A Guide to Wrap a C++ Library with CxxWrap.jl and BinaryBuilder.jl in Julia

The following parts are not covered here:

  1. How to write the wrapper code in C++. (It is detailed here. And I find the examples are also very useful!)

And you will learn the following parts after reading this post.

  1. How to quickly debug your code?
  2. The missing parts that are not documented in BinaryBuilder.jl and CxxWrap.jl


First things first. Suppose you want to write a Julia wrapper for a C++ package (I'll take the one I wrote, VisualDL, for example). You need to fork that repo into your own account and clone that repo to your local computer. Then install necessary dependencies according to the document and make sure you can compile it successfully.

The next step is to write the wrapper code. Usually you would like to add a flag in the CMakeLists.txt file to signafy whether to build the Julia wrapper or not. Like this

option(WITH_JULIA       "Compile VisualDL with Julia"               OFF)

Then make a seperate folder containing all your source codes and corresponding CMakeLists.txt. And include that folder in the root CMakeLists.txt file. Like this


For the simplest case, only a CMakeLists.txt file and your_wrapper_code.cc are needed. Like this

Following the instructions from CxxWrap.jl, you should find it easy to write the wrapper codes. If the project you are working on already has a python wrapper, I strongly suggest you to take look at it first. And it will save you a lot of time.

Then you need to specify how to build your target in the CMakeLists.txt, for example:

# 1. find JlCxx

find_package(JlCxx REQUIRED)

# 2. add libraries and dependencies

add_library(im ${PROJECT_SOURCE_DIR}/visualdl/logic/im.cc)
add_library(sdk ${PROJECT_SOURCE_DIR}/visualdl/logic/sdk.cc ${PROJECT_SOURCE_DIR}/visualdl/utils/image.h)
add_dependencies(im storage_proto)
add_dependencies(sdk entry binary_record storage storage_proto eigen3)
add_library(vdljl SHARED vdljl.cc)
add_dependencies(vdljl im entry tablet sdk storage protobuf eigen3)

# 3. specify targets

target_link_libraries(vdljl PRIVATE JlCxx::cxxwrap_julia entry binary_record im tablet storage sdk protobuf ${OPTIONAL_LINK_FLAGS})

# 4. install

install(TARGETS vdljl

Local Debug

Now you have finished all the necessary changes to the original package, you may want to get the compiled library.

Let's install CxxWrap in Julia first. Enter the package mode and add CxxWrap

(v1.1) pkg> add CxxWrap

Now you have CxxWrap and the underlying libcxxwrap-julia installed. We can print the library path and the cmake file path:

julia> using CxxWrap

julia> CxxWrap.jlcxx_path

julia> julia> readdir(joinpath(dirname(CxxWrap.jlcxx_path), "cmake", "JlCxx"))
5-element Array{String,1}:

What we are interested in here is the the path of joinpath(dirname(CxxWrap.jlcxx_path), "cmake", "JlCxx") (Here is the /home/tj/.julia/packages/CxxWrap/KcmSi/deps/usr/lib/cmake/JlCxx). Now we can compile the package with JlCxx_DIR properly set:

$ mkdir build

$ cd build

$ cmake -DWITH_JULIA=ON -DJlCxx_DIR=/home/tj/.julia/packages/CxxWrap/KcmSi/deps/usr/lib/cmake/JlCxx ..

$ make

$ make install

Then you can load the compiled library in the Julia REPL for testing:

module VisualDL
  using CxxWrap

  function __init__()

using .VisualDL


In order to leverage the BinaryBuilder, we create an independent repo (for example, VisualDLBuilder) to build the tarballs. Be careful with the following lines:

  1. Don't forget to specify the compiler_abi field in the platforms like this here, if your code doesn't compile with old gcc.
  2. For the sources in the build_tarballs.jl, you can specify an absolute local path pointing to the modified package above for debugging. After making sure that everything works fine, you make a PR then ask the repo owner to tag a new release. And then change this variable into the url => hash form.
  3. Do not forget to run make install at the end of script. Seriously!
  4. In the dependencies part, remember to add both CxxWrap and Julia.

As for the .travis.yml file, for now you need to specify the MbedTLS to version 0.6.6 due to the error.

Althought there's a helper function in BinaryBuilder.jl named setup_travis to help you set up the deploy step, I never succeed. So I'd suggest you to install travis cli and run travis login --pro first!!! Then travis setup releases.

The Julia Wrapper Package

This is the final step. You create a new package. Add the CxxWrap as your dependency. Rename the build file you get by BinaryBuilder to build.jl and put it into the deps folder. And you expect to get the deps.jl after running julia deps/build.jl. Unfortunately, you'll see an error like this:

ERROR: LoadError: LibraryProduct(nothing, ["libvdljl"], :libvdljl, "Prefix(/home/tianjun/tmp/visualdl/deps/usr)") is not satisfied, cannot generate deps.jl!

The reason is that we need the shared package of jlcxx. So remember to put using CxxWrap in the first line of build.jl. Then everything should work as you wish.