Passing IORefs through the FFI

Previously we worked through how to persist state with a callback managed by a framework. My simplified model made the problem trivial, by relaxing a key constraint: The callback is passed through the GHC FFI in a FunPtr.

Let’s re-introduce this constraint. As usual, we need to get the preamble out of the way:

{-# LANGUAGE DeriveGeneric, DeriveAnyClass #-}
module Main where

import Data.IORef (IORef, newIORef)
import Control.Monad (join)
import GHC.Generics (Generic(..))
import Foreign (Ptr, Storable(..), newStablePtr, deRefStablePtr,
                castStablePtrToPtr, castPtrToStablePtr)
import Foreign.CStorable (CStorable(..))
import Data.StateVar as SV

The Problem

We have two parts:

  1. A control thread, that constructs the “world”, and triggers the starting of the audio thread, passing a) a callback function and b) a reference for the callback.

  2. A callback function that is isolated from the control thread. It cannot pass data back to the control thread by a return value, it needs to communicate via a shared variable.

The callback function is called an arbitrary number of times, and we want to be able to persist some kind of state across invocations.

Complexifying the Model

We were working with

type Callback a = a -> IO ()

(where a is the type of the variable shared between the control thread and the callback function) as a simplification of

type AURenderCallback a =
  Ptr a -> -- app-specific reference
  Ptr AudioUnitRenderActionFlags -> -- some flags
  Ptr AudioTimeStamp -> -- "current" time
  UInt32 -> -- input "bus" number
  UInt32 -> -- number of frames/samples in the buffer
  Ptr AudioBufferList -> -- struct that holds the buffers
  IO OSStatus

To effect the constraint we can change the type:

type Callback' a = Ptr a -> IO ()

And if we try to use an IORef

cb :: Callback' (IORef Int)
cb = peek >=> flip modifyIORef' (+ 1)

we get

src/Main.lhs:52:8: error:
    • No instance for (Foreign.Storable.Storable (IORef Int))
        arising from a use of ‘peek’
    • In the first argument of ‘(>=>)’, namely ‘peek’
      In the expression: peek >=> flip modifyIORef' (+ 1)
      In an equation for ‘cb’: cb = peek >=> flip modifyIORef' (+ 1)
52 | > cb = peek >=> flip modifyIORef' (+ 1)
   |        ^^^^

The key part is

No instance for (Foreign.Storable.Storable (IORef Int))


I can’t even begin to figure out whether we could create a Storable instance for IORef!

As mentioned previously, StateVar provides a good-looking abstraction over IORef (and others), so

cb' :: Callback' (SV.StateVar Int)
cb' = peek >=> flip ($~!) (+ 1)

but we run straght into the same problem:

storable-refs/src/Main.lhs:87:9: error:
    • No instance for (Storable (StateVar Int))
        arising from a use of ‘peek’
    • In the first argument of ‘(>=>)’, namely ‘peek’
      In the expression: peek >=> flip ($~!) (+ 1)
      In an equation for ‘cb'’: cb' = peek >=> flip ($~!) (+ 1)
87 | > cb' = peek >=> flip ($~!) (+ 1)
   |         ^^^^

Can we define a Storable instance for StateVar? Not easily, but we can create a wrapper for the functions we need and define a storable instance for that.


My first attempts at this clearly demonstrated my confusion as I tried all sorts of experiments with FunPtrs wrapping IO a, until I realised I had no need to call any of the functions from outside of Haskell (which is the entire reason for the existence of FunPtr).

Once I realised this, an implementation using StablePtr quickly fell into place.

data StoredVar a = StoredVar {
  getPtr :: Ptr (),
  setPtr :: Ptr ()
  -- modify :: Ptr ()
} deriving (Generic, CStorable)

instance Storable (StoredVar a) where
 peek      = cPeek
 poke      = cPoke
 alignment = cAlignment
 sizeOf    = cSizeOf

We need to convert the functions we need into:

  1. A stable pointer to the result, so that it doesn’t get freed while in use by the callback

  2. An opaque reference that can be passed through the FFI.

store :: IORef a -> IO (StoredVar a)
store a = do
  g <- newStablePtr $ (SV.get :: (IORef a) -> IO a) a
  s <- newStablePtr $ ((SV.$=) :: (IORef a) -> a -> IO ()) a
  pure $ StoredVar (castStablePtrToPtr g) (castStablePtrToPtr s)

Then we need to be able to reconstruct the functions from the pointers:

get :: StoredVar a -> IO a
get = join . deRefStablePtr . castPtrToStablePtr  . getPtr

set :: StoredVar a -> a -> IO ()
set sv v = do
  f <- (deRefStablePtr . castPtrToStablePtr  . setPtr) sv
  f v

This appears to me to be missing some type safety, and if we switch around s and g in the definition of store, GHC crashes with:

storable-refs: internal error: PAP object entered!
    (GHC version 8.2.2 for x86_64_apple_darwin)
    Please report this as a GHC bug:
Process exited with ExitFailure (-6):

We can provide type “helpers”:

type Getter t a = t a -> IO a
type Setter t a = t a -> a -> IO ()

and tighten up the definition a bit:

store' :: IORef a -> IO (StoredVar a)
store' a = do
  g <- newStablePtr $ (SV.get :: Getter IORef a) a
  s <- newStablePtr $ ((SV.$=) :: Setter IORef a) a
  pure $ StoredVar (castStablePtrToPtr g) (castStablePtrToPtr s)
get' :: Getter StoredVar a
get' = join . deRefStablePtr . castPtrToStablePtr  . getPtr

set' :: Setter StoredVar a
set' sv v = do
  f <- (deRefStablePtr . castPtrToStablePtr  . setPtr) sv
  f v

But it’s still a bit rough, for example these two lines need to match:

g <- newStablePtr $ (SV.get :: Getter IORef a) a

get''' :: Getter StoredVar a

Perhaps it’s worth exploring phantom types here? I don’t really know…

Wrapping, er, Up

Exercise the wrapper by getting the initial value, printing it, setting it to a new value, and then printing again.

exec :: Show a => a -> a -> IO ()
exec v1 v2 = do
  r <- newIORef v1
  rs <- store r
  val <- Main.get rs
  print val
  set rs v2
  val' <- Main.get rs
  print val'
main :: IO ()
main = do
  exec "hello" "world"
  exec 1 2