XPIDL

XPIDL is an Interface Description Language used to specify XPCOM interface classes.

Interface Description Languages (IDL) are used to describe interfaces in a language- and machine-independent way. IDLs make it possible to define interfaces which can then be processed by tools to autogenerate language-dependent interface specifications.

An xpidl file is essentially just a series of declarations. At the top level, we can define typedefs, native types, or interfaces. Interfaces may furthermore contain typedefs, natives, methods, constants, or attributes. Most declarations can have properties applied to them.

Types

There are three ways to make types: a typedef, a native, or an interface. In addition, there are a few built-in native types. The built-in native types are those listed under the type_spec production above. The following is the correspondence table:

IDL Type

Javascript Type

C++ in parameter

C++ out parameter

Rust in parameter

Rust out parameter

boolean

boolean

bool

bool*

bool

*mut bool

char

string

char

char*

c_char

*mut c_char

double

number

double

double*

f64

*mut f64

float

number

float

float*

f32

*mut f32

long

number

int32_t

int32_t*

i32

*mut i32

long long

number

int64_t

int64_t*

i64

*mut i64

octet

number

uint8_t

uint8_t*

u8

*mut u8

short

number

uint16_t

uint16_t*

u16

*mut u16

string 1

string

const char*

char**

*const c_char

*mut *mut c_char

unsigned long

number

uint32_t

uint32_t*

u32

*mut u32

unsigned long long

number

uint64_t

uint64_t*

u64

*mut u64

unsigned short

number

uint16_t

uint16_t*

u16

*mut u16

wchar

string

char16_t

char16_t*

i16

*mut i16

wstring 1

string

const char16_t*

char16_t**

*const i16

*mut *mut i16

Array<T> 2

array

const nsTArray<T>&

nsTArray<T>&

*const ThinVec<T>

*mut ThinVec<T>

1(1,2)

Prefer using the string class types such as AString, AUTF8String or ACString to this type. The behaviour of these types is documented more in the String Guide

2

The C++ or Rust exposed type T will be an owned variant. (e.g. ns[C]String, RefPtr<T>, or uint32_t)

string, wstring, [ptr] native and [ref] native are unsupported as element types.

In addition to this list, nearly every IDL file includes nsrootidl.idl in some fashion, which also defines the following types:

IDL Type

Javascript Type

C++ in parameter

C++ out parameter

Rust in parameter

Rust out parameter

PRTime

number

uint64_t

uint64_t*

u64

*mut u64

nsresult

number

nsresult

nsresult*

u32 3

*mut u32

nsrefcnt

number

nsrefcnt

nsrefcnt*

u32

*mut u32

size_t

number

uint32_t

uint32_t*

u32

*mut u32

voidPtr

N/A

void*

void**

*mut c_void

*mut *mut c_void

charPtr

N/A

char*

char**

*mut c_char

*mut *mut c_char

unicharPtr

N/A

char16_t*

char16_t**

*mut i16

*mut *mut i16

nsIDRef

ID object

const nsID&

nsID*

*const nsID

*mut nsID

nsIIDRef

ID object

const nsIID&

nsIID*

*const nsIID

*mut nsIID

nsCIDRef

ID object

const nsCID&

nsCID*

*const nsCID

*mut nsCID

nsIDPtr

ID object

const nsID*

nsID**

*const nsID

*mut *mut nsID

nsIIDPtr

ID object

const nsIID*

nsIID**

*const nsIID

*mut *mut nsIID

nsCIDPtr

ID object

const nsCID*

nsCID**

*const nsCID

*mut *mut nsCID

nsID

N/A

nsID

nsID*

N/A

N/A

nsIID

N/A

nsIID

nsIID*

N/A

N/A

nsCID

N/A

nsCID

nsCID*

N/A

N/A

nsQIResult

object

void*

void**

*mut c_void

*mut *mut c_void

AUTF8String 4

string

const nsACString&

nsACString&

*const nsACString

*mut nsACString

ACString 4

string

const nsACString&

nsACString&

*const nsACString

*mut nsACString

AString 4

string

const nsAString&

nsAString&

*const nsAString

*mut nsAString

jsval

any

HandleValue

MutableHandleValue

N/A

N/A

jsid

N/A

jsid

jsid*

N/A

N/A

Promise

Promise object

dom::Promise*

dom::Promise**

N/A

N/A

3

A bare u32 is only for bare nsresult in/outparams in XPIDL. The result should be wrapped as the nserror::nsresult type.

4(1,2,3)

The behaviour of these types is documented more in the String Guide

Typedefs in IDL are basically as they are in C or C++: you define first the type that you want to refer to and then the name of the type. Types can of course be one of the fundamental types, or any other type declared via a typedef, interface, or a native type.

Native types are types which correspond to a given C++ type. Most native types are not scriptable: if it is not present in the list above, then it is certainly not scriptable (some of the above, particularly jsid, are not scriptable).

The contents of the parentheses of a native type declaration (although native declarations without parentheses are parsable, I do not trust that they are properly handled by the xpidl handlers) is a string equivalent to the C++ type. XPIDL itself does not interpret this string, it just literally pastes it anywhere the native type is used. The interpretation of the type can be modified by using the [ptr] or [ref] attributes on the native declaration. Other attributes are only intended for use in nsrootidl.idl.

