Generating a GNOME library using gir crate

In this tutorial, we’ll see how to generate a GNOME library using the gir crate. A few things to note first:

A little explanation about those requirements: the gir crate needs .gir files to generate the library API. You can generally find them alongside the library header files (as you can see here for example, look for “.gir”).

The .gir files “describes” the library API (objects, arguments, even ownership!). This is where the gir crate comes in: it reads those .gir files and generates the Rust crates from them. You can learn more about the GIR format here.

A little note about the .gir files: it often happens that they are invalid (missing or invalid annotations for example). We have a small script to fix the .gir files we’re using (and only them!) available in the gir-files repository. You can run it like this (at the same level of the .gir files you want to patch):

> sh

All gtk-rs generated crates come in two parts: the sys part which contains all the C functions and types definitions (direct mapping, everything is unsafe) and the “high-level” part which contains the nice, completely safe and idiomatic Rust API on top of the sys part.

As an example, we’ll generate the sourceview library bindings. So first, let’s generate the sys part!

Generating the sys-library

First, you’ll need to download gir:

> git clone
> cd gir
> cargo install --path . # so we can use gir binary directly

Then the .gir files (luckily for you, we have a repository which contains all the ones you need for sourceview!):

> git clone

If you look into gir-files, you’ll see a file named GtkSource-3.0.gir. That’s the one for sourceview.

Now let’s create a new project for our sourceview crate:

> cargo new sourceview --lib

Then let’s create a folder inside the newly created sourceview folder for the sys part:

> cd sourceview
> cargo new sourceview-sys --lib

To indicate to gir what to generate, we’ll need a Gir.toml file (inside the sourceview-sys folder) containing:

library = "GtkSource"
version = "3.0"
target_path = "."
min_cfg_version = "3.0"

You should now have a folder looking like this:

  |---- Cargo.toml
  |---- sourceview-sys/
  |       |
  |       |---- Cargo.toml
  |       |---- Gir.toml
  |       |---- src/
  |               |
  |               |----
  |---- src/

Let’s generate the sys crate now:

> cd sourceview-sys
# Run gir in "sys" mode (the "-m" option) and we give the gir files path (the "-d" option)
> gir -m sys -d ../../gir-files/

(In case a failure happens at this point, and you can’t figure out what’s going on, don’t hesitate to reach us so we can give you a hand!)

You should now see new files (and a new folder):

Now let’s try to build it:

> cargo build

Surprise! It doesn’t build at all and you should see a loooooot of errors. Well, that was expected. We need to add some dependencies (you can find which ones in the .gir files) in order to make it work. Let’s update our Gir.toml file to make it look like this:

library = "GtkSource"
version = "3.0"
target_path = "."
min_cfg_version = "3.0"

external_libraries = [

Now we regenerate it then rebuild it:

> rm Cargo.* # we remove Cargo files
> gir -m sys -d ../../gir-files/
> cargo build

Should work just fine!

We can cleanup the command line a bit now. You can actually give the work mode (“-m” option) and the gir files repository through the Gir.toml file using “work_mode” and “girs_dir” options:

library = "GtkSource"
version = "3.0"
target_path = "."
min_cfg_version = "3.0"
work_mode = "sys"
girs_dir = "../../gir-files/"

external_libraries = [

Now, if you want to regenerate, just run:

> gir

Now we have a working sys containing all functions and objects definition. Just to be sure everything was correctly generated, we can run some tests (graciously generated by gir as well):

> cargo test

Normally, all tests passed. If you get an error when running those tests, it’s very likely that the sys generation is invalid and/or incomplete.

Time to generate the high-level Rust API!

Generating the high-level Rust API

Time to go back to the “global” sourceview folder:

> cd ..

As you certainly guessed, we’ll need a new Gir.toml file. Let’s write it:

girs_dir = "../gir-files"
library = "GtkSource"
version = "3.0"
min_cfg_version = "3.0"
target_path = "."
work_mode = "normal"
generate_safety_asserts = true
deprecate_by_min_version = true
single_version_file = true

generate = []

A few new things in here. Let’s take a look at them:

Let’s make a first generation of our high-level Rust API!

