*tp_dealloc*/
    0,                         /*tp_print*/
    0,                         /*tp_getattr*/
    0,                         /*tp_setattr*/
    0,                         /*tp_compare*/
    0,                         /*tp_repr*/
    0,                         /*tp_as_number*/
    0,                         /*tp_as_sequence*/
    0,                         /*tp_as_mapping*/
    0,                         /*tp_hash */
    0,                         /*tp_call*/
    0,                         /*tp_str*/
    0,                         /*tp_getattro*/
    0,                         /*tp_setattro*/
    0,                         /*tp_as_buffer*/
    Py_TPFLAGS_DEFAULT,        /*tp_flags*/
    "Noddy objects",           /* tp_doc */
};

static PyMethodDef noddy_methods[] = {
    {NULL}  /* Sentinel */
};

#ifndef PyMODINIT_FUNC	/* declarations for DLL import/export */
#define PyMODINIT_FUNC void
#endif
PyMODINIT_FUNC
initnoddy(void) 
{
    PyObject* m;

    noddy_NoddyType.tp_new = PyType_GenericNew;
    if (PyType_Ready(&noddy_NoddyType) < 0)
        return;

    m = Py_InitModule3("noddy", noddy_methods,
                       "Example module that creates an extension type.");

    Py_INCREF(&noddy_NoddyType);
    PyModule_AddObject(m, "Noddy", (PyObject *)&noddy_NoddyType);
}

Now that's quite a bit to take in at once, but hopefully bits will seem familiar from the last chapter.

The first bit that will be new is:

typedef struct {
    PyObject_HEAD
} noddy_NoddyObject;

This is what a Noddy object will contain--in this case, nothing more than every Python object contains, namely a refcount and a pointer to a type object. These are the fields the PyObject_HEAD macro brings in. The reason for the macro is to standardize the layout and to enable special debugging fields in debug builds. Note that there is no semicolon after the PyObject_HEAD macro; one is included in the macro definition. Be wary of adding one by accident; it's easy to do from habit, and your compiler might not complain, but someone else's probably will! (On Windows, MSVC is known to call this an error and refuse to compile the code.)

For contrast, let's take a look at the corresponding definition for standard Python integers:

typedef struct {
    PyObject_HEAD
    long ob_ival;
} PyIntObject;

Moving on, we come to the crunch -- the type object.

static PyTypeObject noddy_NoddyType = {
    PyObject_HEAD_INIT(NULL)
    0,                         /*ob_size*/
    "noddy.Noddy",             /*tp_name*/
    sizeof(noddy_NoddyObject), /*tp_basicsize*/
    0,                         /*tp_itemsize*/
    0,                         /*tp_dealloc*/
    0,                         /*tp_print*/
    0,                         /*tp_getattr*/
    0,                         /*tp_setattr*/
    0,                         /*tp_compare*/
    0,                         /*tp_repr*/
    0,                         /*tp_as_number*/
    0,                         /*tp_as_sequence*/
    0,                         /*tp_as_mapping*/
    0,                         /*tp_hash */
    0,                         /*tp_call*/
    0,                         /*tp_str*/
    0,                         /*tp_getattro*/
    0,                         /*tp_setattro*/
    0,                         /*tp_as_buffer*/
    Py_TPFLAGS_DEFAULT,        /*tp_flags*/
    "Noddy objects",           /* tp_doc */
};

Now if you go and look up the definition of PyTypeObject in object.h you'll see that it has many more fields that the definition above. The remaining fields will be filled with zeros by the C compiler, and it's common practice to not specify them explicitly unless you need them.

This is so important that we're going to pick the top of it apart still further:

    PyObject_HEAD_INIT(NULL)

This line is a bit of a wart; what we'd like to write is:

    PyObject_HEAD_INIT(&PyType_Type)

as the type of a type object is ``type'', but this isn't strictly conforming C and some compilers complain. Fortunately, this member will be filled in for us by PyType_Ready().

    0,                          /* ob_size */

The ob_size field of the header is not used; its presence in the type structure is a historical artifact that is maintained for binary compatibility with extension modules compiled for older versions of Python. Always set this field to zero.

    "noddy.Noddy",              /* tp_name */

The name of our type. This will appear in the default textual representation of our objects and in some error messages, for example:

>>> "" + noddy.new_noddy()
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in ?
TypeError: cannot add type "noddy.Noddy" to string

Note that the name is a dotted name that includes both the module name and the name of the type within the module. The module in this case is noddy and the type is Noddy, so we set the type name to noddy.Noddy.

    sizeof(noddy_NoddyObject),  /* tp_basicsize */

This is so that Python knows how much memory to allocate when you call PyObject_New().

    0,                          /* tp_itemsize */

This has to do with variable length objects like lists and strings. Ignore this for now.

Skipping a number of type methods that we don't provide, we set the class flags to Py_TPFLAGS_DEFAULT.

    Py_TPFLAGS_DEFAULT,        /*tp_flags*/

All types should include this constant in their flags. It enables all of the members defined by the current version of Python.

We provide a doc string for the type in tp_doc.

    "Noddy objects",           /* tp_doc */

Now we get into the type methods, the things that make your objects different from the others. We aren't going to implement any of these in this version of the module. We'll expand this example later to have more interesting behavior.

For now, all we want to be able to do is to create new Noddy objects. To enable object creation, we have to provide a tp_new implementation. In this case, we can just use the default implementation provided by the API function PyType_GenericNew(). We'd like to just assign this to the tp_new slot, but we can't, for portability sake, On some platforms or compilers, we can't statically initialize a structure member with a function defined in another C module, so, instead, we'll assign the tp_new slot in the module initialization function just before calling PyType_Ready():

    noddy_NoddyType.tp_new = PyType_GenericNew;
    if (PyType_Ready(&noddy_NoddyType) < 0)
        return;

All the other type methods are NULL, so we'll go over them later -- that's for a later section!

Everything else in the file should be familiar, except for some code in initnoddy():

    if (PyType_Ready(&noddy_NoddyType) < 0)
        return;

This initializes the Noddy type, filing in a number of members, including ob_type that we initially set to NULL.

    PyModule_AddObject(m, "Noddy", (PyObject *)&noddy_NoddyType);

This adds the type to the module dictionary. This allows us to create Noddy instances by calling the Noddy class:

import noddy
mynoddy = noddy.Noddy()

That's it! All that remains is to build it; put the above code in a file called noddy.c and

from distutils.core import setup, Extension
setup(name="noddy", version="1.0",
      ext_modules=[Extension("noddy", ["noddy.c"])])

in a file called setup.py; then typing

$ python setup.py build

at a shell should produce a file noddy.so in a subdirectory; move to that directory and fire up Python -- you should be able to import noddy and play around with Noddy objects.

That wasn't so hard, was it?

Of course, the current Noddy type is pretty uninteresting. It has no data and doesn't do anything. It can't even be subclassed.

 



 

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