WebIDL Interfaces

WebIDL interfaces are also valid XPIDL types. To declare a WebIDL interface in XPIDL, write:

webidl InterfaceName;

WebIDL types will be passed as mozilla::dom::InterfaceName* when used as in-parameters, as mozilla::dom::InterfaceName** when used as out or inout-parameters, and as RefPtr<mozilla::dom::InterfaceName> when used as an array element.

Note

Other WebIDL types (e.g. dictionaries, enums, and unions) are not currently supported.

Constants and CEnums

Constants must be attched to an interface. The only constants supported are those which become integer types when compiled to source code; string constants and floating point constants are currently not supported.

Often constants are used to describe a set of enum values. In cases like this the cenum construct can be used to group constants together. Constants grouped in a cenum will be reflected as-if they were declared directly on the interface, in Rust and Javascript code.

cenum MyCEnum : 8 {
  eSomeValue,  // starts at 0
  eSomeOtherValue,
};

The number after the enum name, like : 8 in the example above, defines the width of enum values with the given type. The cenum’s type may be referenced in xpidl as nsIInterfaceName_MyCEnum.

Interfaces

Interfaces are basically a collection of constants, methods, and attributes. Interfaces can inherit from one-another, and every interface must eventually inherit from nsISupports.

Interface Attributes

Interfaces may have the following attributes:

uuid

The internal unique identifier for the interface. it must be unique, and the uuid must be generated when creating the interface. After that, it doesn’t need to be changed any more.

Online tools such as http://mozilla.pettay.fi/cgi-bin/mozuuid.pl can help generate UUIDs for new interfaces.

builtinclass

JavaScript classes are forbidden from implementing this interface. All child interfaces must also be marked with this property.

function

The JavaScript implementation of this interface may be a function that is invoked on property calls instead of an object with the given property

scriptable

This interface is usable by JavaScript classes. Must inherit from a scriptable interface.

Methods and Attributes

Interfaces declare a series of attributes and methods. Attributes in IDL are akin to JavaScript properties, in that they are a getter and (optionally) a setter pair. In JavaScript contexts, attributes are exposed as a regular property access, while native code sees attributes as a Get and possibly a Set method.

Attributes can be declared readonly, in which case setting causes an error to be thrown in script contexts and native contexts lack the Set method, by using the readonly keyword.

To native code, on attribute declared attribute type foo; is syntactic sugar for the declaration of two methods type getFoo(); and void setFoo(in type foo);. If foo were declared readonly, the latter method would not be present. Attributes support all of the properties of methods with the exception of optional_argc, as this does not make sense for attributes.

There are some special rules for attribute naming. As a result of vtable munging by the MSVC++ compiler, an attribute with the name IID is forbidden. Also like methods, if the first character of an attribute is lowercase in IDL, it is made uppercase in native code only.

Methods define a return type and a series of in and out parameters. When called from a JavaScript context, they invocation looks as it is declared for the most part; some parameter properties can adjust what the code looks like. The calls are more mangled in native contexts.

An important attribute for methods and attributes is scriptability. A method or attribute is scriptable if it is declared in a scriptable interface and it lacks a noscript or notxpcom property. Any method that is not scriptable can only be accessed by native code. However, scriptable methods must contain parameters and a return type that can be translated to script: any native type, save a few declared in nsrootidl.idl (see above), may not be used in a scriptable method or attribute. An exception to the above rule is if a nsQIResult parameter has the iid_is property (a special case for some QueryInterface-like operations).

Methods and attributes are mangled on conversion to native code. If a method is declared notxpcom, the mangling of the return type is prevented, so it is called mostly as it looks. Otherwise, the return type of the native method is nsresult, and the return type acts as a final outparameter if it is not void. The name is translated so that the first character is unconditionally uppercase; subsequent characters are unaffected. However, the presence of the binaryname property allows the user to select another name to use in native code (to avoid conflicts with other functions). For example, the method [binaryname(foo)] void bar(); becomes nsresult Foo() in native code (note that capitalization is still applied). However, the capitalization is not applied when using binaryname with attributes; i.e., [binaryname(foo)] readonly attribute Quux bar; becomes Getfoo(Quux**) in native code.

The implicit_jscontext and optional_argc parameters are properties which help native code implementations determine how the call was made from script. If implicit_jscontext is present on a method, then an additional JSContext* cx parameter is added just after the regular list which receives the context of the caller. If optional_argc is present, then an additional uint8_t _argc parameter is added at the end which receives the number of optional arguments that were actually used (obviously, you need to have an optional argument in the first place). Note that if both properties are set, the JSContext* cx is added first, followed by the uint8_t _argc, and then ending with return value parameter. Finally, as an exception to everything already mentioned, for attribute getters and setters the JSContext *cx comes before any other arguments.

