IPython Cookbook, Second Edition This is one of the 100+ free recipes of the IPython Cookbook, Second Edition, by Cyrille Rossant, a guide to numerical computing and data science in the Jupyter Notebook. The ebook and printed book are available for purchase at Packt Publishing.

▶  Text on GitHub with a CC-BY-NC-ND license
▶  Code on GitHub with a MIT license

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Wrapping a C library in Python allows us to leverage existing C code or to implement a critical part of the code in a fast language such as C.

It is relatively easy to use externally-compiled libraries with Python. The first possibility is to call a command-line executable with an os.system() command, but this method does not extend to compiled libraries.

A more powerful method consists of using a native Python module called ctypes. This module allows us to call functions defined in a compiled library (written in C) from Python. The ctypes module takes care of the data type conversions between C and Python. In addition, the numpy.ctypeslib module provides facilities to use NumPy arrays wherever data buffers are used in the external library.

In this example, we will rewrite the code of the Mandelbrot fractal in C, compile it in a shared library, and call it from Python.

Getting ready

The code of this recipe is written for Unix systems and has been tested on Ubuntu. It can be adapted to other systems with minor changes.

A C compiler is required. You will find all compiler-related instructions in this chapter's introduction.

How to do it...

First, we write and compile the Mandelbrot example in C. Then, we access it from Python using ctypes.

1.  Let's write the code of the Mandelbrot fractal in C:

%%writefile mandelbrot.c
#include "stdio.h"
#include "stdlib.h"

void mandelbrot(int size, int iterations, int *col)
    // Variable declarations.
    int i, j, n, index;
    double cx, cy;
    double z0, z1, z0_tmp, z0_2, z1_2;

    // Loop within the grid.
    for (i = 0; i < size; i++)
        cy = -1.5 + (double)i / size * 3;
        for (j = 0; j < size; j++)
            // We initialize the loop of the system.
            cx = -2.0 + (double)j / size * 3;
            index = i * size + j;
            // Let's run the system.
            z0 = 0.0;
            z1 = 0.0;
            for (n = 0; n < iterations; n++)
                z0_2 = z0 * z0;
                z1_2 = z1 * z1;
                if (z0_2 + z1_2 <= 100)
                    // Update the system.
                    z0_tmp = z0_2 - z1_2 + cx;
                    z1 = 2 * z0 * z1 + cy;
                    z0 = z0_tmp;
                    col[index] = n;

2.  Now, let's compile this C source file with gcc into a mandelbrot.so dynamic library:

!!gcc -shared -Wl,-soname,mandelbrot \
    -o mandelbrot.so \
    -fPIC mandelbrot.c

3.  Let's access the library with ctypes:

import ctypes
lib = ctypes.CDLL('mandelbrot.so')
mandelbrot = lib.mandelbrot

4.  NumPy and ctypes allow us to wrap the C function defined in the library:

from numpy.ctypeslib import ndpointer
# Define the types of the output and arguments of
# this function.
mandelbrot.restype = None
mandelbrot.argtypes = [ctypes.c_int,

5.  To use this function, we first need to initialize an empty array and pass it as an argument to the mandelbrot() wrapper function:

import numpy as np
# We initialize an empty array.
size = 400
iterations = 100
col = np.empty((size, size), dtype=np.int32)
# We execute the C function, which will update
# the array.
mandelbrot(size, iterations, col)

6.  Let's show the result:

import numpy as np
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
%matplotlib inline
fig, ax = plt.subplots(1, 1, figsize=(10, 10))
ax.imshow(np.log(col), cmap=plt.cm.hot)

<matplotlib.figure.Figure at 0x7fa4c6641c50>

6.  How fast is this function?

%timeit mandelbrot(size, iterations, col)
28.9 ms ± 73.1 µs per loop (mean ± std. dev. of 7 runs,
    10 loops each)

The wrapped C version is slightly faster than the Numba version in the first recipe of this chapter.

How it works...

The mandelbrot() function accepts as arguments:

  • The size of the col buffer (the col value is the last iteration where the corresponding point is within a disc around the origin)
  • The number of iterations
  • A pointer to the buffer of integers

The mandelbrot() C function does not return any value; rather, it updates the buffer that was passed by reference to the function (it is a pointer).

To wrap this function in Python, we need to declare the types of the input arguments. The ctypes module defines constants for the different data types. In addition, the numpy.ctypeslib.ndpointer() function lets us use a NumPy array wherever a pointer is expected in the C function. The data type given as argument to ndpointer() needs to correspond to the NumPy data type of the array passed to the function.

Once the function has been correctly wrapped, it can be called as if it was a standard Python function. Here, the initially-empty NumPy array is filled with the Mandelbrot fractal after the call to mandelbrot().

There's more...

An alternative to ctypes is cffi (http://cffi.readthedocs.org), which may be a bit faster and more convenient to use. You can also refer to http://eli.thegreenplace.net/2013/03/09/python-ffi-with-ctypes-and-cffi/.

See also

  • Accelerating pure Python code with Numba and just-in-time compilation