General notes regarding convenience macros

pybind11 provides a few convenience macros such as PYBIND11_MAKE_OPAQUE() and PYBIND11_DECLARE_HOLDER_TYPE(), and PYBIND11_OVERLOAD_*. Since these are “just” macros that are evaluated in the preprocessor (which has no concept of types), they will get confused by commas in a template argument such as PYBIND11_OVERLOAD(MyReturnValue<T1, T2>, myFunc). In this case, the preprocessor assumes that the comma indicates the beginning of the next parameter. Use a typedef to bind the template to another name and use it in the macro to avoid this problem.

Global Interpreter Lock (GIL)

The classes gil_scoped_release and gil_scoped_acquire can be used to acquire and release the global interpreter lock in the body of a C++ function call. In this way, long-running C++ code can be parallelized using multiple Python threads. Taking Overriding virtual functions in Python as an example, this could be realized as follows (important changes highlighted):

class PyAnimal : public Animal {
    /* Inherit the constructors */
    using Animal::Animal;

    /* Trampoline (need one for each virtual function) */
    std::string go(int n_times) {
        /* Acquire GIL before calling Python code */
        py::gil_scoped_acquire acquire;

            std::string, /* Return type */
            Animal,      /* Parent class */
            go,          /* Name of function */
            n_times      /* Argument(s) */

PYBIND11_PLUGIN(example) {
    py::module m("example", "pybind11 example plugin");

    py::class_<Animal, PyAnimal> animal(m, "Animal");
        .def("go", &Animal::go);

    py::class_<Dog>(m, "Dog", animal)

    m.def("call_go", [](Animal *animal) -> std::string {
        /* Release GIL before calling into (potentially long-running) C++ code */
        py::gil_scoped_release release;
        return call_go(animal);

    return m.ptr();

Binding sequence data types, iterators, the slicing protocol, etc.

Please refer to the supplemental example for details.

See also

The file tests/test_sequences_and_iterators.cpp contains a complete example that shows how to bind a sequence data type, including length queries (__len__), iterators (__iter__), the slicing protocol and other kinds of useful operations.

Partitioning code over multiple extension modules

It’s straightforward to split binding code over multiple extension modules, while referencing types that are declared elsewhere. Everything “just” works without any special precautions. One exception to this rule occurs when extending a type declared in another extension module. Recall the basic example from Section Inheritance.

py::class_<Pet> pet(m, "Pet");
pet.def(py::init<const std::string &>())
   .def_readwrite("name", &Pet::name);

py::class_<Dog>(m, "Dog", pet /* <- specify parent */)
    .def(py::init<const std::string &>())
    .def("bark", &Dog::bark);

Suppose now that Pet bindings are defined in a module named basic, whereas the Dog bindings are defined somewhere else. The challenge is of course that the variable pet is not available anymore though it is needed to indicate the inheritance relationship to the constructor of class_<Dog>. However, it can be acquired as follows:

py::object pet = (py::object) py::module::import("basic").attr("Pet");

py::class_<Dog>(m, "Dog", pet)
    .def(py::init<const std::string &>())
    .def("bark", &Dog::bark);

Alternatively, you can specify the base class as a template parameter option to class_, which performs an automated lookup of the corresponding Python type. Like the above code, however, this also requires invoking the import function once to ensure that the pybind11 binding code of the module basic has been executed:


py::class_<Dog, Pet>(m, "Dog")
    .def(py::init<const std::string &>())
    .def("bark", &Dog::bark);

Naturally, both methods will fail when there are cyclic dependencies.

Note that compiling code which has its default symbol visibility set to hidden (e.g. via the command line flag -fvisibility=hidden on GCC/Clang) can interfere with the ability to access types defined in another extension module. Workarounds include changing the global symbol visibility (not recommended, because it will lead unnecessarily large binaries) or manually exporting types that are accessed by multiple extension modules:

#ifdef _WIN32
#  define EXPORT_TYPE __declspec(dllexport)
#  define EXPORT_TYPE __attribute__ ((visibility("default")))

class EXPORT_TYPE Dog : public Animal {

Note also that it is possible (although would rarely be required) to share arbitrary C++ objects between extension modules at runtime. Internal library data is shared between modules using capsule machinery [1] which can be also utilized for storing, modifying and accessing user-defined data. Note that an extension module will “see” other extensions’ data if and only if they were built with the same pybind11 version. Consider the following example:

auto data = (MyData *) py::get_shared_data("mydata");
if (!data)
    data = (MyData *) py::set_shared_data("mydata", new MyData(42));

If the above snippet was used in several separately compiled extension modules, the first one to be imported would create a MyData instance and associate a "mydata" key with a pointer to it. Extensions that are imported later would be then able to access the data behind the same pointer.


Generating documentation using Sphinx

Sphinx [2] has the ability to inspect the signatures and documentation strings in pybind11-based extension modules to automatically generate beautiful documentation in a variety formats. The python_example repository [3] contains a simple example repository which uses this approach.

There are two potential gotchas when using this approach: first, make sure that the resulting strings do not contain any TAB characters, which break the docstring parsing routines. You may want to use C++11 raw string literals, which are convenient for multi-line comments. Conveniently, any excess indentation will be automatically be removed by Sphinx. However, for this to work, it is important that all lines are indented consistently, i.e.:

// ok
m.def("foo", &foo, R"mydelimiter(
    The foo function


// *not ok*
m.def("foo", &foo, R"mydelimiter(The foo function


By default, pybind11 automatically generates and prepends a signature to the docstring of a function registered with module::def() and class_::def(). Sometimes this behavior is not desirable, because you want to provide your own signature or remove the docstring completely to exclude the function from the Sphinx documentation. The class options allows you to selectively suppress auto-generated signatures:

PYBIND11_PLUGIN(example) {
    py::module m("example", "pybind11 example plugin");

    py::options options;

    m.def("add", [](int a, int b) { return a + b; }, "A function which adds two numbers");

    return m.ptr();

Note that changes to the settings affect only function bindings created during the lifetime of the options instance. When it goes out of scope at the end of the module’s init function, the default settings are restored to prevent unwanted side effects.