Using methodgen

This guide covers the automatic pInvoke call generator and enum synchronization utility called methodgen.

It builds on top of concepts from the Wrapping Native Libraries guide.


Wrapping a C/C++ library for .NET consumption is a large task. Usually, there is a C/C++ library with every C exported function, that will link to or be itself the content of the exported functionality (we call this lib_C, in a directory called lib_C_dir), and a C# library that will provide access to the exported functionality (lib_CS, in lib_CS_dir).

Besides other more high-level restructuring, wrapping usually involves:

  1. Creating a large amount of C functions to be exported for PInvoke,
  2. The definition of some helper enum values that have the only purpose of helping C - C# communication, and
  3. Copying many public C++ enum values to C#

For each of these tasks, we wrote a tool, methodgen.exe, that automatically writes most of the boilerplate code.

methodgen in your project

To run the tool, place it in a folder that is a parent folder to both your C and your C# solutions. Then, add a prebuild event to your project, either using the standard Visual Studio for Window or Visual Studio for Mac interface, of by adding this code to the .csproj solution:

<PropertyGroup Condition=" '$(Configuration)' == 'Release' Or '$(Configuration)' == 'Debug' ">
  <PreBuildEvent>$(ProjectDir)..\methodgen.exe lib_C_dir lib_CS_dir</PreBuildEvent>

Each path can be relative. Every .h and .cpp file in lib_C_dir will be parsed.

A file called AutoNativeMethods.cs, and another one called AutoNativeEnums.cs if required, will be placed in lib_CS_dir at the end of the process. This will happen in the following 3 steps…

1. Export C functions to C#

methodgen.exe looks for every line starting with RH_C_FUNCTION in every .h and .cpp file in cpp_dir.

We define the RH_C_FUNCTION macro directive like this:

#define RH_C_FUNCTION extern "C" __declspec(dllexport)

A typical exported C function will look like this:

RH_C_FUNCTION int ON_Brep_SplitEdgeAtParameters(ON_Brep* pBrep, int edge_index, int count, /*ARRAY*/const double* parameters)
  int rc = 0;
  if (pBrep && count>0 && parameters)
    rc = pBrep->SplitEdgeAtParameters(edge_index, count, parameters);
  return rc;

Inside AutoNativeMethods.cs, in an _internal partial class_ called UnsafeNativeMethods, methodgen.exe will create these lines of code:

[DllImport(Import.lib, CallingConvention=CallingConvention.Cdecl )]
internal static extern int ON_Brep_SplitEdgeAtParameters(IntPtr pBrep, int edgeIndex, int count, double[] parameters);

Parsing function parameter and return types

Every parameter to the function will undergo some transformation to be useful in C# as follows:

  • const will be removed. It might be a good idea to name parameter variables in a predictable manner relative to const-ness of the data that is passed.
  • Any type* will be transformed to a generic IntPtr. As an exception, if the pointer refers to a fundamental type (such as int, unsigned char), this will be passed as a inbuilt C# type, with the keyword ref prefixed.
  • Fundamental types will be translated to the corresponding C# type. The unsigned modifier will usually be removed. E.g., unsigned int will be transformed in uint. unsigned char will become byte.
  • /*ARRAY*/ allows to treat pointers to fundamental types (such as int, double) as C# arrays, rather than ref values. The /*ARRAY*/ string token must not contain extra spaces (see example above).
  • Enum types exported with RH_C_SHARED_ENUM will be translated to the defined C# counterpart (see below for details).

2. Define helper enums for Marshalling

Enums that are found while scanning every .h and .cpp file in cpp_dir will be exported as nested enums in AutoNativeMethods.cs, in the same UnsafeNativeMethods class. These should be C enums.

For example:

enum MeshBoolConst : int
  mbcHasVertexNormals = 0,
  mbcHasFaceNormals = 1,
  mbcHasTextureCoordinates = 2,
  mbcHasSurfaceParameters = 3,
  mbcHasPrincipalCurvatures = 4,
  mbcHasVertexColors = 5,
  mbcIsClosed = 6

This can then be used in RH_C_FUNCTION lines:

RH_C_FUNCTION bool ON_Mesh_GetBool(const ON_Mesh* pMesh, enum MeshBoolConst which)
  bool rc = false;
  if (pMesh)
    switch (which)
    case mbcIsClosed:
      rc = pMesh->IsClosed();
  // other cases omitted

and will result in this C# enum and the possibility to call it without using any enum value (just the field name)…

internal enum MeshBoolConst : int
  HasVertexNormals = 0,
  HasFaceNormals = 1,
  HasTextureCoordinates = 2,
  HasSurfaceParameters = 3,
  HasPrincipalCurvatures = 4,
  HasVertexColors = 5,
  IsClosed = 6

[DllImport(Import.lib, CallingConvention=CallingConvention.Cdecl )]
[return: MarshalAs(UnmanagedType.U1)]
internal static extern bool ON_Mesh_GetBool(IntPtr pMesh, MeshBoolConst which);

//your code
UnsafeNativeMethods.ON_Mesh_GetBool(ptr, UnsafeNativeMethods.MeshBoolConst.IsClosed);

Notice that every enum field had some prefixed lower-case acronym, which is removed by methodgen.

