Author Archives: Victor Porton

Flexible Default Function Parameters via structs with Nullable Fields

The problem

Sometimes we need to combine an aggregate of a set of values with an aggregate of the corresponding set of default values to create a combined result. The result for each member is either the explicitly specified value or, where no value is specified, the default value. This is similar to default function arguments in D. However, D forces one to always specify the first N values in function parameters, but I want to be able to specify an arbitrary subset of the values. Example:

Explicit values: a: 1, b: 2

Default values: a: 3, b: 4, c: 5

Combined result: a: 1, b: 2, c: 5

Possible solutions

The first idea is to use associative arrays. This approach is inefficient, however, because it combines values with string (or enum at best) names at runtime with associative array lookups and stores. It could be used like this (untested) example:

combine(["a": 1, "b": 2], ["a": 3, "b": 4, "c": 5])

I was advised to instead use structs with nullable values (see below) to pass multiple values. This is nearly as efficient as possible because the members of the structs are enumerated at compile time (in fact, I use static foreach in my implementation). So I implemented this solution. The source code is quite useful and released under the Apache 2.0 license.

To represent the (explicit) values of type T, we use a struct member of type Nullable!T. If it is null, this means that the explicit value is missing and the default value is used instead; otherwise the specified value is used.

Example of definition and combination

First, install the struct-params package with DUB (see the DUB documentation; I strongly recommend using DUB to build D projects) or clone my GitHub repository.

Then add the following import to your source:

import struct_params;

Example code:

mixin StructParams!("S", int, "x", float, "y");
immutable S.WithDefaults combinedMain = { x: 12 }; // note y is default initialized to null
immutable S.Regular combinedDefault = { x: 11, y: 3.0 };
immutable combined = combine(combinedMain, combinedDefault);
assert(combined.x == 12 && combined.y == 3.0);

StructParams is a string mixin, a D construct which generates D code at compile time and mixes it in at the point of declaration.

mixin StructParams!("S", int, "x", float, "y"); effectively defines the following struct:

struct S {
  struct Regular {
    int x;
    float y;
  struct WithDefaults {
    Nullable!int x;
    Nullable!float y;

WithDefaults is the struct to pass, for example, explicit values (which can be present (non-null) or missing (null) to be replaced with default values). For this, the D template type Nullable is used to represent either a value of a type or a null denoting a missing value.

Regular is just a standard struct with fields. Regular is a type which can be used to pass default values to the function combine.

This function combine combines explicit values with default values (as described above).

Then we assert that the result is correct.

Calling functions

Finally, we will do the main thing for which all the above was intended and call a function with combined values:

float f(int a, float b) {
    return a + b;
assert(callFunctionWithParamsStruct!f(combined) == combined.x + combined.y);

The structure combined is “split” into members and the members are passed as parameters to f in the order the fields of the struct are defined, that is in the order their names are specified as arguments to the StructParams string mixin. For those interested in the details: I use the built-in D struct and class property .tupleof to split the structure into a tuple of members (e.g. explicitly calling f with an instance reg of Regular would look like this: f(reg.tupleof);).

We can also call a member function of a struct or class instance (t in the example below):

struct Test {
    float f(int a, float b) {
        return a + b;
Test t;
assert(callMemberFunctionWithParamsStruct!(t, "f")(combined) == combined.x + combined.y);

It is very unnatural to call the member f using a string of its name, but I have not found a better solution.

Another variant would be to use callFunctionWithParamsStruct!((int a, float b) => t.f(a, b))(combined), but this way is inconvenient as it requires specifying arguments explicitly.

Final considerations

Note that we cannot currently use struct initializers with named arguments, like S.Regular(x: 11, y: 3.0), as the current version of D does not have this feature. There is a draft D Improvement Proposal (DIP) to introduce the feature, but I hear its author is going to replace it with a more general-case proposal after DConf 2019 in London.

