amalgamate amalgamate - 1 year ago 185
C# Question

How to call a C# library from Native C++ (using C++\CLI and IJW)

Background: As part of a larger assignment I need to make a C# library accessible to unmanaged C++ and C code. In an attempt to answer this question myself I have been learning C++/CLI the past few days/ weeks.

There seems to be a number of different ways to achieve using a C# dll from unmanaged C++ and C. Some of the answers in brief appear to be: using Interlope services, Using .com. and regasm, Using PInvoke (which appears to go from C# to C++ only), and using IJW in the C++/CLR (which appears to be Interlope services). I am thinking it would be best to set up a library that is perhaps a CLR wrapper that uses IJW to call my C# dll on the behalf of native C++ and C code.

Specifics: I need to pass values of string as well as int to a C# dll from c++ code, and return void.

Relevance: Many companies have many excuses to mix and match C++, C and C#. Performance: unmanaged code is usually faster, interfaces: Managed interfaces are generally easier to maintain, deploy, and are often easier on the eyes, Managers tell us too. Legacy code forces us too. It was there (Like the mountain that we climbed). While examples of how to call a C++ library from C# are abundant. Examples of how to call C# libraries from C++ code are difficult to find via Googling especially if you want to see updated 4.0+ code.

Software: C#, C++/CLR, C++, C, Visual Studio 2010, and .NET 4.0

Question details: OK multi-part question:

  1. Is there an advantage to using com objects? Or the PInvoke? Or some other method? (I feel like the learning curve here will be just as steep, even though I do find more information on the topic in Google Land. IJW seems to promise what I want it to do. Should I give up on looking for an IJW solution and focus on this instead?) (Advantage/ disadvantage?)

  2. Am I correct in imagining that there is a solution where I write a wrapper that that utilizes IJW in the C++/CLR? Where can I find more information on this topic, and don’t say I didn’t Google enough/ or look at MSDN without telling me where you saw it there. (I think I prefer this option, in the effort to write clear and simple code.)

  3. A narrowing of question scope: I feel that my true issue and need is answering the smaller question that follows: How do I set up a C++/CLR library that an unmanaged C++ file can use within visual studio. I think that if I could simply instantiate a managed C++ class in unmanaged C++ code, then I might be able work out the rest (interfacing and wrapping etc.). I expect that my main folly is in trying to set up references/#includes etc. within Visual Studio, thought clearly I could have other misconceptions. Perhaps the answer to this whole thing could be just a link to a tutorial or instructions that help me with this.

Research: I have Googled and Binged over and over with some success. I have found many links that show you how to use an unmanaged library from C# code. And I will admit that there have been some links that show how to do it using com objects. Not many results were targeted at VS 2010.

I have read over and over many posts. I have tried to work through the most relevant ones. Some seem tantalizingly close to the answer, but I just can’t seem to get them to work. I suspect that the thing that I am missing is tantalizingly small, such as misusing the keyword ref, or missing a #include or using statement, or a misuse of namespace, or not actually using the IJW feature properly, or missing a setting that VS needs to handle the compilation correctly, etc. So you wonder, why not include the code? Well I feel like I am not at a place where I understand and expect the code I have to work. I want to be in a place where I understand it, when I get there maybe then I'll need help fixing it. I'll randomly include two of the links but I am not permitted to show them all at my current Hitpoint level.

This calls code from managed and unmanaged code in both directions going from C++ to Visual Basic and back via C++CLR, and of course I am interested in C#.:

Answer Source

I found something that at least begins to answer my own question. The following two links have wmv files from Microsoft that demonstrate using a C# class in unmanaged C++.

This first one uses a COM object and regasm:

This second one uses the features of C++/CLI to wrap the C# class: I have been able to instantiate a c# class from managed code and retrieve a string as in the video. It has been very helpful but it only answers 2/3rds of my question as I want to instantiate a class with a string perimeter into a c# class. As a proof of concept I altered the code presented in the example for the following method, and achieved this goal. Of course I also added a altered the {public string PickDate(string Name)} method to do something with the name string to prove to myself that it worked.

wchar_t * DatePickerClient::pick(std::wstring nme)
    IntPtr temp(ref);// system int pointer from a native int
    String ^date;// tracking handle to a string (managed)
    String ^name;// tracking handle to a string (managed)
    name = gcnew String(nme.c_str());
    wchar_t *ret;// pointer to a c++ string
    GCHandle gch;// garbage collector handle
    DatePicker::DatePicker ^obj;// reference the c# object with tracking handle(^)
    gch = static_cast<GCHandle>(temp);// converted from the int pointer 
    obj = static_cast<DatePicker::DatePicker ^>(gch.Target);
    date = obj->PickDate(name);
    ret = new wchar_t[date->Length +1];
    interior_ptr<const wchar_t> p1 = PtrToStringChars(date);// clr pointer that acts like pointer
    pin_ptr<const wchar_t> p2 = p1;// pin the pointer to a location as clr pointers move around in memory but c++ does not know about that.
    wcscpy_s(ret, date->Length +1, p2);
    return ret;

Part of my question was: What is better? From what I have read in many many efforts to research the answer is that COM objects are considered easier to use, and using a wrapper instead allows for greater control. In some cases using a wrapper can (but not always) reduce the size of the thunk, as COM objects automatically have a standard size footprint and wrappers are only as big as they need to be.

The thunk (as I have used above) refers to the space time and resources used in between C# and C++ in the case of the COM object, and in between C++/CLI and native C++ in the case of coding-using a C++/CLI Wrapper. So another part of my answer should include a warning that crossing the thunk boundary more than absolutely necessary is bad practice, accessing the thunk boundary inside a loop is not recommended, and that it is possible to set up a wrapper incorrectly so that it double thunks (crosses the boundary twice where only one thunk is called for) without the code seeming to be incorrect to a novice like me.

Two notes about the wmv's. First: some footage is reused in both, don't be fooled. At first they seem the same but they do cover different topics. Second, there are some bonus features such as marshalling that are now a part of the CLI that are not covered in the wmv's.


Note there is a consequence for your installs, your c++ wrapper will not be found by the CLR. You will have to either confirm that the c++ application installs in any/every directory that uses it, or add the library (which will then need to be strongly named) to the GAC at install time. This also means that with either case in development environments you will likely have to copy the library to each directory where applications call it.