a classy little scripting language

Storing C Data

An embedded language often needs to work with native data. You may want a pointer to some memory managed in the C heap, or maybe you want to store a chunk of data more efficiently than Wren’s dynamism allows. You may want a Wren object that represents a native resource like a file handle or database connection.

For those cases, you can define a foreign class, a chimera whose state is half Wren and half C. It is a real Wren class with a name, constructor, and methods. You can define methods on it written in Wren, or foreign methods written in C. It produces real Wren objects that you can pass around, do is checks on, etc. But it also wraps a blob of raw memory that is opaque to Wren but accessible from C.

Defining a Foreign Class #

You define one like so:

foreign class Point {
  // ...

The foreign keyword tells Wren to loop in the host application when it constructs instances of the class. The host tells Wren how many bytes of extra memory the foreign instance should contain and in return, Wren gives the host the opportunity to initialize that data.

To talk to the host app, Wren needs a C function it can call when it constructs an instance of the foreign class. This function is found through a binding process similar to how foreign methods are bound. When you configure the VM, you set the bindForeignClassFn field in WrenConfiguration to point to a C callback you define. Its signature must be:

WrenForeignClassMethods bindForeignClass(
    WrenVM* vm, const char* module, const char* className);

Wren invokes this callback once when a foreign class declaration is executed. Wren passes in the name of the module containing the foreign class, and the name of the class being declared. The host’s responsibility is to return one of these structs:

typedef struct
  WrenForeignMethodFn allocate;
  WrenFinalizerFn finalize;
} WrenForeignClassMethods;

It’s a pair of function pointers. The first, allocate, is called by Wren whenever an instance of the foreign class is created. (We’ll get to the optional finalize callback later.) The allocation callback has the same signature as a foreign method:

void allocate(WrenVM* vm);

Initializing an Instance #

When you create an instance of a foreign class by calling one its constructors, Wren invokes the allocate callback you gave it when binding the foreign class. Your primary responsibility in that callback is to tell Wren how many bytes of raw memory you need. You do that by calling:

void* wrenSetSlotNewForeign(WrenVM* vm,
    int slot, int classSlot, size_t size);

Like other slot manipulation functions, it both reads from and writes to the slot array. It has a few parameters to make it more general purpose since it can also be used in other foreign methods:

So, for example, if you wanted to create a foreign instance that contains eight bytes of C data, you’d call:

void* data = wrenSetSlotNewForeign(vm, 0, 0, 8);

The value returned by wrenSetSlotNewForeign() is the raw pointer to the requested bytes. You can cast that to whatever C type makes sense (as long as it fits within the requested number of bytes) and initialize it as you see fit.

Any parameters passed to the constructor are also available in subsequent slots in the slot array. That way you can initialize the foreign data based on values passed to the constructor from Wren.

After the allocate callback returns, the class’s constructor in Wren is run and execution proceeds like normal. From here on out, within Wren, it appears you have a normal instance of a class. It just happens to have some extra bytes hiding inside it that can be accessed from foreign methods.

Accessing Foreign Data #

Typically, the way you make use of the data stored in an instance of a foreign class is through other foreign methods. Those are usually defined on the same foreign class, but can be defined on other classes as well. Wren doesn’t care.

Once you have a foreign instance in a slot, you can access the raw bytes it stores by calling:

void* wrenGetSlotForeign(WrenVM* vm, int slot);

You pass in the slot index containing the foreign object and it gives you back a pointer to the raw memory the object wraps. As usual, the C API doesn’t do any type or bounds checking, so it’s on you to make sure the object in that slot actually is an instance of a foreign class and contains as much memory as you access.

Given that void pointer, you can now freely read and modify the data it points to. They’re your bits, Wren just holds them for you.

Freeing Resources #

If your foreign instances are just holding memory and you’re OK with Wren’s garbage collector managing the lifetime of that memory, then you’re done. Wren will keep the bytes around as long as there is still a reference to them. When the instance is no longer reachable, eventually the garbage collector will do its thing and free the memory.

But, often, your foreign data refers to some resource whose lifetime needs to be explicitly managed. For example, if you have a foreign object that wraps an open file handle, you need to ensure that handle doesn’t get left open when the GC frees the foreign instance.

Of course, you can (and usually should) add a method on your foreign class, like close() so the user can explicitly release the resource managed by the object. But if they forget to do that and the object is no longer reachable, you want to make sure the resource isn’t leaked.

To that end, you can also provide a finalizer function when binding the foreign class. That’s the other callback in the WrenForeignClassMethods struct. If you provide that callback, then Wren will invoke it when an instance of your foreign class is about to be freed by the garbage collector. This gives you one last chance to clean up the object’s resources.

Because this is called during the middle of a garbage collection, you do not have unfettered access to the VM. It’s not like a normal foreign method where you can monkey around with slots and other stuff. Doing that while the GC is running could leave Wren in a weird state.