It would be beneficial to implement such structs with default values, but this seems impossible, but representing every possible D value as a literal is apparently impossible (for example, a structure with circular references to other structures seems not to be representable as a literal). We can attempt to implement it for a subset of types of values, or even for some values of types and not for others, but this would require further consideration.

Victor Porton is an open source developer, a math researcher, and a Christian writer. He earns his living as a programmer.

Memoization in the D Programming Language

The D programming language provides advanced facilities for structuring programs logically, almost like Python or Ruby, but with high performance and the higher reliability of static typing and contract programming.

In this article, I will describe how to use D templates and mixins for memoization, that is, to automatically remember a function (or property) result.

std.functional.memoize from the standard library

The first way is built straight into Phobos, the D standard library, and is very easy to use:

import std.functional;
import std.stdio;

float doCalculations() {
    writeln("Doing calculations.");
    return -1.7; // the value of the calculations

// Apply the template “memoize” to the function doCalculations():
alias doCalculationsOnce = memoize!doCalculations;

Now the alias doCalculationsOnce() does the same as doCalculations(), but the calculations are done only once (if we call doCalculationsOnce() then “Doing calculations.” would be printed only once). This is useful for long slow calculations and in some other situations (like to create only a single window on the screen). That is memoization.

It’s even possible to memoize a function with arguments:

float doCalculations2(float arg1, float arg2) {
    writeln("Doing calculations.");
    return arg1 + arg2; // the value of the calculations

// Apply the template “memoize” to the function  doCalculations2():
alias doCalculationsOnce2 = memoize!doCalculations2;

void main(string[] args)
    writeln(doCalculationsOnce2(1.0, 1.2));
    writeln(doCalculationsOnce2(1.0, 1.3));
    writeln(doCalculationsOnce2(1.0, 1.3));

This outputs:

Doing calculations.
Doing calculations.

You see that the calculations are not repeated again when the argument values are the same.

Memoizing struct or class properties

I’ve found another way to memoize in D. It involves caching a property of a struct or class. Properties are zero-argument (for reading) or one-argument (for writing) member functions (or sometimes two-argument non-member functions) and differ only in syntax. I deemed it more elegant to cache a property of a struct or class rather than to cache a member function’s return value. My code can easily be changed to memoize a member function instead of a property, but you can always convert zero-argument member functions into a property, so why bother?

Here is the source (you can also install it from for use in your programs):

module memoize;

mixin template CachedProperty(string name, string baseName = '_' ~ name) {
    mixin("private typeof(" ~ baseName ~ ") " ~ name ~ "Cache;");
    mixin("private bool " ~ name ~ "IsCached = false;");
    mixin("@property typeof(" ~ baseName ~ ") " ~ name ~ "() {\n" ~
          "if (" ~ name ~ "IsCached" ~ ") return " ~ name ~ "Cache;\n" ~
          name ~ "IsCached = true;\n" ~
          "return " ~ name ~ "Cache = " ~ baseName ~ ";\n" ~

It is used like this (with either structs or classes at your choice):

import memoize;

struct S {
    @property float _x() { return 1.5; }
    mixin CachedProperty!"x";

Then just:

S s;
assert(s.x == 1.5);

Or you can specify the explicit name of the cached property:

import memoize;

struct S {
    @property float _x() { return 1.5; }
    mixin CachedProperty!("x", "_x");

CachedProperty is a template mixin. Template mixins insert the declarations of the template body directly into the current context. In this case, the template body is composed of string mixins. As you can guess, a string mixin generates code at compile time from strings. So,

struct S {
    @property float _x() { return 1.5; }
    mixin CachedProperty!"x";

turns into

struct S {
    @property float _x() { return 1.5; }
    private typeof(_x) xCache;
    private bool xIsCached = false;
    @property typeof(_x) x() {
        if (xIsCached) return xCache;
        xIsCached = true;
        return xCache = _x;

That is, it sets xCache to _x unless xIsCached and also sets xIsCached to true when retrieving x.

