Boost.Python library (C++ / Python)

Purpose of this document

Boost.Python is a C++ library which enables interoperability between C++ and Python. Boost.Python is a part of Boost libraries which provides free portable C++ source libraries. The goal of this document is to explain through a simple example how to install and use Boost.Python to connect a C++ library with a Python script.

We will work with the C++ library AddNumbers: AddNumbers.tar.bz2. Read the Create and use static and shared C++ libraries tutorial that explains how to create, compile and link a shared library.

You can download the Boost.Python_AddNumbersClient example: Boost.Python_AddNumbersClient.tar.bz2.

operating system version
Linux RH Enterprise 4 kernel 2.6.9-11
program version
g++ 3.4.3
python 2.3.4
Boost.Jam 3.1.13-1
Boost.Python 1.33.1

Install Boost libraries

These paragraph is intended to help you to install and compile Boost libraries. Refer to the getting started page for more details. The recommended way to build and install the Boost libraries is to use the Boost.Build system. First download and install a prebuilt executable of Boost.Jam which is an extension of the Perforce Jam portable make replacement.

[~/softs/boost-jam] > tar -zxvf boost-jam-3.1.13-1-linuxx86.tgz
[~/softs/boost-jam] > rm -f boost-jam-3.1.13-1-linuxx86.tgz
[~/softs/boost-jam] > mv boost-jam-3.1.13-1-linuxx86 3.1.13-1
[~/softs/boost-jam] > ln -s 3.1.13-1 default

Now download the Boost libraries.

[~/softs/boost] > tar -jxvf boost_1_33_1.tar.bz2
[~/softs/boost] > rm -f boost_1_33_1.tar.bz2
[~/softs/boost] > mv boost_1_33_1.tar.bz2 1.33.1
[~/softs/boost] > ln -s boost_1_33_1.tar.bz2 default

Then build and install it using the bjam executable.

[~/softs/boost/1.33.1] > bjam --prefix=${HOME}/softs/boost/1.33.1 --with-python-version=2.3 install

Don't forget to define the BOOST_ROOT environment variable that contains the path to the boost libraries.

[~] > export BOOST_ROOT=${HOME}/softs/boost/default

Create a wrapper

First let us look furtively the C++ class interface we want to work with.


class AddNumbers
        int _a;
        int _b;

        AddNumbers ();
        ~AddNumbers ();

        void setA (int a);
        void setB (int b);

        int getA () const;
        int getB () const;

        int getSum () const;

}; // AddNumbers

#endif // _ADDNUMBERS_H

Now we write a wrapper. See the tutorial introduction for more details. In our example we want to expose some methods to the wrapper.

#include "AddNumbers.h"

#include <boost/python.hpp>

using namespace boost::python;

      .def("setA", &AddNumbers::setA)
      .def("setB", &AddNumbers::setB)
      .def("getA", &AddNumbers::getA)
      .def("getB", &AddNumbers::getB)
      .def("getSum", &AddNumbers::getSum)

Note that we didn't need to expose the default constructor and the destructor of the class. Boost.Python do this work by default. Another important remark is that it is recommended to not use the same name for the Python module name (AddNumbers_wrap) than the class name (AddNumbers). Now compile the wrapper.

[~/workspace/python/Boost.Python_AddNumbersClient] > g++ -I $BOOST_ROOT -I /usr/include/python2.3 \
> -I ../../c++/AddNumbers/inc -fpic -c src/AddNumbers_wrap.cpp -o obj/AddNumbers_wrap.o

And finally link it as a shared library.

[~/workspace/python/Boost.Python_AddNumbersClient] > g++ -shared -L ${BOOST_ROOT}/lib -lboost_python-gcc \
> -L ../../c++/AddNumbers/lib -lAddNumbers -o lib/ obj/AddNumbers_wrap.o

Don't forget to add the path of the library to the LD_LIBRARY_PATH environment variable.

[~] > export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=${LD_LIBRARY_PATH}:${HOME}/workspace/c++/AddNumbers/lib

As an example see the Makefile file in Boost.Python_AddNumbersClient.tar.bz2.

Connect a Python script

Let's write the following Python script.


import sys

import AddNumbers_wrap

ab = AddNumbers_wrap.AddNumbers()
print '%d + %d = %d' % (ab.getA(), ab.getB(), ab.getSum())

Then launch it.

[~/workspace/python/Boost.Python_AddNumbersClient] > src/
4 + 3 = 7

Install the Pyste code generator

Pyste is a Boost.Python code generator. The user specifies the classes and functions to be exported using a simple interface. Then Pyste parse all the headers and extract the information needed to automatically generate C++ code. To run Pyste we need:

First build and install the Pyste module from the Boost directory.

