SWIG and JavaScript - Part One

I experiment with a lot of ideas for projects and see which ideas stick, which seem interesting, which require something that I can't provide, etc.

A project that I'm working on now may well be interesting and within my capabilities and the resources that I can muster, but I don't want to identify it specifically yet.

Anyway, this project requires using Node.js to talk to a C++ library with an extensive API. An interesting detail is that this library already has a solid Python API, built via SWIG.

JavaScript and SWIG

Version 3.0 of SWIG began to support JavaScript. It supports using JavaScriptCore or V8 as the JS engine, and Node.js as a specialization of the V8 support.

For now, I have hacked the SWIG interface files from the C++ library to wrap Python-specific portions in #ifdef SWIG_PYTHON so that they can be shared with JavaScript. In the longer term, should this project work out and I decide to upstream the changes to support having JavaScript bindings, I will clean this up and move some things into separate files for each language in a tidier fashion.

In fairly short order, I was able to get a Node.js module built that wrapped the library:

swig -c++ -javascript -node -I../../include -I. -o X_wrap.cxx ../X.swig

Next up was building this for Mac OS X and correctly linking to the framework for the C++ project. This involved changing the configuration for node-gyp in my binding.gyp:

"conditions": [
  ["OS=='mac'", {
    "xcode_settings": {
      'INSTALL_PATH': '@rpath',
      "OTHER_CPLUSPLUSFLAGS" : ["-std=c++11", "-stdlib=libc++"],
      'OTHER_LDFLAGS': [
    "link_settings" : { "libraries" : ["X.framework"] }

This shows a couple of things:

  • I had to set the MACOSX_DEPLOYMENT_TARGET to 10.8 so that I would have modern C++ features available as the C++ code relied upon things like <atomic>. I may be able to specify 10.7, but I didn't try.
  • I enabled C++11 support and using the libc++ library. There's nothing unusual about this when doing work with a C++11 codebase.
  • I had to set a rpath on the binary being built and linked here (using -Wl,-rpath) so that it would be able to find the framework at run-time. The -F is to find the framework at compile time.

Mac OS X and Run-Paths

On Mac OS X, you'll usually end up wanting to have a good understanding of rpaths when building frameworks and executables that use them.

Plenty of things have been written about this already:

The important thing to know here is that our library needs to know how to find the framework, so it needs to have a run-path set, and so we do that.

I'm hoping that with some thought, I might be able to simplify this in the future.

Node.js and V8 versions

At this point, I could write a test script that exercised the C++ library and run it via Node.js. Yay!

Unfortunately, my real goal here introduced a new complication.

I don't want to just use this C++ library from a Node.js application. I actually want to write a GUI for it using Atom Shell. Atom Shell is an embedded version of the Chrome (Chromium) browser linked up with Node.js to let you produce standalone applications rather than a traditional browser application. Unfortunately, this introduces some complexities into the process.

Atom Shell uses the unstable, development version of Node.js, 0.11.x rather than the stable 0.10.x. Partly, this is due to the features that were added to Node.js to support multiple contexts that Atom Shell requires. Atom Shell also uses a newer version of the V8 JavaScript engine as that is what Chromium uses. Both the newer version of Node.js and the updated V8 engine used by Atom Shell are not API / ABI compatible with Node.js 0.10.x. This now means that our Swig-wrapped Node.js module as described above doesn't work!

Fortunately, there was a pull request available for SWIG that added support for newer versions of V8. Unfortunately, V8 doesn't expose its version information in the header files, so there's no easy way to figure this out at compile time automatically! What SWIG has done is to allow you to specify your V8 version number on the SWIG command line. So, I installed a version of SWIG using that pull request (which has since been merged), dug up a V8 version number, and did a new build:

/opt/swig/bin/swig -c++ -javascript -node -DV8_VERSION=0x032435 \
  -I../../include -I. -o X_wrap.cxx ../X.swig

Next up, we had to make some changes to how we run node-gyp to do our actual build, but those were pretty straight forward and are described in the Atom docs.

Now, we once again had a build of the C++ library, a SWIG-generated JavaScript / Node.js binding for it, and the ability to load it within the Atom Shell.

What problems will we run into next? Stay tuned!