Generating Bindings to C++

bindgen can handle some C++ features, but not all of them. To set expectations: bindgen will give you the type definitions and FFI declarations you need to build an API to the C++ library, but using those types in Rust will be nowhere near as nice as using them in C++. You will have to manually call constructors, destructors, overloaded operators, etc yourself.

When passing in header files, the file will automatically be treated as C++ if it ends in .hpp. If it doesn't, adding -x c++ clang args can be used to force C++ mode. You probably also want to use -std=c++14 or similar clang args as well.

You pretty much must use allowlisting when working with C++ to avoid pulling in all of the std::.* types, many of which bindgen cannot handle. Additionally, you may want to mark other types as opaque that bindgen stumbles on. It is recommended to mark all of std::.* opaque, and to allowlist only precisely the functions and types you intend to use.

You should read up on the FAQs as well.

Supported Features

  • Inheritance (for the most part; there are some outstanding bugs)

  • Methods

  • Bindings to constructors and destructors (but they aren't implicitly or automatically invoked)

  • Function and method overloading

  • Templates without specialization. You should be able to access individual fields of the class or struct.

Unsupported Features

When bindgen finds a type that is too difficult or impossible to translate into Rust, it will automatically treat it as an opaque blob of bytes. The philosophy is that

  1. we should always get layout, size, and alignment correct, and

  2. just because one type uses specialization, that shouldn't cause bindgen to give up on everything else.

Without further ado, here are C++ features that bindgen does not support or cannot translate into Rust:

  • Inline functions and methods: see "Why isn't bindgen generating bindings to inline functions?"

  • Template functions, methods of template classes and structs. We don't know which monomorphizations exist, and can't create new ones because we aren't a C++ compiler.

  • Anything related to template specialization:

    • Partial template specialization
    • Traits templates
    • Substitution Failure Is Not An Error (SFINAE)
  • Cross language inheritance, for example inheriting from a Rust struct in C++.

  • Automatically calling copy and/or move constructors or destructors. Supporting this isn't possible with Rust's move semantics.

  • Exceptions: if a function called through a bindgen-generated interface raises an exception that is not caught by the function itself, this will generate undefined behaviour. See the tracking issue for exceptions for more details.

  • Many C++ specific aspects of calling conventions. For example in the Itanium abi types that are "non trivial for the purposes of calls" should be passed by pointer, even if they are otherwise eligible to be passed in a register. Similarly in both the Itanium and MSVC ABIs such types are returned by "hidden parameter", much like large structs in C that would not fit into a register. This also applies to types with any base classes in the MSVC ABI (see x64 calling convention). Because bindgen does not know about these rules generated interfaces using such types are currently invalid.

Constructor semantics

bindgen will generate a wrapper for any class constructor declared in the input headers. For example, this headers file

class MyClass {
    public:
	MyClass();
        void method();
};

Will produce the following code:

#[repr(C)]
#[derive(Debug, Copy, Clone)]
pub struct MyClass {
    pub _address: u8,
}
extern "C" {
    #[link_name = "\u{1}_ZN7MyClass6methodEv"]
    pub fn MyClass_method(this: *mut MyClass);
}
extern "C" {
    #[link_name = "\u{1}_ZN7MyClassC1Ev"]
    pub fn MyClass_MyClass(this: *mut MyClass);
}
impl MyClass {
    #[inline]
    pub unsafe fn method(&mut self) {
        MyClass_method(self)
    }
    #[inline]
    pub unsafe fn new() -> Self {
        let mut __bindgen_tmp = ::std::mem::MaybeUninit::uninit();
        MyClass_MyClass(__bindgen_tmp.as_mut_ptr());
        __bindgen_tmp.assume_init()
    }
}

This MyClass::new Rust method can be used as a substitute for the MyClass C++ constructor. However, the address of the value from inside the method will be different than from the outside. This is because the __bindgen_tmp value is moved when the MyClass::new method returns.

In contrast, the C++ constructor will not move the value, meaning that the address of the value will be the same inside and outside the constructor. If the original C++ relies on this semantic difference somehow, you should use the MyClass_MyClass binding directly instead of the MyClass::new method.

In other words, the Rust equivalent for the following C++ code

MyClass instance = MyClass();
instance.method();

is not this

let instance = MyClass::new();
instance.method();

but this

let instance = std::mem::MaybeUninit::<MyClass>::uninit();
MyClass_MyClass(instance.as_mut_ptr());
instance.assume_init_mut().method();

You can easily verify this fact if you provide a implementation for MyClass and method that prints the the this pointer address. However, you can ignore this fact if you know that the original C++ code does not rely on the instance address in its internal logic.