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Author image 🦖🦜Graham Ollis🦃🦕
and 15 contributors


FFI::Platypus::Buffer - Convert scalars to C buffers


version 1.31


 use FFI::Platypus::Buffer;
 my($pointer, $size) = scalar_to_buffer $scalar;
 my $scalar2 = buffer_to_scalar $pointer, $size;


A common pattern in C is to pass a "buffer" or region of memory into a function with a pair of arguments, an opaque pointer and the size of the memory region. In Perl the equivalent structure is a scalar containing a string of bytes. This module provides portable functions for converting a Perl string or scalar into a buffer and back.

These functions are implemented using pack and unpack and so they should be relatively fast.

Both functions are exported by default, but you can explicitly export one or neither if you so choose.

A better way to do this might be with custom types see FFI::Platypus::API and FFI::Platypus::Type. These functions were taken from the now obsolete FFI::Util module, as they may be useful in some cases.

Caution: This module provides great power in the way that you interact with C code, but with that power comes great responsibility. Since you are dealing with blocks of memory you need to take care to understand the underlying ownership model of these pointers.



 my($pointer, $size) = scalar_to_buffer $scalar;

Convert a string scalar into a buffer. Returned in order are a pointer to the start of the string scalar's memory region and the size of the region.

You should NEVER try to free $pointer.

When you pass this pointer and size into a C function, it has direct access to the data stored in your scalar, so it is important that you not resize or free the scalar while it is in use by the C code. Typically if you are passing a buffer into a C function which reads or writes to the buffer, but does not keep the pointer for later use you are okay. If the buffer is in use long term by the C code, then you should consider copying the buffer instead. For example:

 use FFI::Platypus::Buffer qw( scalar_to_buffer );
 use FFI::Platypus::Memory qw( malloc memcpy free )
 my($ptr, $size) = scalar_to_buffer $string;
 c_function_thaat_does_not_keep_ptr( $ptr, $size); # okay
 my($ptr, $size) = scalar_to_buffer $string;
 my $ptr_copy = malloc($size);
 memcpy($ptr_copy, $ptr, $size);
 c_function_that_DOES_keep_ptr( $ptr_copy, $size); # also okay
 # later when you know that the c code is no longer using the pointer
 # Since you allocated the copy, you are responsible for free'ing it.


 my $pointer = scalar_to_pointer $scalar;

Get the pointer to the scalar. (Similar to scalar_to_buffer above, but the size of the scalar is not computed or returned).

Not exported by default, but may be exported on request.


 my $scalar = buffer_to_scalar $pointer, $size;

Convert the buffer region defined by the pointer and size into a string scalar.

Because of the way memory management works in Perl, the buffer is copied from the buffer into the scalar. If this pointer was returned from C land, then you should only free it if you allocated it.


 grow $scalar, $size, \%options;

Ensure that the scalar can contain at least $size bytes. The following are recognized:

clear => boolean

If true, $scalar is cleared prior to being enlarged. This avoids copying the existing contents to the reallocated memory if they are not needed.

  For example, after
   $scalar = "my string";
   grow $scalar, 100, { clear => 0 };

$scalar == "my string", while after

   $scalar = "my string";
   grow $scalar, 100;

length($scalar) == 0

It defaults to true.

set_length => boolean

If true, the length of the string in the $scalar is set to $size. (See the discussion in "set_used_length".) This is useful if a foreign function writes exactly $size bytes to $scalar, as it avoids a subsequent call to set_used_length. Contrast this

  grow my $scalar, 100;
  read_exactly_100_bytes_into_scalar( scalar_to_pointer($scalar) );
  @chars = unpack( 'c*', $scalar );

with this:

  grow my $scalar, 100, { set_length => 0 };
  read_exactly_100_bytes_into_scalar( scalar_to_pointer($scalar) );
  set_used_length( $scalar, 100 );
  @chars = unpack( 'c*', $scalar );

It defaults to true.

Any pointers obtained with scalar_to_pointer or scalar_to_buffer are no longer valid after growing the scalar.

