Interface with scripts languages (Python, Scilab and Matlab)

A simplified (but rather complete) interface of GetFEM is provided, so that it is possible to use getfem in some script languages.


All sources are located in the interface/src directory. The interface is composed of one large library getfemint (which stands for getfem interaction), which acts as a layer above the GetFEM library, and is used by the python, matlab and scilab interfaces.

This interface is not something that is generated automatically from c++ sources (as that could be the case with tools such as swig). It is something that has been designed as a simplified and consistent interface to getfem. Adding a new language should be quite easy (assuming the language provides some structures for dense arrays manipulations).


All the files in the directory interfacesrc. A short description of main files:


    This is the bridge between the script language and the getfem interface. The function getfem_interface_main is exported as an extern "C" function, so this is a sort of c++ barrier between the script language and the getfem interface (exporting only a C interface avoids many compilation problems).

  • matlab/gfm_mex.c.

    The matlab interface. The only thing it knows about getfem is in getfem_interface.h.

  • python/getfem_python.c.

    The python interface. The only thing it knows about getfem is in getfem_interface.h.

  • gfi_array.h, gfi_array.c.

    Both gfm_mex.c and getfem_python.c need a simple convention on how to send and receive arrays, and object handles, from getfem_interface_main(). This file provide such functionnality.

  • getfemint_gsparse.h, getfemint_precond.h, etc.

    Files specific to an interfaced object if needed. (getfemint_gsparse which export some kind of mutable sparse matrix that can switch between different storage types, and real of complex elements).


    Memory management for getfem objects. There is a layer which handles the dependency between for example a mesh and a mesh_fem. It makes sure that no object will be destroyed while there is still another getfem_object using it. The goal is to make sure that under no circumstances the user is able to crash getfem (and the host program, matlab, scilab or python) by passing incorrect argument to the getfem interface.

    It also provides a kind of workspace stack, which was designed to simplify handling and cleaning of many getfem objects in matlab (since matlab does not have “object destructors”).

  • getfemint.h,

    Define the mexarg_in, mexarg_out classes, which are used to parse the list of input and output arguments to the getfem interface functions. The name is not adequate anymore since any reference to “mex” has been moved into gfm_mex.c.

  •,,,, etc.

    All the functions exported be the getfem interfaces, sorted by object type (gf_mesh*, gf_mesh_fem*, gf_fem*), and then organized as one for the object construction (gf_mesh), one for the object modification (gf_mesh_set), and one for the object inquiry (gf_mesh_get). Each of these files contain one main function, that receives a mexargs_in and mexargs_out stack of arguments. It parses then, and usually interprets the first argument as the name of a subfunction (gf_mesh_get('nbpts') in matlab, or Mesh.nbpts() in python).

  • matlab/gfm_rpx_mexint.c.

    An alternative to gfm_mex.c which is used when the --enable-matlab-rpc is passed to the ./configure script. The main use for that is debugging the interface, since in that case, the matlab interface communicates via sockets with a “getfem_server” program, so it is possible to debug that server program, and identify memory leaks or anything else without having to mess with matlab (it is pain to debug).

  • python/

    The python interface is available as a “” file which is produced during compilation by the python script “bin/”.

Objects, methods and functions of the interface

The main concepts manipulated by the interface are a limited number of objects (Fem, Mesh, MeshFem, Model …), the associated methods and some functions defined on these objects.

A special effort has been done to facilitate the addition of new objects, methods and functions to the interface without doing it separately for each part supported script language (Python, Scilab, Octave, Matlab).

All the information needed to build the interface for the different objects, methods and functions is contained in the files interface/src/gf*.cc. A python script (bin/extract_doc) produces all the necessary files from the information it takes there. In particular, it produces the python file, the matlab m-files for the different functions and objects (including subdirectories) and it also produces the automatic documentations.

To make all the things work automatically, a certain number of rules have to be respected:

  • An object have to be defined by three files on the interface

    • : contains the constructors of the object
    • : contains the methods which only get some information about the object (if any).
    • : contains the methods which transform the object (if any).
  • A list of function is defined by only one file It contains a list of sub-commands.

  • For each file, the main commentary on the list of functions or methods is delimited by the tags ‘/@GFDOC’ and ‘@/’. For a file corresponding to the constructors of an object, the commentary should correspond to the description of the object.

  • Each non trivial file gf_*.cc contains a macro allowing to define the methods of the object or the sub-commands. In particular, this system allows to have a efficient search of the called method/function. This macro allows to declare a new method/function with the following syntax:

    /*@GET val = ('method-name', params, ...)
       Documention of the method/function.
    ("method-name", 0, 0, 0, 1,
      body of the method/function

    The first three line are a c++ commentary which describes the call of the method/function with a special syntax and also gives a description of the method/function which will be included in the documentations. The first line of this commentary is important since it will be analyzed to produce the right interface for Python, Octave, Matlab and Scilab.

    The syntax for the description of the call of a method/function is the following: After /*@ a special keyword should be present. It is either INIT, GET, SET, RDATTR or FUNC. The keyword INIT means that this is the description of a constructor of an object. RDATTR is for a short method allowing to get an attribute of an object. GET is for a method of an object which does not modify it. SET is for a method which modifies an object and FUNC is for the sub-command of a function list.

    If the method/function returns a value, then a name for the return value is given (which is arbitrary) followed by =.

