Writing Python Bindings

CMake and Directory Layout

To allow users to analyze output from simulations and take advantage of SpECTRE's data structures and functions in python, bindings must sometimes be written. SpECTRE uses Boost.Python to aid with generating the bindings. The C++ code for the bindings should generally go in a Python subdirectory. For example, the bindings for the DataStructures library would go in src/DataStructures/Python/. SpECTRE provides the spectre_python_add_module CMake function to make adding a new python module, be it with or without bindings, easy. The python bindings are built only if -D BUILD_PYTHON_BINDINGS=ON is passed when invoking cmake.

The function spectre_python_add_module takes as its first argument the module, in our case DataStructures. The bindings library will be prefixed with Py, and therefore be called PyDataStructures. Optionally, a list of SOURCES can be passed to the CMake function. If the python module will only consist of python files, then the SOURCES option should not be specified. Python files that should be part of the module can be passed with the keyword PYTHON_FILES, e.g. PYTHON_FILES Hello.py HelloWorld.py. Finally, the MODULE_PATH named argument can be passed with a string that is the path to where the module should be. For example, MODULE_PATH "submodule0/submodule1/" would mean the module is accessed from python using import spectre.submodule0.submodule1.MODULE_NAME.

Here is a complete example of how to call the spectre_python_add_module function:

MODULE_PATH "DataStructures/"
SOURCES Bindings.cpp MyCoolDataStructure.cpp
PYTHON_FILES CoolPythonDataStructure.py

The library that is added has the name PyExtraDataStructures and requires that at least the ${SPECTRE_LINK_PYBINDINGS} be set as the last entry to the target_link_libraries call. For example,

PUBLIC ExtraDataStructures
${SPECTRE_LINK_PYBINDINGS} must be the last argument to target_link_libraries.

Writing Bindings

Once a python module has been added you can write the actual bindings. You should structure your bindings directory to reflect the structure of the library you're writing bindings for. For example, say we want bindings for DataVector and Matrix then we should have one source file for each class's bindings inside src/DataStructures/Python. The functions that generate the bindings should be in the py_bindings namespace and have a reasonable name such as bind_datavector. There should be a file named Bindings.cpp which calls all the bind_* functions. The Bindings.cpp file is quite simple and should include <boost/python.hpp>, forward declare the bind_* functions, and then have BOOST_PYTHON_MODULE function. For example,

#include <boost/python.hpp>
namespace py_bindings {
void bind_datavector();
} // namespace py_bindings
BOOST_PYTHON_MODULE(_DataStructures) {

Note that the library name is passed to BOOST_PYTHON_MODULE and is prefixed with an underscore. The underscore is important!

The DataVector bindings serve as an example with code comments on how to write bindings for a class. There is also extensive documentation available directly from Boost.Python and this GitHub repository also has many helpful examples. SpECTRE currently aims to support both Python 2.7 and Python 3 and as such all bindings must support both.

Exceptions should be allowed to propagate through the bindings so that error handling via exceptions is possible from python rather than having the python interpreter being killed with a call to abort.

Testing Python Bindings and Code

All the python bindings must be tested. SpECTRE uses the unittest framework provided as part of python. To register a test file with CMake use the SpECTRE-provided function spectre_add_python_test passing as the first argument the test name (e.g. "Unit.DataStructures.Python.DataVector"), the file as the second argument (e.g. Test_DataVector.py), and a semicolon separated list of labels as the last (e.g. "unit;datastructures;python"). All the test cases should be in a single class so that the python unit testing framework will run all test functions on a single invocation to avoid startup cost.

Below is an example of registering a python test file


Using The Bindings

See Using SpECTRE's Python