The idea originates from the following Python code:

class cached_property(object):
    """A version of @property which caches the value.  On access, it calls the
    underlying function and sets the value in `__dict__` so future accesses
    will not re-call the property.
    def __init__(self, f):
        self._fname = f.__name__
        self._f = f

    def __get__(self, obj, owner):
        assert obj is not None, 'call {} on an instance'.format(self._fname)
        ret = obj.__dict__[self._fname] = self._f(obj)
        return ret

My way of memoization does not (yet) involve caching return values of functions with arguments.

Victor Porton is an open source developer, a math researcher, and a Christian writer. He earns his living as a programmer.

Writing a D Wrapper for a C Library

In porting to D a program I created for a research project, I wrote a D wrapper of a C library in an object-oriented manner. I want to share my experience with other programmers. This article provides some D tips and tricks for writers of D wrappers around C libraries.

I initially started my research project using the Ada 2012 programming language (see my article “Experiences on Writing Ada Bindings for a C Library” in Ada User Journal, Volume 39, Number 1, March 2018). Due to a number of bugs that I was unable to overcome, I started looking for another programming language. After some unsatisfying experiments with Java and Python, I settled on the D programming language.

The C Library

We have a C library, written in an object-oriented style (C structure pointers serve as objects, and C functions taking such structure pointers serve as methods). Fortunately for us, there is no inheritance in that C library.

The particular libraries we will deal with are the Redland RDF Libraries, a set of libraries which parse Resource Description Framework (RDF) files or other RDF resources, manages them, enables RDF queries, etc. Don’t worry if you don’t know what RDF is, it is not really relevant for this article.

The first stage of this project was to write a D wrapper over librdf. I modeled it on the Ada wrapper I had already written. One advantage I found in D over Ada is that template instantiation is easier—there’s no need in D to instantiate every single template invocation with a separate declaration. I expect this to substantially simplify the code of XML Boiler, my program which uses this library.

I wrote both raw bindings and a wrapper. The bindings translate the C declarations directly into D, and the wrapper is a new API which is a full-fledged D interface. For example, it uses D types with constructors and destructors to represent objects. It also uses some other D features which are not available in C. This is a work in progress and your comments are welcome.

The source code of my library (forked from Dave Beckett’s original multi-language bindings of his libraries) is available at GitHub (currently only in the dlang branch). Initially, I tried some automatic parsers of C headers which generate D code. I found these unsatisfactory, so I wrote the necessary bindings myself.

Package structure

I put my entire API into the rdf.* package hierarchy. I also have the rdf.auxiliary package and its subpackages for things used by or with my bindings. I will discuss some particular rdf.auxiliary.* packages below.

My mixins

In Ada I used tagged types, which are a rough equivalent of D classes, and derived _With_Finalization types from _Without_Finalization types (see below). However, tagged types increase variable sizes and execution time.

In D I use structs instead of classes, mainly for efficiency reasons. D structs do not support inheritance, and therefore have no virtual method table (vtable), but do provide constructors and destructors, making classes unnecessary for my use case (however, see below). To simulate inheritance, I use template mixins (defined in the rdf.auxiliary.handled_record module) and the alias this construct.

As I’ve said above, C objects are pointers to structures. All C pointers to structures have the same format and alignment (ISO/IEC 9899:2011 section 6.2.5 paragraph 28). This allows the representation of any pointer to a C structure as a pointer to an opaque struct (in the below example, URIHandle is an opaque struct declared as struct URIHandle;).

Using the mixins shown below, we can declare the public structs of our API this way (you should look into the actual source for real examples):

struct URIWithoutFinalize {
    mixin WithoutFinalize!(URIHandle,
    // …
struct URI {
    mixin WithFinalize!(URIHandle,

The difference between the WithoutFinalize and WithFinalize mixins is explained below.