[~/softs/boost/default/libs/python/pyste/install] > python build install --prefix=$HOME

The module is installed in the Pyste subdirectory of the ${HOME}/lib/python2.3/site-packages directory. It must be accessible through the PYTHONPATH environment variable.

[~] > export PYTHONPATH=${HOME}/lib/python2.3/site-packages

Then dowload the elementtree library.

[~/softs/elementtree] > tar -zxvf elementtree-1.2.6-20050316.tar.gz
[~/softs/elementtree] > rm -f elementtree-1.2.6-20050316.tar.gz
[~/softs/elementtree] > mv elementtree-1.2.6-20050316 1.2.6-src

Now build and install it.

[~/softs/elementtree/1.2.6-src] > python build install --prefix=$HOME

The library is installed in the ${HOME}/lib/python2.3/site-packages/elementtree directory. Its parent directory is already accessible in the PYTHONPATH environment variable. Then download the GCC-XML parser.

[~/softs/gccxml] > tar -zxvf gccxml-0.6.0-x86-linux.tar.gz
[~/softs/gccxml] > rm -f gccxml-0.6.0-x86-linux.tar.gz
[~/softs/gccxml] > mkdir 0.6.0
[~/softs/gccxml] > ln -s 0.6.0 default
[~/softs/gccxml] > mv README gccxml-0.6.0-x86-linux-files.tar 0.6.0
[~/softs/gccxml] > cd 0.6.0
[~/softs/gccxml/0.6.0] > tar -xvf gccxml-0.6.0-x86-linux-files.tar
[~/softs/gccxml/0.6.0] > rm -f gccxml-0.6.0-x86-linux-files.tar

Don't forget to make gccxml accessible in the PATH environment variable.

Using Pyste

Pyste inputs interface files to generate C++ code. See the Pyste documentation for more details about creating those interface files. Let us create a such interface file from AddNumbers.h.

Class("AddNumbers", "AddNumbers.h")

We need only to declare the class AddNumbers that we want to expose to the wrapper. Now we generate the C++ Boost.Python code using the script.

[~/workspace/python/Boost.Python_AddNumbersClient] > python ${HOME}/lib/python2.3/site-packages/Pyste/ \
> --gccxml-path=${HOME}/softs/gccxml/default/bin/gccxml \
> -I ../../c++/AddNumbers/inc --module=AddNumbers_wrap --out=src/AddNumbers_wrap_pyste.cpp int/AddNumbers.pyste

Let us compile the generated C++ wrapper AddNumbers_wrap_pyste.cpp.

[~/workspace/python/Boost.Python_AddNumbersClient] > g++ -I $BOOST_ROOT -I /usr/include/python2.3 \
> -I ../../c++/AddNumbers/inc -fpic -c src/AddNumbers_wrap_pyste.cpp -o obj/AddNumbers_wrap_pyste.o

Then we link the shared library.

[~/workspace/python/Boost.Python_AddNumbersClient] > g++ -shared -L ${BOOST_ROOT}/lib -lboost_python-gcc \
> -L ../../c++/AddNumbers/lib -lAddNumbers -o lib/ obj/AddNumbers_wrap_pyste.o

And we execute the python script connected to the wrapper library.

[~/workspace/python/Boost.Python_AddNumbersClient] > src/
4 + 3 = 7

As an example see the Makefile_pyste file in Boost.Python_AddNumbersClient.tar.bz2. Don't forget to define PYSTEPATH and GCCXMLPATH environment variables before to use the make program.

Useful options of bjam

bjam [option] ... [install|stage]

Boost.Jam is an extension of Perforce Jam portable make replacement. It contains significant improvements made to facilitate its use in the Boost.Build system, but should be backward compatible with Perforce Jam.

option description
--prefix=PREFIX Install architecture independent files here. Default on Windows platform: PREFIX=C:\Boost. Default on Unix, Linux: PREFIX=/usr/local.
--with-python-version=version Build Boost.Python libraries with the Python version indicated. Default is version=2.4.
action description
install Builds and installs Boost libraries and headers.
stage Builds the Boost libraries and copies them into a common directory.

Useful options of pyste

pyste [option] ...  <interface-file> ...

Pyste is a Boost.Python code generator. It uses the gccxml program to parse all the headers defined in the interface-file files and extract the information needed to automatically generate C++ code.

option description
--module=<module-name> The name of the module that will be generated; defaults to the first interface filename, without the extension.
-I <include-path> Add an include path.
--out=<output-file> Specify output filename (default: <module-name>.cpp).
--gccxml-path=<gccxml-path> Path to gccxml executable (default: gccxml).

Useful links

link comment
GNU GCC manual g++ manual
Boost.Python library web site of the Boost.Python library
Pyste Boost.Python code generator
elementtree elementtree library (needed by Pyste)
GCC-XML GCC-XML parser (needed by Pyste)
Boost libraries web site of the Boost librairies