Dynamically loading C/RTL code

Object Icon incorporates some enhancements to Icon's dynamic loading facility which allow dynamically loaded functions to be written in RTL rather than plain C. This means that dynamically loaded code can take the same form as builtin code, and can do the same things.

A sample RTL file

Here is a not-very-useful function to generate the bit positions of ones in an integer (for example 6 is 110, so generates 2, 3).

function bits(v)
    if !cnv:C_integer(v) then
       runerr(101, v)
    body {
       int i = 1;
       while (v) {
           if (v & 1)
               suspend C_integer i;
           v /= 2;

To create a dynamic library to use this function we would firstly place it in a file with the suffix ".r", say testlib.r.


Next, create a Makefile to build the library.

include $(OI_HOME)/Makedefs

all: prog

clean :
    rm -f *.c *.u *.o *.so prog

prog :  prog.icn
    oit -s prog.icn

testlib.o : testlib.r
    $(RTT) testlib.r
    $(CC) $(CPPFLAGS) $(CFLAGS) $(DYNAMIC_LIB_CFLAGS) -c testlib.c -o testlib.o : testlib.o
    $(CC) $(DYNAMIC_LIB_LDFLAGS) -o testlib.o

Notes :-

Loading the library

Here is a sample program to load the library and run the bits() function. Save this as prog.icn.

import io, lang

procedure main()
   local p
   p := Proc.load("./", "bits")
   write("okay, loaded ",image(p))
   every write(p(12345))

When compiled and run, the following output should result :-

okay, loaded function bits

Note that the library name in the first parameter of loadfunc is passed unaltered to the underlying system's dynamic load function (on Unix, dlopen). This means that the library must either be an absolute path, relative to the current directory, or in one of the places that the system normally looks for shared libraries.

There are some functions available to help search for files on paths. In particular see Files.path_find() and Files.find_native_lib() in the package io. This latter function is used to load the shared libraries included in the distribution, using the path given by the environment variable OI_NATIVE.


This function can be used to define several native methods at once in a class, using a shared library. It should be called from the class's static init method, with the shared library as a parameter. It goes through each native method in the class, looking for a matching function defined in the shared library. Any not found are just ignored. This means a class with numerous native methods can resolve them all at once with a single convenient call.

For example, if we replace testlib.r with the following :-

function Test_one()
    body {
       printf("test one\n");

function Test_two()
    body {
       printf("test two\n");

and prog.icn with :-

import lang

class Test()
   public native one()
   public native two()

   private static init()

procedure main()
   local o
   o := Test()

and recompile using the Makefile already given above, then the output from prog will be :-

test one
test two

External headers and symbols

It is possible that the RTL code in a dynamic library will need to refer to another existing library and its associated C header files. For example, the mysql library needs to reference "mysql.h" and link to the mysqlclient library. These external header files are normally not processed by RTT - rather they are passed through RTT to be processed by the C compiler. For example

#passthru #include "mysql.h"

This raises a problem of how rtt will recognise symbol and types defined in the header concerned, which are then used in the RTL source. For example mysql.h defines the type MYSQL_RES, and this is used several times in mysql.r. For code in the interpreter, a separate header file, grttin.h, is processed specially by rtt in order to allow such symbols to be declared with dummy types, typically as typedef int. This allows them to pass through RTT without error. For an dynamic library we naturally don't want to edit grttin.h, so a new option, -h specifies an extra header file to process immediately after grttin.h. Here we can provide the necessary dummy definitions of symbols like MYSQL_RES. The header for the mysql library looks like this :-

typedef int MYSQL, MYSQL_FIELD, my_bool, MYSQL_RES,

and is processed (from a Makefile like the one above) with the command :-

$(RTT) -h gmysql.h mysql.r

Another way of passing symbols like MYSQL_RES through rtt unchanged is via the -t option to rtt :-

$(RTT) -t MYSQL_RES -t MYSQL_FIELD .... mysql.r

The indicated symbols then pass through to the C code unchanged.