Instead, the finalize callback’s signature is only:

void finalize(void* data);

Wren gives you the pointer to your foreign function’s memory, and that’s it. The only thing you should do inside a finalizer is release any external resources referenced by that memory.

A Full Example #

That’s a lot to take in, so let’s walk through a full example of a foreign class with a finalizer and a couple of methods. We’ll do a File class that wraps the C standard file API.

In Wren, the class we want looks like this:

foreign class File {
  construct create(path) {}

  foreign write(text)
  foreign close()

So you can create a new file given a path. Once you have one, you can write to it and then explicitly close it if you want. We also need to make sure the file gets closed if the user forgets to and the GC cleans up the object.

Setting up the VM #

Over in the host, first we’ll set up the VM:

#include "wren.h"

int main(int argc, const char* argv[])
  WrenConfiguration config;

  config.bindForeignClassFn = bindForeignClass;
  config.bindForeignMethodFn = bindForeignMethod;

  WrenVM* vm = wrenNewVM(&config);
  wrenInterpret(vm, "my_module", "some code...");

  return 0;

Binding the foreign class #

We give the VM two callbacks. The first is for wiring up the foreign class itself:

WrenForeignClassMethods bindForeignClass(
    WrenVM* vm, const char* module, const char* className)
  WrenForeignClassMethods methods;

  if (strcmp(className, "File") == 0)
    methods.allocate = fileAllocate;
    methods.finalize = fileFinalize;
    // Unknown class.
    methods.allocate = NULL;
    methods.finalize = NULL;

  return methods;

When our binding callback is invoked for the File class, we return the allocate and finalize functions the VM should call. Allocation looks like:

#include <stdio.h>
#include "wren.h"

void fileAllocate(WrenVM* vm)
  FILE** file = (FILE**)wrenSetSlotNewForeign(vm,
      0, 0, sizeof(FILE*));
  const char* path = wrenGetSlotString(vm, 1);
  *file = fopen(path, "w");

First we create the instance by calling wrenSetSlotNewForeign(). We tell it to add enough extra bytes to store a FILE* in it, which is C’s representation of a file handle. We’re given back a pointer to the bytes. Since the file handle is itself a pointer, we end up with a double indirection, hence the FILE**. In most cases, you’ll just have a single *.

We also pull the file path from the slot array. Then we tell C to create a new file at that path. That gives us back a new file handle – a FILE* – and we store that back into the foreign instance using *file. Now we have a foreign object that wraps an open file handle.

The finalizer simply casts the foreign instance’s data back to the proper type and closes the file:

void fileFinalize(void* data)
  closeFile((FILE**) data);

It uses this little utility function:

static void closeFile(FILE** file)
  // Already closed.
  if (*file == NULL) return;

  *file = NULL;

This closes the file (if it’s not already closed) and also nulls out the file handle so that we don’t try to use the file after it’s been closed.

Binding the foreign methods #

That’s the foreign class part. Now we have a couple of foreign methods to handle. The host tells the VM how to find them by giving Wren a pointer to this function:

WrenForeignMethodFn bindForeignMethod(WrenVM* vm, const char* module,
    const char* className, bool isStatic, const char* signature)
  if (strcmp(className, "File") == 0)
    if (!isStatic && strcmp(signature, "write(_)") == 0)
      return fileWrite;

    if (!isStatic && strcmp(signature, "close()") == 0)
      return fileClose;

  // Unknown method.
  return NULL;

When Wren calls this, we look at the class and method name to figure out which method it’s binding, and then return a pointer to the appropriate function. The foreign method for writing to the file is:

void fileWrite(WrenVM* vm)
  FILE** file = (FILE**)wrenGetSlotForeign(vm, 0);

  // Make sure the file is still open.
  if (*file == NULL)
    wrenSetSlotString(vm, 0, "Cannot write to a closed file.");
    wrenAbortFiber(vm, 0);

  const char* text = wrenGetSlotString(vm, 1);
  fwrite(text, sizeof(char), strlen(text), *file);

We use wrenGetSlotForeign() to pull the foreign data out of the slot array. Since this method is called on the file itself, the foreign object is in slot zero. We take the resulting pointer and cast it to a pointer of the proper type. Again, because our foreign data is itself a pointer, we get a pointer to a pointer.

We do a little sanity checking to make sure the user isn’t writing to a file they already closed. If not, we call fwrite() to write to the file.

The other method is close() to let them explicitly close the file:

void fileClose(WrenVM* vm)
  FILE** file = (FILE**)wrenGetSlotForeign(vm, 0);

It uses the same helper we defined above. And that’s it, a complete foreign class with a finalizer and a couple of foreign methods. In Wren, you can use it like so:

var file = File.create("some/path.txt")
file.write("some text")

Pretty neat, right? The resulting class looks and feels like a normal Wren class, but it has the functionality and much of the performance of native C code.

Configuring the VM → ← Calling C from Wren