In this blog and a few others that will follow, I would share my expereiences creating Ruby Bindings for C/C++ libraries. It covers a practical example rather than a Hello world! or chairs and tables examples.

When I started working on ArrayFire bindings for Ruby, I was searching on the Internet How to create Ruby C extensions? I was able to learn the basics but I wasn’t able to figure out how to implement it for a practical application.

For example, if you are working on a Number Cruncing library, you need to handle data of different types like double, float, int, unsigned int, complex. To handle all these data types, to prevent repeatition of code, we need templates. But C doesn’t support templates and you need to use C++ to do it. But you never learnt to bind C++ to Ruby.

Hence, I am writing this blog post to explain how to engineer complex Ruby applications that take advantage of C/C++ libraries. I will explain it by citing examples from NMatrix, and ArrayFire.


The first step of creating a Ruby binding is to create a shared object file that binds to your ruby code. The shared object contains information about your Ruby Modules, Classes, Methods and Variables.

An example tutorial which I like a lot, can be seen here and here.

Now the challenging task would be how you will use C++, if you want to use Object Oriented paradigm of C++.

Directory Structure

├── ext
│   └── mri
│       ├── arith.cpp
│       ├── arrayfire.c
│       ├── blas.cpp
│       ├── extconf.rb
│       ├── lapack.cpp
│       ├── mkmf.rb
│       ├── ruby_arrayfire.cpp
│       └── ruby_arrayfire.h
├── lib
│   ├── arrayfire
│   │   └── arrayfire.rb
│   └── arrayfire.rb
└── Rakefile


NMatrix uses mkmf.rb file which helps you compile C++ and C code. If you want to explore more, you can look into what this code does.

mkmf.rb helps you create an entry to shared object is through a C++ files that also contains the C files. The C file contains all the directives responsible for creating Ruby modules, classes , methods and variables and to prevent mangling we use extern to refer C and C++ code.


The extconf.rb needs to have a little modifcations that would help the Makefile find the source files, dependencies and output the .so file.


require_relative 'mkmf.rb'

extension_name = 'arrayfire'


  ['ruby_arrayfire.h'       , '$(archdir)'],
  ['ruby_arrayfire.hpp'     , '$(archdir)'],
  ['arrayfire_config.h', '$(archdir)'],

$DEBUG = true
$CFLAGS = ["-Wall -Werror=return-type",$CFLAGS].join(" ")
$CXXFLAGS = ["-Wall -Werror=return-type",$CXXFLAGS].join(" ")
$CPPFLAGS = ["-Wall -Werror=return-type",$CPPFLAGS].join(" ")

dir_config('arrayfire', '/usr/local/include/', '/usr/local/lib/')

LIBDIR      = RbConfig::CONFIG['libdir']
INCLUDEDIR  = RbConfig::CONFIG['includedir']

HEADER_DIRS = [INCLUDEDIR, '/usr/local/include/', '/usr/local/include/af/']


basenames = %w{ruby_arrayfire}
$objs = { |b| "#{b}.o"   }
$srcs = { |b| "#{b}.cpp" }


Return type

In the headerfile, we can add info regarding how to cast the objects and juggle them easily between C and C++ code.

Each Ruby binding must return a VALUE and we need to cast it which can be seen in the following lines of code.



 * Functions

#ifdef __cplusplus
typedef VALUE (*METHOD)(...);

#include <ruby.h>
#ifdef __cplusplus
extern "C" {

  void Init_arrayfire();

#ifdef __cplusplus

Name Mangling

Now since you are loading the C file through a C++ interface you need to take care of casting the return value from an expression.

A C++ compiler distinguishes between different functions when it generates object code by adding extra information about arguments to the function name, which is called Name Mangling.

Hence, whenever we import C code, we place it in extern "C" block.

The following code shows how to use it.

Here we create an arf namespace and we create a method test_cpp that will print “Set up is successful!”. arf::test_cpp will be called by ArrayFire#test. test method will be defined in C and will call arf::test_cpp.


#include <ruby.h>
#include <algorithm>
#include <fstream>
#include <arrayfire.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <math.h>

 * Project Includes

#include "arrayfire.h"
#include "ruby_arrayfire.h"

namespace arf {

  static void test_cpp()
    printf("Setup is successful!");
extern "C" {
  #include "arrayfire.c"

Ruby C bindings

This is the piece of code where we create the Ruby bindings.


VALUE ArrayFire = Qnil;
static VALUE test(VALUE self);

void Init_arrayfire() {
  ArrayFire = rb_define_module("ArrayFire");
  rb_define_method(ArrayFire, "test", (METHOD)test, 0);

VALUE test(VALUE self) {
  return Qnil;

Loading the Shared Library


require 'ext/'


This is how we have created our basic layout for Ruby C extension with C and C++.

Now, we will create some arrayfire bindings.

In the following blogs, I will write about building upon this codebase. I will introduce templates and later Garbage collection .