Alex McFarlane

Useful Stuff

How To Link C++ to Python with boost-python

This is a most basic starter with boost-python using homebrew with the following structure

All the source code can be found in this repository.


  • Familiarity python as a minimum requirement
  • Have homebrew installed
  • python 2.7
  • Vague C/C++ knowledge i.e. be able to write a function!
  • Mac OS X - I used El Capitan 10.11.6 at the time of writing

Get boost-python

You can obtain the correct boost-python through homebrew via the command:

brew install boost --with-python --build-from-source

I think brew install boost should work but it’s a big install and life is short to do it twice

A simple example: "Hello World!"

The following code wraps the C++ function greet() as a python extension named hello_ext. Save this as a .cpp file. To avoid ambiguity with internal functions name it something random e.g. hippopotaplusplus.cpp

#include <boost/python.hpp>

char const* greet()
   return "Greetings!";

    using namespace boost::python;
	def("greet", greet);
  • This code cannot be called until it is compiled - see below
  • greet() is exclusively a C++ function
  • BOOST_PYTHON_MODULE(hello_ext) defines a module that can be called from python as

    import hello_ext
  • using namespace boost::python allowsdef instead of boost::python::def each time
  • The method boost::python::def defines the second argument (the C++ function) greet as a python function (named by the string) "greet". We call this function in python as

    import hello_ext

    if we had used def("example", greet); we would call in python as hello_ext.example()

Compiling with Python

The following python module can be used to compile and link the code in hippopotaplusplus.cpp to a python-friendly module

from distutils.core import setup
from distutils.extension import Extension

ext_instance = Extension(

  • The first string argument of Extension must match the variable declared in the .cpp file by the line


    in this case it is hello_ext. If this is incorrect, the code will compile but an attempt to import in python will produce the error

    ImportError: dynamic module does not define init function
  • The augment sources defines the cpp file that is to be compiled
  • The argument of libraries=['boost_python-mt'] is the required library installed by homebrew
  • The argument to ext_modules=[ext_instance]) points to the instance of Extension
  • The name and version are really for building packages and not necessary here
  • For more details, the [official docs][5] for distutils are well written


The code is compiled with python through the following command

python build_ext --inplace

which will create the following build/ directory and file


This can be directly now called by python with

import hello_ext

Wrapping multiple functions in a module

We can define several functions in external files by moving greet to its own file greet.cpp and creating another file with the function meet saved as meet.cpp

char const* meet()
   return "Nice to meet you from Boost!";

We can link this in the following manner with hippopotaplusplus.cpp as

#include <greet.hpp>
#include <meet.hpp>
#include <boost/python.hpp>

    using namespace boost::python;
    def("greet", greet);
	def("meet", meet);


The file to compile the code is structured exactly the same as above


The running of the code is also exactly the same as above except now we can call both functions

import hello_ext