    The parameters of the method/function are described. For a method, the object itself is not mentionned. The first parameter should be the method or sub-command name between single quotes (a special case is when this name begins with a dot; this means that it corresponds to a method/function where the command name is not required).

    The other parameters, if any, should be declared with a type. Predefined types are the following:

    • @CELL : a cell array,
    • @imat : matrix of integers,
    • @ivec : vector of integers,
    • @cvec : vector of complex values,
    • @dcvec : vector of complex values,
    • @dvec : vector of real values,
    • @vec : vector of real or complex values,
    • @dmat : matrix of real values,
    • @mat : matrix of real or complex values,
    • @str : a string,
    • @int : an integer,
    • @bool : a boolean,
    • @real : a real value,
    • @scalar : a real or complex value,
    • @list : a list.

    Moreover, @tobj refers to an object defined by the interface. For instance, ou can refer to @tmesh, @tmesh_fem, @tfem, etc. There are some authorized abbreviations:

    • @tcs for @tcont_struct
    • @tmf for @tmesh_fem
    • @tgt for @tgeotrans
    • @tgf for @tglobal_function
    • @tmo for @tmesher_object
    • @tmls for @tmesh_levelset
    • @tmim for @tmesh_im
    • @tls for @tlevelset
    • @tsl for @tslice
    • @tsp for @tspmat
    • @tpre for @tprecond

    Three dots at the end of the parameter list (...) mean that additional parameters are possible. Optional parameters can be described with brackets. For instance /*@SET v = ('name'[, @int i]). But be careful how it is interpreted by the extract_doc script to build the python interface.

    The second to fifth parameters of the macro correspond respectively to the minimum number of input arguments, the maximum one, the minimum number of output arguments and the maximum number of output arguments. It is dynamically verified.

    Additional parameters for the function lists ….

    For unknown reasons, the body of the function cannot contain multiple declarations such as int a, b; (c++ believes that it is an additional parameter of the macro).

  • The parts of documentation included in the c++ commentaries should be in reStructuredText format. In particular, math formulas can be included with :math:`f(x) = 3x^2+2x+4` or with:

    .. math::
      f(x) = 3x^2+2x+4

    It is possible to refer to another method or function of the interface with the syntax INIT::OBJNAME('method-name', ...), GET::OBJNAME('method-name', ...), SET::OBJNAME('method-name', ...), FUNC::FUNCNAME('subcommand-name', ...). This will be replaced with the right syntax depending on the language (Octave, Matlab, Scilab or Python).

  • Still in the documentations, parts for a specific language can be added by @MATLAB{specific part ...}, @SCILAB{specific part ...} and @PYTHON{specific part ...}. If a method/sub-command is specific to an interface, it can be added, for instance for Matlab, replacing GET by MATLABGET, FUNC by MATLABFUNC, etc. If a specific code is needed for this additional function, it can be added with the tags /*@MATLABEXT, /*@SCILABEXT, /*@PYTHONEXT. See for instance the file

  • For Python and the Matlab object, if a SET method has the same name as a GET method, the SET method is prefixed by set_.

Adding a new function or object method to the getfem interface

If one want to add a new function gf_mesh_get(m, "foobar", .), then the main file to modify is Remember to check every argument passed to the function in order to make sure that the user cannot crash Scilab, Octave, Matlab or Python when using that function. Use the macro defined in to add your function.

Do not forget to add documentation for that function: in, this is the documentation that appears in the Octave/Matlab/Scilab/Python help files (that is when on type “help gf_mesh_get” at the matlab prompt), and in the getfem_python autogenerated documentation.

IMPORTANT. Note that the array indices start at 0 in Python and 1 in Octave, Matlab and Scilab. A specific function:


whose value is 0 in python and 1 in Octave, Matlab and Scilab has to be used to exchange indices and array of indices. Take care not to make the correction twice. Some Array of indices are automatically shifted.

Adding a new object to the getfem interface

In order to add a new object to the interface, you have to build the new corresponding sources, and Of course you can take the existing ones as a model.

For the management of the object, you have to declare the class at the begining of getfemint.h (with respect to the alphabetic order), and declare three functions:

bool is_"name"_object(const mexarg_in &p);
id_type store_"name"_object(const std::shared_ptr<object_class> &shp);
object_class *to_"name"_object(const mexarg_in &p);

where “name” is the name of the object in the interface and object_class is the class name in getfem (for instance getfem::mesh for the mesh object). Alternatively, for the object that are manipulated by a shared pointer in GetFEM, the third function can return a shared pointer.

IMPORTANT: In order to be interfaced, a GetFEM object has to derive from dal::static_stored_object. However, if it is not the case, a wrapper class can be defined such as the one for bgeot::base_poly (see the end of getfemint.h).

The previous three functions have to be implemented at the end of is possible to use one of the two macros defined in The first macro is for a standard object and the second one for an object which is manipulated in GetFEM with a shared pointer.

You have also to complete functions name_of_getfemint_class_id and class_id_of_object at the end of

You have to add the call of the interface function in and modifiy the file bin/extract_doc and run the configure file.

The methods get('char') and get('display') should be defined for each object. The first one should give a string allowing the object to be saved in a file and the second one is to give some information about the object. Additionaly, a constructor from a string is necessary to load the object from a file.

For the Scilab interface the file sci_gateway/c/ has to be modified and the files in the directory macros/overload.



The interface grows in conjunction with GetFEM. The main GetFEM functionalities are interfaced.