About finalization and related stuff

The main challenge in writing object-oriented bindings for a C library is finalization.

In the C library in consideration (as well as in many other C libraries), every object is represented as a pointer to a dynamically allocated C structure. The corresponding D object can be a struct holding the pointer (aka handle), but oftentimes a C function returns a so-called “shared handle”—a pointer to a C struct which we should not free because it is a part of a larger C object and shall be freed by the C library only when that larger C object goes away.

As such, I first define both (for example) URIWithoutFinalize and URI. Only URI has a destructor. For URIWithoutFinalize, a shared handle is not finalized. As D does not support inheritance for structs, I do it with template mixins instead. Below is a partial listing. See the above URI example on how to use them:

mixin template WithoutFinalize(alias Dummy,
                               alias _WithoutFinalize,
                               alias _WithFinalize,
                               alias copier = null)
    private Dummy* ptr;
    private this(Dummy* ptr) {
        this.ptr = ptr;
    @property Dummy* handle() const {
        return cast(Dummy*)ptr;
    static _WithoutFinalize fromHandle(const Dummy* ptr) {
        return _WithoutFinalize(cast(Dummy*)ptr);
    static if(isCallable!copier) {
        _WithFinalize dup() {
            return _WithFinalize(copier(ptr));
    // ...

mixin template WithFinalize(alias Dummy,
                            alias _WithoutFinalize,
                            alias _WithFinalize,
                            alias destructor,
                            alias constructor = null)
    private Dummy* ptr;
    @disable this();
    @disable this(this);
    // Use fromHandle() instead
    private this(Dummy* ptr) {
        this.ptr = ptr;
    ~this() {
    /*private*/ @property _WithoutFinalize base() { // private does not work in v2.081.2
        return _WithoutFinalize(ptr);
    alias base this;
    @property Dummy* handle() const {
        return cast(Dummy*)ptr;
    static _WithFinalize fromHandle(const Dummy* ptr) {
        return _WithFinalize(cast(Dummy*)ptr);
    // ...

I’ve used template alias parameters here, which allow a template to be parameterized with more than just types. The Dummy argument is the type of the handle instance (usually an opaque struct). The destructor and copier arguments are self-explanatory. For the usage of the constructor argument, see the real source (here it is omitted).

The _WithoutFinalize and _WithFinalize template arguments should specify the structs we define, allowing them to reference each other. Note that the alias this construct makes _WithoutFinalize essentially a base of _WithFinalize, allowing us to use all methods and properties of _WithoutFinalize in _WithFinalize.

Also note that instances of the _WithoutFinalize type may become invalid, i.e. it may contain dangling access values. It seems that there is no easy way to deal with this problem because of the way the C library works. We may not know when an object is destroyed by the C library. Or we may know but be unable to appropriately “explain” it to the D compiler. Just be careful when using this library not to use objects which are already destroyed.

Dealing with callbacks

To deal with C callbacks (particularly when accepting a void* argument for additional data) in an object-oriented way, we need a way to convert between C void pointers and D class objects (we pass D objects as C “user data” pointers). D structs are enough (and are very efficient) to represent C objects like librdf library objects, but for conveniently working with callbacks, classes are more useful because they provide good callback machinery in the form of virtual functions.

First, the D object, which is passed as a callback parameter to C, should not unexpectedly be moved in memory by the D garbage collector. So I make them descendants of this class:

class UnmovableObject {
    this() {
        GC.setAttr(cast(void*)this, GC.BlkAttr.NO_MOVE);

Moreover, I add the property context() to pass it as a void* pointer to C functions which register callbacks:

abstract class UserObject : UnmovableObject {
    final @property void* context() const { return cast(void*)this; }

When we create a callback we need to pass a D object as a C pointer and an extern(C) function defined by us as the callback. The callback receives the pointer previously passed by us and in the callback code we should (if we want to stay object-oriented) convert this pointer into a D object pointer.

