Using .NET PInvoke for Linux system functions
If you’ve developed Windows applications with .NET, you may have found yourself in a situation where the framework did not provide the APIs you needed. When that happens, you first need to identify the system APIs and then make them available using PInvoke. A website like pinvoke.net provides copy-and-pasteable code snippets for many Win32 API functions.
.NET Platform Invoke (PInvoke) makes it easy to consume native libraries. In this article, we’ll take a look at using PInvoke for Linux system functions.
In case you are not familiar with PInvoke, let’s look at a simple example:
[DllImport("mylibrary")] public static extern int foo();
This makes available the function
foo from the native library
mylibrary. This function accepts no arguments and returns an
int. .NET takes care of marshaling the argument types. It is possible to use managed types (like
strings) in these signatures, which will be automagically marshaled.
PInvoke works at the application binary interface (ABI) level: It respects the binary calling conventions of the platform on which it is running.
Linux is a UNIX flavor operating system. It provides many of the APIs prescribed by POSIX and SUS; however, these APIs are defined using the C programming language. They are not APIs at the binary level (ABIs).
For example, the standards describe that there should be positive values for indicating certain types of errors. These values are named (for example,
EAGAIN), but their values are not defined. This means different platforms can (and will) have different values for these names. This makes it impossible to add a
const int to a C# file that has the correct value for all platforms.
Another example is
struct, which is used in the API to define a number of fields; however, the order is not fixed, and platforms are allowed to add extra fields. So again, we can’t describe a
struct in C# that matches the native
struct on all platforms.
The generic way to solve this is to introduce a native shim library. This library provides its own set of functions, constants, and structs that are platform-independent with a fixed ABI. This API gets PInvoked by .NET. Within the library, this API calls the native functions.
If you want to PInvoke the system C library without using a shim, you can use
libc as the library name. The .NET Core runtime maps this to the system C library. For example, we can expose the kill function as follows:
[DllImport("libc", SetLastError = true))] public static extern int kill(int pid, int sig);
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The Mono.Posix.NETStandard package provides system functions. It uses native shims to work across a number of platforms. If we download the package from nuget.org, we can take a look inside:
$ unzip -l mono.posix.netstandard.1.0.0.nupkg Archive: mono.posix.netstandard.1.0.0.nupkg Length Date Time Name --------- ---------- ----- ---- 516 02-28-2018 15:18 _rels/.rels 814 02-28-2018 15:18 Mono.Posix.NETStandard.nuspec 13376 02-28-2018 15:18 lib/net40/Mono.Posix.NETStandard.dll 13376 02-28-2018 15:18 ref/net40/Mono.Posix.NETStandard.dll 189504 02-28-2018 15:18 ref/netstandard2.0/Mono.Posix.NETStandard.dll 189504 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/linux-arm/lib/netstandard2.0/Mono.Posix.NETStandard.dll 183240 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/linux-arm/native/libMonoPosixHelper.so 189504 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/linux-arm64/lib/netstandard2.0/Mono.Posix.NETStandard.dll 246736 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/linux-arm64/native/libMonoPosixHelper.so 189504 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/linux-armel/lib/netstandard2.0/Mono.Posix.NETStandard.dll 236480 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/linux-armel/native/libMonoPosixHelper.so 189504 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/linux-x64/lib/netstandard2.0/Mono.Posix.NETStandard.dll 920882 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/linux-x64/native/libMonoPosixHelper.so 189504 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/linux-x86/lib/netstandard2.0/Mono.Posix.NETStandard.dll 766620 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/linux-x86/native/libMonoPosixHelper.so 189504 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/osx/lib/netstandard2.0/Mono.Posix.NETStandard.dll 535888 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/osx/native/libMonoPosixHelper.dylib 189504 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/win-x64/lib/netstandard2.0/Mono.Posix.NETStandard.dll 1495800 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/win-x64/native/libMonoPosixHelper.dll 87600 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/win-x64/native/MonoPosixHelper.dll 189504 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/win-x86/lib/netstandard2.0/Mono.Posix.NETStandard.dll 1256296 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/win-x86/native/libMonoPosixHelper.dll 400120 02-28-2018 15:18 runtimes/win-x86/native/MonoPosixHelper.dll 592 02-28-2018 15:18 [Content_Types].xml 692 02-28-2018 15:18 package/services/metadata/core-properties/4b5c471cadba4490965015071f90289f.psmdcp 9475 10-11-2018 20:23 .signature.p7s --------- ------- 7874039 26 files
libMonoPosixHelper.* files are the native shim libraries. The directories under
runtimes are the supported platforms. There is Linux support for
x86. The package also provides support for Windows and OS X. The Linux libraries are for flavors of Linux that are based on glibc (GNU C library), such as Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Some things won’t work on flavors of Linux that are based on musl, such as Alpine. .NET Core applications using this package will pick the proper variant under the
runtimes folder based on the platform on which they are running. This is based on the runtime identifier (RID) graph.
A while back, I blogged about a Linux-specific transport for Kestrel. This library uses Linux-specific APIs that are not provided by .NET Core and Mono.Posix.NETStandard. So far, the library has used a native shim to make those functions accessible. A compiled version for glibc x64 is in the NuGet package. This means the Transport doesn’t work on other architectures or with other C libraries.
As explained before, one way to solve this is to recompile the shim for different platforms. While that is easy to do in theory, in practice, there is quite a bit of work involved. On each platform, the native libraries need to be built. Then those libraries need to be collected in a single NuGet package. I wanted to try a different approach: a fully managed implementation.
The managed implementation captures the platform ABIs in managed code. For each platform, we build an assembly that matches that platform’s ABI. The differences between platforms are small, so we can share a lot of code between them.
A nice effect of capturing the platform ABIs is that our .NET API can be very close to the C API. We don’t need to introduce shim structs or shim constants.
For example, the
setsockopt option for changing a socket option has this C API:
int setsockopt(int sockfd, int level, int optname, const void *optval, socklen_t optlen);
The C# API looks like this:
public static int setsockopt(int socket, int level, int optname, void* optval, socklen_t optlen);
As you can see, the signatures are virtually the same.
Because these system functions may be useful for other developers, I’ve collected them in a separate library, named Tmds.LibC. You can find the source code on GitHub and packages are published to NuGet.org. The Kestrel Linux Transport has been updated to use this library. The Transport does not need to deal with platform specifics, and it now runs on arm32, arm64, and x64.
In this article, we looked at .NET PInvoke and how PInvoke differs on Linux compared to Windows. We then explored how Mono.Posix.NETStandard provides a set of POSIX functions on various platforms using native shims. Finally, we took a look at Tmds.LibC, which provides Linux system functions for a number architectures using a fully managed implementation.