The Crack Programming Language

Bidirectional Virtual Function Calls Across Language Barriers

This is a proposal for implementing bidirection virtual function calls between crack code and extension code. We are specifically concerned with the implementation of this mechanism between Crack and C++, although it should be possible to leverage this mechanism for other languages.

Bidirectional virtual function calls are a property of the extension system that allows an extension class to be extended in Crack such that virtual methods defined in the extension class can be overriden in any Crack classes that derive from it.

To implement this functionality, we are limited by the fact that C++ does not provide a standard ABI - so there's no way we can simply adapt Crack types to extend the C++ vtable. However, we can leverage the fact that Crack does provide a standard ABI.

We make one assumption about C++ classes that we will be allowed to derive from in Crack: an instance of the class uses no memory before the pointer to the instance, and none after the pointer + the instance size. Without these properties, it would not be possible to safely extend the class in C++, therefore we do not expect such a class would be extended in Crack.

This assumption allows us to extend the class using the standard extension mechanism for dealing with structures in Crack. The instance area of a class A is regarded as an opaque memory area of size sizeof(A) encapsulated in a VTableBase derived Crack class instance. That is to say, it will be preceeded by a single pointer to the Crack vtable for the instance. Conceptually, the "Crack proxy class" for A is roughly defined as follows:

    class A : VTableBase {
        _OpaqueDataA __data;  # opaque data area of size sizeof(A)
        oper init( ... ) {
            # Call new(__data) A( ... )
        oper del() {
            # Call A::~A(__data)

The proxy class would also contain virtual, final and static functions corresponding to the same functions in A. Static functions can simply use pointers to the C++ static function. Final methods can be pointers to wrapper functions, for example:

    void Foo_setVal(Foo *foo, int val) { 

Virtual functions must be implemented as crack function wrappers that dispatch to the most specialized implementation of the function that they wrap, for example:

    void someVirtual() {
        # Call this->A::someVirtual();

This implementation effectively allows us to derive from an extension class in the same way that we can from a Crack class: method calls result in calls to the underlying methods and virtual methods can be overriden in derived classes.

What we haven't dealt with so far is the ability to call virtual functions on a derived class from the extension language: attempting to call A::someVirtual() from within the extension on a Crack object that overrides someVirtual() will result in A::someVirtual() being called, not the crack override.

To do this, we need an "adapter class" written on the extension side, in C++. The adapter class is derived from our target class ("A" in the examples above) and it implements all virtual functions as calls to the corresponding Crack vtable entries.

The code to implement the virtual functions for "AdapterA" would be something like this:

    class AdapterA : public A {
            virtual someVirtual();

    struct ProxyA;

    // A's proxy vtable.  Methods are in the order in which they are defined.
    struct ProxyA_VTable {
        void *classInst;   // the class instance object
        void (*oper_del)(ProxyA *);
        void (*someVirtual)(ProxyA *);
    // A's proxy structure - this should directly correspond to the layout 
    // of the "A" proxy class in Crack, but it need not - the position of the 
    // VTable at the beginning of the structure is really all that matters.  
    // "adapter" is primarily documentation.
    struct ProxyA {
        ProxyA_VTable *vtable;
        AdapterA adapter;
    void AdapterA::someVirtual() {
        ProxyA *inst = crack::ext::getCrackProxy<ProxyA>(this);

We implement AdapterA::someVirtual() to call the virtual function in Crack's vtable, allowing any Crack overrides to be called from C++.

This approach has the unfortunate performance penalty of requiring two levels of VTable reference. However, it is portable and relatively efficient as cross-language bindings go.

It is also necessary to implement all pure virtual functions in the original class in the same manner as an implemented virtual function: the method can be flagged as "abstract" when it is defined using the extension interface, passing the implementation requirement on to the Crack level.