What we need is a bijective (“back and forth”) mapping between D pointers and C void* pointers. This is trivial in D: just use the cast() operator.

How to do this in practice? The best way to explain is with an example. We will consider how to create an I/O stream class which uses the C library callbacks to implement it. For example, when the user of our wrapper requests to write some information to a file, our class receives write message. To handle this message, our implementation calls our virtual function doWriteBytes(), which actually handles the user’s request.

private immutable DispatcherType Dispatch =
    { version_: 2,
      init: null,
      finish: null,
      write_byte : &raptor_iostream_write_byte_impl,
      write_bytes: &raptor_iostream_write_bytes_impl,
      write_end  : &raptor_iostream_write_end_impl,
      read_bytes : &raptor_iostream_read_bytes_impl,
      read_eof   : &raptor_iostream_read_eof_impl };

class UserIOStream : UserObject {
    IOStream record;
    this(RaptorWorldWithoutFinalize world) {
        IOStreamHandle* handle = raptor_new_iostream_from_handler(world.handle,
        record = IOStream.fromNonnullHandle(handle);
    void doWriteByte(char byte_) {
        if(doWriteBytes(&byte_, 1, 1) != 1)
            throw new IOStreamException();
    abstract int doWriteBytes(char* data, size_t size, size_t count);
    abstract void doWriteEnd();
    abstract size_t doReadBytes(char* data, size_t size, size_t count);
    abstract bool doReadEof();

And for example:

int raptor_iostream_write_bytes_impl(void* context, const void* ptr, size_t size, size_t nmemb) {
    try {
        return (cast(UserIOStream)context).doWriteBytes(cast(char*)ptr, size, nmemb);
    catch(Exception) {
        return -1;

More little things

I “encode” C strings (which can be null) as a D template instance, Nullable!string. If the string is null, the holder is empty. However, it is often enough to transform an empty D string into a null C string (this can work only if we don’t differentiate between empty and null strings). See rdf.auxiliary.nullable_string for an actually useful code.

I would write a lot more advice on how to write D bindings for a C library, but you can just follow my source, which can serve as an example.

Static if

One thing which can be done in D but not in Ada is compile-time comparison via static if. This is a D construct (similar to but more advanced than C conditional preprocessor directives) which allows conditional compilation based on compile-time values. I use static if with my custom Version type to enable/disable features of my library depending on the available features of the version of the base C library in use. In the following example, rasqalVersionFeatures is a D constant defined in my rdf.config package, created by the GNU configure script from the file.

static if(Version(rasqalVersionFeatures) >= Version("0.9.33")) {
    private extern extern(C)
    QueryResultsHandle* rasqal_new_query_results_from_string(RasqalWorldHandle* world,
                                                             QueryResultsType type,
                                                             URIHandle* base_uri,
                                                             const char* string,
                                                             size_t string_len);
    static create(RasqalWorldWithoutFinalize world,
                  QueryResultsType type,
                  URITypeWithoutFinalize baseURI,
                  string value)
        return QueryResults.fromNonnullHandle(
                                                 value.ptr, value.length));


Order comparisons between structs can be easily done with this mixin:

mixin template CompareHandles(alias equal, alias compare) {
    import std.traits;
    bool opEquals(const ref typeof(this) s) const {
        static if(isCallable!equal) {
          return equal(handle, s.handle) != 0;
        } else {
          return compare(handle, s.handle) == 0;
    int opCmp(const ref typeof(this) s) const {
      return compare(handle, s.handle);

Sadly, this mixin has to be called in both the _WithoutFinalization and the _WithFinalization structs. I found no solution to write it once.


I’ve found that D is a great language for writing object-oriented wrappers around C libraries. There are some small annoyances like using class wrappers around structs for callbacks, but generally, D wraps up around C well.

Victor Porton is an open source developer, a math researcher, and a Christian writer. He earns his living as a programmer.