> gir

Now if you take a look around, you’ll see a new “auto” folder inside “src”. Doesn’t contain much though. Which makes sense since we’re generating nothing. Time to introduce you to a whole new gir mode: not_bound. Let’s give it a try:

> gir -m not_bound
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.Buffer
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.Language
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.Mark
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.StyleScheme
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.UndoManager
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.SortFlags
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.Completion
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.CompletionProvider
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.CompletionContext
[NOT GENERATED PARENT] GObject.InitiallyUnowned
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.CompletionInfo
[NOT GENERATED PARENT] Atk.ImplementorIface
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.View
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.CompletionActivation
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.CompletionProposal
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.CompletionError
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.CompletionItem
[NOT GENERATED PARENT] GtkSource.CompletionProposal
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.CompletionWords
[NOT GENERATED PARENT] GtkSource.CompletionProvider
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.DrawSpacesFlags (deprecated in 3.24)
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.Encoding
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.File
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.MountOperationFactory
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.FileLoader
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.FileLoaderError
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.FileSaver
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.FileSaverFlags
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.FileSaverError
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.Gutter
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.GutterRenderer
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.GutterRendererState
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.GutterRendererAlignmentMode
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.GutterRendererPixbuf
[NOT GENERATED PARENT] GtkSource.GutterRenderer
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.GutterRendererText
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.LanguageManager
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.MarkAttributes
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.PrintCompositor
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.Region
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.RegionIter
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.SearchContext
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.SearchSettings
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.Style
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.SpaceDrawer
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.SpaceTypeFlags
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.SpaceLocationFlags
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.StyleSchemeChooser
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.StyleSchemeChooserButton
[NOT GENERATED PARENT] GtkSource.StyleSchemeChooser
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.StyleSchemeChooserInterface
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.StyleSchemeChooserWidget
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.StyleSchemeManager
[NOT GENERATED] GtkSource.ViewGutterPosition

We now have the list of all the non-yet generated items. Quite convenient! You can also see that we have two kinds of not generated items:

[NOT GENERATED PARENT] means that this object lives in a dependency of the current library. We’ll come back on how to add them a bit later.

Let’s start by generating one type. Let’s update the “generate” array as follows:

generate = [

Another gir run:

> gir

(Again, if you do it on another library and it fails and you can’t figure out why, don’t hesitate to reach us!)

We now have a src/auto/ file. We need to include all auto files in our library. To do so, let’s update the src/ file as follows:

pub use auto::*;

mod auto;

Let’s compile:

> cargo build

It completely failed with a lot of errors. Yeay!

You guessed it, we need to add a few dependencies to make it work. A lot of those errors were about the fact that the Language type didn’t exist. Which is weird since we generated it, right? Well, if you take a look at the src/auto/ file, you’ll see this at the top:

glib_wrapper! {
    pub struct Language(Object<gtk_source_sys::GtkSourceLanguage, gtk_source_sys::GtkSourceLanguageClass, LanguageClass>);

    match fn {
        get_type => || gtk_source_sys::gtk_source_language_get_type(),

This macro comes from the glib crate. We didn’t import it, therefore the Rust compiler can’t find it. We’ll also need its sys part (the case of glib is a bit special).

Another issue that will arise is that we didn’t import the sourceview-sys crate either. Alongside those two (three if we count glib-sys!), we’ll need both libc and bitflags. Let’s fix all of those issues at once! For that, we need to update the Cargo.toml:

name = "sourceview"
version = "0.1.0"
authors = ["Guillaume Gomez <>"]

libc = "0.2"
bitflags = "1.0"

path = "./sourceview-sys"

git = ""

git = "" # all gtk-rs sys crates are in the sys repository

And to import those crates into src/

extern crate glib;
extern crate glib_sys;
extern crate gtk_source_sys;

extern crate libc;
extern crate bitflags;

pub use auto::*;

mod auto;

Let’s try to rebuild:

> cargo build

It worked! We have generated the Language item! I’ll let you take a look at the src/auto/ file, then we can continue.

Again, if you encounter any issue at this stage (if the generated code is invalid for example), don’t hesitate to reach us so we can give you a hand!

We’ll now generate the GtkSource.Region type. Why this one? Well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise so just wait for a bit!

