A while back I had written a nifty text fuzzer in python that generates a deterministic pseudo-random stream of text for anyone willing to listen. The method employed a python generator which would yield lines to the caller until it ran out.

Recently, while pondering rewriting the fuzzer using go, I came across a thought: what if we could use the best of both worlds?

In theory, our go application can invoke the python interpreter using something like os.Exec(...), but that leaves the fate of the generator iteration in python-land. What if we wanted to retain control of the generator from go?

In this post, we explore importing a simple python generator using libpython and writing minimal wrapper code to be able to iterate the generator from go. While this is probably not all that useful in practice, I found the exercise rather meditative.

The code referenced throughout this post can be found at this git repo.

This post will broadly cover:

  1. Using the Python/C API to wrap the py library in C.
  2. Using cgo to wrap the C code and get access to the generator.

A basic (python) generator

Assume we have a python file (generator.py) that includes a random_generator:

# File: generator.py
import random

def random_generator(n=100):
    """ generates `n` random values between 0 - 100 (inclusive).
    print "Generator invoked (n==%d)" % (n)
    for i in range(n):
        yield random.randint(0, 100)

The above generator yields n number of random.randint()s from 0-100. The yield semantic is used to remember the current offset to the set of values being yielded to the caller. This allows for each successive iteration of the generator (via .next() or range-based-access) to return the next value in the set.

# File: example.py
import generator
g = generator.random_generator()
for v in g:
    print "Got random value: %d" % (v)

Now we need a way to invoke the above random_generator() using the C/Python API. Before we dive into that, a brief foray into cgo.

A little cgo

Below is a simple go program that invokes a simple C function (print_x(int)):

// File: simple_c.go
package main

#cgo CFLAGS: -g -Wall

#include <stdio.h>

void print_x(int x)
    printf("X = %d\n", x);
import "C"

func main() {

The C import exposes all underlying C functions (standard or linked against explicitly). The comment (or comments) that come directly before the import "C" line is referred to as the preamble and is treated as a C-header during the compilation of the C code in the program (this is special in cgo).

The next interesting thing to notice is the #cgo directive. These are used to set the CFLAGS, CPPFLAGS, CXXFLAGS and LDFLAGS as required by the program. Since we do not have any explicit libraries to link (yet), the LDFLAGS directive above is left empty.

When the above program is run, we see the three invocations of printf resulting in writes to stdout.

$ go run simple_c.go
X = 1
X = 2
X = 3

At this point, have successfully executed a C printf invoked from golang.

Embedding the python interpreter

Note: Assuming that we are using Python2.7.

The first modification required to our simple cgo example is to #include <python2.7/Python.h>. To do so, we also must tell the linker that we intend to link against the python2.7 libraries. Using the C/Python API also requires the calling code to initialize and cleanup the python interpreter (as well as correctly reference count objects).

// File: simple_py.go
package main

#cgo LDFLAGS: -lpython2.7
#cgo CFLAGS: -g -Wall

#include <python2.7/Python.h>
import "C"

func main() {
     *  Initialize and cleanup the python interpreter.
    defer C.Py_Finalize()

The above program should cleanly exit and compile with no errors (ignore the unused variable "a" warning for now).

$ go run simple_py.go
# command-line-arguments
cgo-gcc-prolog:35:33: warning: unused variable 'a' [-Wunused-variable]
cgo-gcc-prolog:47:33: warning: unused variable 'a' [-Wunused-variable]

To recap, we now know how to call C functions from go, and we also have linked against libpython.

Importing (python) modules (from go)

In order to use any python module, the module needs to be loaded into the interpreter. This is typically done in python programs using the import <module> statement. libpython exposes a method PyImport_ImportModule(<name>) which will import modules by <name> that exist in the PYTHONPATH. Since this is a C method, it does not return a typical err error, instead it returns null -> nil when the module is not found.

To import the module specified by the file generator.py, all we need to do is invoke the PyImport_ImportModule method taking care to correctly convert types so the C-library is happy. If this fails, make sure that generator.py can be found in the PYTHONPATH set in the current environment.

    module := C.PyImport_ImportModule(C.CString("generator"))
    if unsafe.Pointer(module) == nil {
        fmt.Printf("Unable to import `generator.py`\n")

Grabbing functions from modules

The above code gets us a reference to the generator module and verifies that it is valid. Next, we define a small wrapper to call the desired function within the imported module. This needs to be implemented as a C wrapper as the PyObject_CallMethod is variadic in C, requiring the go code to know the argument list ahead of time.

call_method_wrapper(PyObject *module, char *method)
    return PyObject_CallMethod(module, method, NULL);

Notice that PyObject_CallMethod above does not invoke the method with any arguments (hence the NULL as parameter #3). All this does is return a opaque PyObject* that represents the return value of the method. Calling this from go becomes fairly straightforward:

    gen := C.call_method_wrapper(module, C.CString("random_generator"))
    if gen == nil {
        fmt.Printf("Fatal error: generator is null!\n")

gen here is a unsafe.Pointer in the go realm and a PyObject* that points to an instance of a generator in the C world. Now we can yield values from it until the generator is empty.

Now for the prestige:

    for l := C.PyIter_Next(gen); unsafe.Pointer(l) != nil; l = C.PyIter_Next(gen) {
        fmt.Printf("Next random number: %d\n", C.PyInt_AsLong(l))

C.PyIter_Next(gen) is identical to calling gen.next() in python to grab the next value from the generator. In order to detect the end of the generator, we simply test the next value against nil.

Since we know the type of value being generated, we can convert the opaque PyObject* into an appropriate type (for example with C.PyInt_AsLong(l)).


In this post we investigated:

  1. Wrapping and invoking simple C functions from golang.
  2. Including libpython with cgo LDFLAGS.
  3. Loading a python file as a module from golang.
  4. Grabbing an instance of, and using the python generator from go.