Another native-only property is nostdcall. Normally, declarations are made in the stdcall ABI on Windows to be ABI-compatible with COM interfaces. Any non-scriptable method or attribute with nostdcall instead uses the thiscall ABI convention. Methods without this property generally use NS_IMETHOD in their declarations and NS_IMETHODIMP in their definitions to automatically add in the stdcall declaration specifier on requisite compilers; those that use this method may use a plain nsresult instead.

Another property, infallible, is attribute-only. When present, it causes an infallible C++ getter function definition to be generated for the attribute alongside the normal fallible C++ getter declaration. It should only be used if the fallible getter will be infallible in practice (i.e. always return NS_OK) for all possible implementations. This infallible getter contains code that calls the fallible getter, asserts success, and returns the gotten value directly. The point of using this property is to make C++ code nicer – a call to the infallible getter is more concise and readable than a call to the fallible getter. This property can only be used for attributes having built-in or interface types, and within classes that are marked with builtinclass. The latter restriction is because C++ implementations of fallible getters can be audited for infallibility, but JS implementations can always throw (e.g. due to OOM).

The must_use property is useful if the result of a method call or an attribute get/set should always (or usually) be checked, which is frequently the case. (e.g. a method that opens a file should almost certainly have its result checked.) This property will cause MOZ_MUST_USE to be added to the generated function declarations, which means certain compilers (e.g. clang and GCC) will reports errors if these results are not used.

Method Parameters

Each method parameter can be specified in one of three modes: in, out, or inout. An out parameter is essentially an auxiliary return value, although these are moderately cumbersome to use from script contexts and should therefore be avoided if reasonable. An inout parameter is an in parameter whose value may be changed as a result of the method; these parameters are rather annoying to use and should generally be avoided if at all possible.

out and inout parameters are reflected as objects having the .value property which contains the real value of the parameter; the value attribute is missing in the case of out parameters and is initialized to the passed-in-value for inout parameters. The script code needs to set this property to assign a value to the parameter. Regular in parameters are reflected more or less normally, with numeric types all representing numbers, booleans as true or false, the various strings (including AString etc.) as a JavaScript string, and nsID types as a Components.ID instance. In addition, the jsval type is translated as the appropriate JavaScript value (since a jsval is the internal representation of all JavaScript values), and parameters with the nsIVeriant interface have their types automatically boxed and unboxed as appropriate.

The equivalent representations of all IDL types in native code is given in the earlier tables; parameters of type inout follow their out form. Native code should pay particular attention to not passing in null values for out parameters (although some parts of the codebase are known to violate this, it is strictly enforced at the JS<->native barrier).

Representations of types additionally depend on some of the many types of properties they may have. The array property turns the parameter into an array; the parameter must also have a corresponding size_is property whose argument is the parameter that has the size of the array. In native code, the type gains another pointer indirection, and JavaScript arrays are used in script code. Script code callers can ignore the value of array parameter, but implementors must still set the values appropriately.

Note

Prefer using the Array<T> builtin over the [array] attribute for new code. It is more ergonomic to use from both JS and C++. In the future, [array] may be deprecated and removed.

The const and shared properties are special to native code. As its name implies, the const property makes its corresponding argument const. The shared property is only meaningful for out or inout parameters and it means that the pointer value should not be freed by the caller. Only simple native pointer types like string, wstring, and octetPtr may be declared shared. The shared property also makes its corresponding argument const.

The retval property indicates that the parameter is actually acting as the return value, and it is only the need to assign properties to the parameter that is causing it to be specified as a parameter. It has no effect on native code, but script code uses it like a regular return value. Naturally, a method which contains a retval parameter must be declared void, and the parameter itself must be an out parameter and the last parameter.

Other properties are the optional and iid_is property. The optional property indicates that script code may omit the property without problems; all subsequent parameters must either by optional themselves or the retval parameter. Note that optional out parameters still pass in a variable for the parameter, but its value will be ignored. The iid_is parameter indicates that the real IID of an nsQIResult parameter may be found in the corresponding parameter, to allow script code to automatically unbox the type.

Not all type combinations are possible. Native types with the various string properties are all forbidden from being used as an inout parameter or as an array parameter. In addition, native types with the nsid property but lacking either a ptr or ref property are forbidden unless the method is notxpcom and it is used as an in parameter.

Ownership Rules

For types that reference heap-allocated data (strings, arrays, interface pointers, etc), you must follow the XPIDL data ownership conventions in order to avoid memory corruption and security vulnerabilities:

  • For in parameters, the caller allocates and deallocates all data. If the callee needs to use the data after the call completes, it must make a private copy of the data, or, in the case of interface pointers, AddRef it.

  • For out parameters, the callee creates the data, and transfers ownership to the caller. For buffers, the callee allocates the buffer with malloc, and the caller frees the buffer with free. For interface pointers, the callee does the AddRef on behalf of the caller, and the caller must call Release. This manual reference/memory management should be performed using the getter_AddRefs and getter_Transfers helpers in new code.

  • For inout parameters, the callee must clean up the old data if it chooses to replace it. Buffers must be deallocated with free, and interface pointers must be Release’d. Afterwards, the above rules for out apply.

  • shared out-parameters should not be freed, as they are intended to refer to constant string literals.