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Using foreign functions with kdb+

KxSystems/ffi is an extension to kdb+ for loading and calling dynamic libraries using pure q.

The main purpose of the library is to build stable interfaces on top of external libraries, or to interact with the operating system from q. No compiler toolchain or writing C/C++ code is required to use this library.

Know what you’re doing

You don’t need to write C code, but you do need to know what you are doing. You can easily crash the kdb+ process or corrupt in-memory data structures with no hope of finding out what happened.

No support is offered for crashes caused by use of this library.

We are grateful to Alexander Belopolsky for allowing us to adapt and expand on his original codebase.


Operating system

Linux, macOS 10.10+, Windows 7+

Libffi 3.1 or later

environment installation
Ubuntu Linux 64-bit with 64-bit kdb+ sudo apt-get install libffi-dev
Ubuntu Linux 64-bit with 32-bit kdb+ sudo apt-get install libffi-dev:i386
macOS already installed, otherwise
brew install libffi(at time of writing is libffi 3.2.1)
Windows (no action required)

Kdb+ V3.4 or later


Download the appropriate release archive from the releases page.

Unpack and install the content of the archive:

environment action
Linux and macOS tar xzvf ffi_osx-v0.9.2.tar.gz -C $QHOME --strip 1
Windows Open the archive and copy the content of the ffi folder (ffi\*) to %QHOME% or c:\q



cf – call function

Simple function call, intended for one-off calls, and taking two arguments:

  1. Function name (symbol) or list of the return type char and the function name.
  2. Mixed list of arguments. The types of arguments passed to the function are inferred from the q types and should match the width of the arguments the C function expects. (If an argument is not a mixed list, append (::) to it.)

bind – create projection with function resolved to call with arguments

Prepares a q function and binds it to the provided C function for future calls. Useful for multiple calls to C lib. Takes three arguments:

  1. function name: simple symbol or list of two symbols specifying library name
  2. char array of argument types
  3. char with return type

Some utility functions are provided as well:

function purpose
cif prepare the return and argument types to be used in call
call call the function with the argument/s and the types prepared by cif
errno return current errno global on *nix OS
kfn bind the function which returns and accepts K objects in current process. Similar to 2:

Function arguments should be passed as a generic list to cf, call, and the function created by bind.

cf and call perform native function loading and resolution at the time of the call, which creates significant overhead. Use bind to perform this step in advance and reduce runtime overhead.

Passing data and getting back results

Throughout the library, characters are used to encode the types of data provided and expected as a result. These are based on the c column of primitive data types and the corresponding upper case for vectors of the same type. The sz column is useful to work out what type can hold enough data passing to/from C.

The argument types are derived from data passed to the function (in case of cf) or explicitly specified (in case of bind). The number of character types provided must match the number of arguments expected by the C function. The return type is specified as a single character and can be ' ' (space), which means to discard the result (i.e. void). If not provided, defaults to int.

char C type
b, c, x unsigned int8
h signed int16
i signed int32
j signed int64
e float
f double
g, s uint8*
' ' (space) void (only as return type)
r raw pointer
k K object
uppercase letter pointer to the same type

It is possible to pass a q function to C code as a callback (see qsort example below). The function must be presented as a mixed list (func;argument_types;return_type), where func is a q function (type 100h), argument_types is a char array with the types the function expects, and return_type is a char corresponding to the return type of the function. Note that, as callbacks potentially have unbounded life in C code, they are not deleted after the function completes.


PCRE library

Bindings to PCRE (POSIX variant) using FFI for kdb+.

pcreposix is a set of functions providing a POSIX-style API for the PCRE regular-expression 8-bit library.

Complex regular expressions

Complex regular expressions can be catastrophic, exhibiting exponential run time that leads to real outages.

FFI for kdb+ is required for this library. pcre is normally available on modern Linux distributions and macOS.

As any standard, PCRE POSIX has some quirks and differences between platforms (Linux), which this library is trying to resolve.

Script to match multiline email:

reg:.pcre.regcomp["From:([^@]+)@([^\r]+)";2 sv sum 2 vs .pcre[`REG_EXTENDED`REG_NEWLINE]]  // compile regex
show "Regex compiled";

Rmath library

Bindings to Rmath using FFI for kdb+.

Rmath provides the routines supporting the distribution and special (e.g. Bessel, beta and gamma functions) functions in R.

Using this library requires the stand-alone Rmath library to be installed as well as FFI for kdb+. On Ubuntu:

sudo apt-get install r-mathlib

Generate 100K numbers from normal distribution:

q)do[100000;r,:.rm.rnorm[0f;1f]]   // generate 100K N(0,1) random numbers
q)(avg;dev)@\:r                    // verify that avg and dev are 0 and 1
0.0009293088 1.002748


All arguments should be vectors (i.e. pointers to appropriate type).

q)[("f";``ddot_)](1#count x; x;1#1;x;1#1)
q)[(" ";``daxpy_)](1#count x;1#2f; x;1#1;x;1#1)
q)x / <- a*x+y, a=x=y=2
6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6f


q)x:3 1 2i;
// warning: this modifies data in-place regardless of other references.
q)[(" ";`qsort)](x;3i;4i;(cmp;"II";"i")) 
1 2
3 1
3 2
1 2 3i
// warning: this modifies data in-place regardless of other references.
q)[(" ";`qsort)](x;3i;8i;(cmp;"SS";"i")) 

Register a callback on a handle

// h is handle to some other process
r:{b:20#"\000";[`read](x;b;20);0N!n#b;0}[`sd1](h;(r;(),"i"))   / start handler[`sd0](h;::)           / stop handler