GObject, and its lower-level type system, GType, are used by GTK+ and most Gnome libraries to provide:

  • object-oriented C-based APIs and

  • automatic transparent API bindings to other compiled or interpreted languages.

A lot of programmers are used to work with compiled-only or dynamically interpreted-only languages and do not understand the challenges associated with cross-language interoperability. This introduction tries to provide an insight into these challenges. describes briefly the solution choosen by GLib.

The following chapters go into greater detail into how GType and GObject work and how you can use them as a C programmer. It is useful to keep in mind that allowing access to C objects from other interpreted languages was one of the major design goals: this can often explain the sometimes rather convoluted APIs and features present in this library.

Data types and programming

One could say (I have seen such definitions used in some textbooks on programming language theory) that a programming language is merely a way to create data types and manipulate them. Most languages provide a number of language-native types and a few primitives to create more complex types based on these primitive types.

In C, the language provides types such as char, long, pointer. During compilation of C code, the compiler maps these language types to the compiler's target architecture machine types. If you are using a C interpreter (I have never seen one myself but it is possible :), the interpreter (the program which interprets the source code and executes it) maps the language types to the machine types of the target machine at runtime, during the program execution (or just before execution if it uses a Just In Time compiler engine).

Perl and Python which are interpreted languages do not really provide type definitions similar to those used by C. Perl and Python programmers manipulate variables and the type of the variables is decided only upon the first assignment or upon the first use which forces a type on the variable. The interpreter also often provides a lot of automatic conversions from one type to the other. For example, in Perl, a variable which holds an integer can be automatically converted to a string given the required context:

my $tmp = 10;
print "this is an integer converted to a string:" . $tmp . "\n";

Of course, it is also often possible to explicitely specify conversions when the default conversions provided by the language are not intuitive.