Python ctypes module

Tue 10 August 2010 by Lars Kellogg-Stedman Tags python

I just learned about the Python ctypes module, which is a Python module for interfacing with C code. Among other things, ctypes lets you call arbitrary functions in shared libraries. This is, from my perspective, some very cool magic. I thought I would provide a short example here, since it took me a little time to get everything working smoothly.

For this example, we'll write a wrapper for the standard statvfs(2) function:

       #include <sys/statvfs.h>

       int statvfs(const char *path, struct statvfs *buf);
       int fstatvfs(int fd, struct statvfs *buf);

       The function statvfs() returns information about a mounted file
       system.  path is the pathname of any file within the mounted file
       system.   buf is a pointer to a statvfs structure defined
       approximately as follows:

Note the wording there: "...defined approximately as follows." Our first job is finding out exactly what the statvfs structure looks like. We can use gcc to show us the contents of the appropriate #include file:

echo '#include <sys/statvfs.h>' | gcc -E | less

Browsing through the results, we find the the following definition:

struct statvfs
    unsigned long int f_bsize;
    unsigned long int f_frsize;

    __fsblkcnt_t f_blocks;
    __fsblkcnt_t f_bfree;
    __fsblkcnt_t f_bavail;
    __fsfilcnt_t f_files;
    __fsfilcnt_t f_ffree;
    __fsfilcnt_t f_favail;
    unsigned long int f_fsid;

    unsigned long int f_flag;
    unsigned long int f_namemax;
    int __f_spare[6];

We need to investigate further to determine what __fsblkcnt_t and __fsfilcnt_t really mean. There are a number of ways to do this. Here's what I did:

$ cd /usr/include
$ ctags -R
$ ex
Entering Ex mode.  Type "visual" to go to Normal mode.
:tag __fsblkcnt_t
"bits/types.h" [readonly] 197L, 7601C
__STD_TYPE __FSBLKCNT_T_TYPE __fsblkcnt_t;
"bits/typesizes.h" [readonly] 66L, 2538C
"bits/types.h" [readonly] 197L, 7601C
#define __ULONGWORD_TYPE        unsigned long int

Repeat this for __fsfilcnt_t and we find that they are both unsigned long int.

This means that we need to create a ctypes.Structure object like the following:

from ctypes import *

class struct_statvfs (Structure):
    _fields_ = [
            ('f_bsize', c_ulong),
            ('f_frsize', c_ulong),
            ('f_blocks', c_ulong),
            ('f_bfree', c_ulong),
            ('f_bavail', c_ulong),
            ('f_files', c_ulong),
            ('f_ffree', c_ulong),
            ('f_favail', c_ulong),
            ('f_fsid', c_ulong),
            ('f_flag', c_ulong),
            ('f_namemax', c_ulong),
            ('__f_spare', c_int * 6),

Failure to create the correct structure (e.g., if you're missing fields) can result in a number of weird errors, including segfaults and warnings from gcc about memory corruption.

Now that we have the appropriate structure defined, we need to load up the appropriate shared library:

libc = CDLL('')

And then tell ctypes about the function arguments expected by statvfs():

libc.statvfs.argtypes = [c_char_p, POINTER(struct_statvfs)]

With all this in place, we can now call the function:

s = struct_statvfs()
res = libc.statvfs('/etc', byref(s))
for k in s._fields_:
    print '%20s: %s' % (k[0], getattr(s, k[0]))

We use byref(s) because statvfs() expects a pointer to a structure. This outputs the following on my local system:

 f_bsize: 4096
f_frsize: 4096
f_blocks: 10079070
 f_bfree: 5043632
f_bavail: 4941270
 f_files: 2564096
 f_ffree: 2419876
f_favail: 2419876
  f_fsid: 18446744071962486827
  f_flag: 4096
f_namemax: 255
__f_spare: <__main__.c_int_Array_6 object at 0x7f718fb6b3b0>