3. Share enum values between the C++ and C#

Similar to the Define helper enums for Marshalling step, methodgen also allows to harvest enum values directly from any file (being that .h, .cpp, or anything else) that follows the convention explained here.

Again, every .h and .cpp file in lib_C_dir is parsed, looking for lines starting with RH_C_SHARED_ENUM_PARSE_FILE. RH_C_SHARED_ENUM_PARSE_FILE can be defined by you as an empty macro:

#define RH_C_SHARED_ENUM_PARSE_FILE3(path, sectionPrefix, sectionSuffix)

path becomes then a candidate for shared enum collection. Every path file is then opened, and the tool searches for #pragma region RH_C_SHARED_ENUM and processes an enum till #pragma endregion.

The complete RH_C_SHARED_ENUM syntax will look like this:

#pragma region RH_C_SHARED_ENUM [full_cpp_type] [full_cs_type] [options]
   //... enum
#pragma endregion

The above code is broken down as follows:

  • full_cpp_type: the full C++ type name. This should be the standard way to reference any instance.
  • full_cs_type: the full C# type name. This will be the standard way to reference the instance type in .NET.
  • options: any combination of one single item within each of these sets, (public|internal), (unnested|nested), (sbyte|byte|int|uint|short|ushort|long|ulong), (flags), (clsfalse); separated by a colon (:). If an option from a set is not specified, the one in bold is used. Sets without a bold item have the option turned off.

Remarks on options

Keep the following in mind concerning options:

  • nested: please use this option with care. See the .NET design guidelines for nested types on MSDN. Keeping class design simple is paramount.
  • type (int, long, etc): usually, just choose the corresponding .NET type that is CLSCompliant. If you choose anything else than a type that is sized the same as the C++ one, you are responsible for differences in array sizes. Automatic marshalling usually gets the size of single arguments right and casts accordingly. If the size of the C# element is smaller than the C++ one, there will possibly be problems with uniqueness of fields. If you use any non-CLS-compliant type, then you might have to add the next option.
  • clsfalse: marks the resulting enum code with the [CLSCompliant(false)] attribute. Only here for compatibility with already-defined C# enums.
  • flags: marks the resulting enum code with the [Flags] attribute. Always mark the .NET type with this attribute if the enum is used as a bitmask.

Enum design


Although similar in purpose, .NET and C++ enums differ considerably both in common usage and in formatting style conventions. Here we list a few gotchas of which to be aware when defining shared enums. Read the following list carefully.

Follow these rules when sharing enums:

  • .NET enums are best defined as deriving from CLS-compliant types: byte, short, int and long. When sharing a C++ enum that translates to sbyte, ushort, uint, ulong, it might be tempting to use one of these non-CLS-compliant types, and apply the provided option. This is a bad idea! The option is only there for support of already-existing enums. Every method with non-CLS-compliant parameters will be non-CLS-compliant. On the other hand, only a solvable issue with the first bit of high-valued enum fields needs to be addressed when translating an unsigned int enum to an int one in C#. .NET users of the library will find a library that is simpler to read as well.
  • In an enum shared with .NET, do not define sentinel values or fields cautiously reserved for future use. They are evil. See the Enum Design on MSDN to better understand why.
  • Because each enum field name will be the same as in .NET, it is best practice not to use constant prefixes like k in kMyEnum, and not to use ALL_CAPS. Simply use PascalCase for enum field names.
  • Consider using class enums in C++ to avoid naming collisions. This is not an issue in .NET, because methodgen removes the class keyword automatically.
  • Use .NET-type descriptions also in C++ to comment the enum and each of its field. A ///<summary> is usually sufficient.

To illustrate the above rules in action, in a parsed file, place:

RH_C_SHARED_ENUM_PARSE_FILE3("../../../opennurbs/opennurbs_subd.h", "#if OPENNURBS_SUBD_WIP", "#endif")

Then, within that opennurbs_subd.h file:

#pragma region RH_C_SHARED_ENUM [ON_SubD::SubDType] [Rhino.Geometry.SubD.SubDType] [nested:byte]
/// <summary>
/// Subdivision algorithm.
/// </summary>  
enum class SubDType : unsigned char
  /// Built-in Loop-Warren triangle with Bernstein-Levin-Zorin creases and darts.
  TriLoopWarren = 3,

  /// Built-in Catmull-Clark quad with Bernstein-Levin-Zorin creases and darts.
  QuadCatmullClark = 4,
#pragma endregion

This above will result in an enum called SubDType, placed inside a _public partial_ class SubD, inside AutoNativeEnums.cs.


Inside every .h and .cpp file in lib_C_dir, methogen keeps track of #ifdef, #ifndef, #if defined, #elif defined, #else and #endif lines marked with an RH_C_PREPROCESSOR suffix. Lines with both preprocessor instructions and the mark will not be removed and will appear in AutoNativeMethods.cs, transformed to the appropriate C# representation.

The RH_C_PREPROCESSOR string can appear either in plain code or in a comment, provided it is the first word in the comment. For example:


is just as valid as:


This is because having extra tokens after #endif is non-standard C, and some compilers check against this condition.