Not exported by default, but may be exported on request.


 set_used_length $scalar, $length;

Update Perl's notion of the length of the string in the scalar. A string scalar keeps track of two lengths: the number of available bytes and the number of used bytes. When a string scalar is used as a buffer by a foreign function, it is necessary to indicate to Perl how many bytes were actually written to it so that Perl's string functions (such as substr or unpack) will work correctly.

If $length is larger than what the scalar can hold, it is set to the maximum possible size.

In the following example, the foreign routine read_doubles may fill the buffer with up to a set number of doubles, returning the number actually written.

  my $sizeof_double = $ffi->sizeof( 'double' );
  my $max_doubles = 100;
  my $max_length = $max_doubles * $sizeof_double;
  my $buffer;                   # length($buffer) == 0
  grow $buffer, $max_length;    # length($buffer) is still  0
  my $pointer = scalar_to_pointer($buffer);
  my $num_read = read_doubles( $pointer, $max_doubles );
                                # length($buffer) is still == 0
  set_used_length $buffer, $num_read * $sizeof_double;
                                # length($buffer) is finally != 0
  # unpack the native doubles into a Perl array
  my @doubles = unpack( 'd*', $buffer );  # @doubles == $num_read

Not exported by default, but may be exported on request.


 window $scalar, $pointer;
 window $scalar, $pointer, $size;
 window $scalar, $pointer, $size, $utf8;

This makes the scalar a read-only window into the arbitrary region of memory defined by $pointer, pointing to the start of the region and $size, the size of the region. If $size is omitted then it will assume a C style string and use the C strlen function to determine the size (the terminating '\0' will not be included).

This can be useful if you have a C function that returns a buffer pair (pointer, size), and want to access it from Perl without having to copy the data. This can also be useful when interfacing with programming languages that store strings as a address/length pair instead of a pointer to null-terminated sequence of bytes.

You can specify $utf8 to set the UTF-8 flag on the scalar. Note that the behavior of setting the UTF-8 flag on a buffer that does not contain UTF-8 as understood by the version of Perl that you are running is undefined.

Hint: If you have a buffer that needs to be free'd by C once the scalar falls out of scope you can use Variable::Magic to apply magic to the scalar and free the pointer once it falls out of scope.

 use FFI::Platypus::Buffer qw( scalar_to_pointer );
 use FFI::Platypus::Memory qw( strdup free );
 use Variable::Magic qw( wizard cast );
 my $free_when_out_of_scope = wizard(
   free => sub {
     my $ptr = scalar_to_pointer ${$_[0]};
     free $ptr;
 my $ptr = strdup "Hello Perl";
 my $scalar;
 window $scalar, $ptr, 10;
 cast $scalar, $free_when_out_of_scope;
 undef $ptr;  # don't need to track the pointer anymore.
 # we can now use scalar as a regular read-only Perl variable
 print $scalar, "\n";  # prints "Hello Perl" without the \0
 # this will free the C pointer
 undef $scalar;

Hint: Returning a scalar string from a Perl function actually copies the value. If you want to return a string without copying then you need to return a reference.

 sub c_string
   my $ptr = strdup "Hello Perl";
   my $scalar;
   window $scalar, $ptr, 10;
   cast $scalar, $free_when_out_of_scope;
 my $ref = c_string();
 print $$ref, "\n";  # prints "Hello Perl" without the \0

Not exported by default, but may be exported on request.



Main Platypus documentation.


Author: Graham Ollis <plicease@cpan.org>


Bakkiaraj Murugesan (bakkiaraj)

Dylan Cali (calid)


Zaki Mughal (zmughal)

Fitz Elliott (felliott)

Vickenty Fesunov (vyf)

Gregor Herrmann (gregoa)

Shlomi Fish (shlomif)

Damyan Ivanov

Ilya Pavlov (Ilya33)

Petr Pisar (ppisar)

Mohammad S Anwar (MANWAR)

Håkon Hægland (hakonhagland, HAKONH)

Meredith (merrilymeredith, MHOWARD)

Diab Jerius (DJERIUS)


This software is copyright (c) 2015,2016,2017,2018,2019,2020 by Graham Ollis.

This is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the same terms as the Perl 5 programming language system itself.