Python/C API: Making a Type

This is the third post in the Python/C API series. In previous posts,
Python/C API: #include<Python.h> and Python/C API: Reference Counting, I have shown how to extend Python with C API and importance of memory management in Python. In this post, we’ll be talking about declaring and making a type. This is can also be seen as a class in Python. It has it’s init function, deallocating function, etc. Here’s the overview.


  • Create Structure.
  • Init and dealloc.
  • Declare Members.
  • Write Functions.
  • Declare Functions.
  • Make the type Ready.

Making a type is not only about making functions, it also relates to C structures, write them in array, and use the arrays to create Python components. We’ll learn how to make a type with a simple example.

Include Libraries

#include <Python.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include "structmember.h"

structmember.h is a very important library which helps in declaring the members of the type.

C Struct
The storage for the type is C struct and its filed will be type’s data. Here, I am declaring a “CountDict” type.

// CountDict type
typedef struct {
    PyObject * dict;
    PyObject * keys;
    PyObject * vals;
    int count;
    char* name;
} CountDict;

The first thing in the struct must be PyObject_HEAD, with no semicolon. This is a macro that creates the initial fields in the structure. This is what makes your structure usable as a PyObject. The rest of the struct can be whatever data that you need for the type. PyObject* pointers are very useful for holding Python objects, but they are almost certainly owned references. Hence you have to be very careful to acquire and release them properly.

Init and dealloc:
When writing a Python class, some special methods have special names, eg. __init__. When creating a type in C, these special methods are ordinary C functions with particular signatures that will be specified as part of the type definition. These function should be named systematically for user readability, but the name really doesn’t matter. A Pointer to the function will be associated with its role.

static int CountDict_init(CountDict *self, PyObject *args, PyObject* kwds)
    self->dict = PyDict_New();
    self->keys = PyList_New(0);
    self->vals = PyList_New(0);
    self->count = 0;
    if (!PyArg_ParseTuple(args, "s", &self->name))
        return -1;
    return 0;

static void CountDict_dealloc(CountDict *self)

Python class need not have an explicit deallocation method, but a C class has to have an explicit deallocation method. In this method, you should dispose all the owned references, and finally call the class tp_free function to clean up the type itself.

Make Data Available in Python
After declaring the type (C struct), and few important methods, you need to make all that data available to Python.
Declare Members:
You can decide which of your struct’s fields to make available as Python data attributes, if any. An array of structures defines the attributes.

static PyMemberDef
CountDict_members[] = {
    { "dict",   T_OBJECT, offsetof(CountDict, dict), 0,
                "The dictionary of value collected so far."},
    { "keys",   T_OBJECT, offsetof(CountDict, keys), 0,
                "The keys collected so far."},
    { "vals",   T_OBJECT, offsetof(CountDict, vals), 0,
                "The values collected so far."},
    { "count",  T_INT, offsetof(CountDict, count), 0,
                "The number of times set() has been called."},
    { "name",  T_STRING, offsetof(CountDict, name), 0,
                "The name of the type."},

Each PyMemberDef structure specifies the Python attribute name, the C type of the field, the offset into the structure (with the handy offsetof macro), some flags, and a docstring for the attribute. The array will be used later in the type definition.

Write Functions:
Class methods are defined just like functions. You can write as many functions as you want.

static PyObject* CountDict_Set(CountDict *self, PyObject* args)
    const char* key;
    PyObject* value;
    if (!PyArg_ParseTuple(args, "sO:set", &key, &value))
        return NULL;
    if (PyDict_SetItemString(self->dict, key, value) < 0)
        return NULL;
    PyList_Append(self->keys, PyString_FromString(key));
    PyList_Append(self->vals, value);
    self->count ++;
    return Py_BuildValue("i", self->count);

static PyObject* CountDict_GetKeys(CountDict *self)
    return self->keys;

static PyObject* CountDict_GetVals(CountDict *self)
    return self->vals;

static PyObject* CountDict_GetName(CountDict* self)
    return Py_BuildValue("s", self->name);

Declare Methods:
Methods are also declared like functions, in an array of structs, providing the name, C function pointer, flags, and docstring for method.

static PyMethodDef CountDict_methods[] = {
    {"set", (PyCFunction) CountDict_Set, 
                METH_VARARGS, "set a key and increment the count."},
    {"getKeys", (PyCFunction) CountDict_GetKeys, 
                METH_VARARGS, "get all the keys."},
    {"getVals", (PyCFunction) CountDict_GetVals,
               METH_VARARGS, "get all the values."},
    {"getName", (PyCFunction) CountDict_GetName,
              METH_VARARGS, "get name of the type"},

Declare the Type Components:
Types are defined by initializing a PyTypeObject struct. This struct has fields for each of the special functions needed to provide the behavior of a type. Where in Python we’d have specially named functions like __init__ and __hash__, in C we have members in the PyTypeObject struct pointing to the C function implementing the functionality. Other fields in the struct get pointers to the arrays of structs defining the methods, properties, and attributes.

static PyTypeObject
CountDictType = {
   0,                         /* ob_size */
   "CountDict",               /* tp_name */
   sizeof(CountDict),         /* tp_basicsize */
   0,                         /* tp_itemsize */
   (destructor)CountDict_dealloc, /* 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 */
   "CountDict object",        /* tp_doc */
   0,                         /* tp_traverse */
   0,                         /* tp_clear */
   0,                         /* tp_richcompare */
   0,                         /* tp_weaklistoffset */
   0,                         /* tp_iter */
   0,                         /* tp_iternext */
   CountDict_methods,         /* tp_methods */
   CountDict_members,         /* tp_members */
   0,                         /* tp_getset */
   0,                         /* tp_base */
   0,                         /* tp_dict */
   0,                         /* tp_descr_get */
   0,                         /* tp_descr_set */
   0,                         /* tp_dictoffset */
   (initproc)CountDict_init,  /* tp_init */
   0,                         /* tp_alloc */
   0,                         /* tp_new */

Make the type Ready:
Once the module is initialized, we can init some slots in the type that can’t be done with the struct initializer, then call PyType_Ready to finish up the creation of the type.

void initccv(void)
    PyObject* mod;
    mod = Py_InitModule3("ccv", NULL, "An extension with a type");
    // ccv is the module name
    if (mod == NULL)
    CountDictType.tp_new = PyType_GenericNew;
    if (PyType_Ready(&CountDictType) < 0) {
    PyModule_AddObject(mod, "CountDict" , (PyObject* )&CountDictType);

PyType_Ready performs bookkeeping and other initialization to prepare the type for use, including hooking up the hierarchy for inheritance, and so on. Finally, PyModule_AddObject is used to assign the type to its name in the module.

You can find the complete code on my GitHub. I’m working on making a type for SimpleCV Image class. I am planning to use numpy C api. I hope this goes well.

P.S. The Hobbit has by far the most amazing animation I have ever seen.


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