First, we need to add it into the types to generate into our Gir.toml file:

generate = [

We regenerate:

> gir

We rebuild:

> cargo build

Everything works, yeay! Now if we take a look at our newly generated src/auto/, we’ll see code like this:

//#[cfg(any(feature = "v3_22", feature = "dox"))]
//fn add_subregion(&self, _start: /*Ignored*/&gtk::TextIter, _end: /*Ignored*/&gtk::TextIter);

//#[cfg(any(feature = "v3_22", feature = "dox"))]
//fn get_buffer(&self) -> /*Ignored*/Option<gtk::TextBuffer>;

Some functions are commented. Why so? The reason is simple: we need to tell to gir that those types have been generated and that it can generate code using them. We can do it by adding the type into the “manual” list. To put it simply, when gir sees an item into this “manual” list, it means to it “this type has been generated somewhere else, you can use it just like the others”.

Let’s update our Gir.toml file once again:

generate = [

manual = [

We’ll also need to import the gtk crate. Let’s add it into our Cargo.toml file:

git = ""

And import it into our src/

extern crate gtk;

We regenerate and rebuild:

> gir
> cargo build

Everything is working, yeay! If you take another look at src/auto/, you’ll see a lot less commented functions. Amongst the remaining ones, you’ll see this one:

//#[cfg(any(feature = "v3_22", feature = "dox"))]
//fn get_start_region_iter(&self, iter: /*Ignored*/RegionIter);

If a type name isn’t prepend by [crate_name]::, then it means it comes from the current crate. To add it, just put it into the “generate” list of Gir.toml.

At this point, you should have almost everything you need. There is just one last case we need to talk about.

Generation errors

There are a few kinds of errors (not much luckily) which can happen with gir generation. Let’s take a look at them.

Missing memory management functions

If gir generation fails (for whatever reason), it means you’ll have to implement the type yourself. Just like types from other gtk-rs crates, you’ll need to put it into the “manual” list. Then you need to put the type into the src folder (or inside a subfolder, you know how Rust works).

/!\ Don’t forget to reexport the type inside your src/ file! For example, let’s take a look at the file from the gtk crate.

Since it’s a “simple” type (no pointer, therefore no memory management to do), gir doesn’t know how to generate it. You’ll need to implement some traits by hand like ToGlibPtr or ToGlibPtrMut (depending on your needs).

Bad function generation

In some cases, the generated code isn’t correct (array parameters are often an issue). In such cases, it’s better to just make the implementation yourself. As an example, let’s say you want to implement Region::is_empty yourself. A few changes have to be made. Let’s start with Gir.toml:

generate = [

name = "GtkSource.Region"
status = "generate"
    name = "is_empty"
    ignore = true

So to sum up what I wrote above: we removed “GtkSource.Region” from the “generate” list and we created a new entry for it. Then we say to gir that it should generate (through status = "generate"). However, we also tell it that we don’t want the “is_empty” to be generated.

Now that we’ve done that, we need to reimplement it. Let’s create a src/ file:

use glib::object::IsA;
use glib::translate::*;
use Region;

pub trait RegionExtManual: 'static {
    pub fn is_empty(&self) -> bool;

impl<O: IsA<Region>> RegionExtManual for O {
    pub fn is_empty(&self) -> bool {
        // blablabla

You might wonder: “why not just implementing it on the Region type directly?”. Because like this, a subclass will also be able to use this trait easily as long as it implements IsA<Region>. For instance, in gtk, everything that implements IsA<Widget> (so almost every GTK types) can use those methods.

As usual, don’t forget to reexport the trait. A little tip about reexporting manual traits: in gtk-rs, we create a src/ file which reexports all traits (both manual and generated ones), making it simpler for users to use them through use [DEPENDENCY]::prelude::*. It looks like this:

pub use auto::traits::*;

pub use region::RegionExtManual;

Then it’s reexported as follows from the src/ file:

pub mod prelude;

pub use prelude::*;

Other gir options

In case a function is badly generated, you don’t always need to reimplement it. Sometimes, it’s just an error in the gir files that you can override in your Gir.toml file. I recommend you to take a look at the gir README file to see all available options.

Words of the end

That’s it, with this we should be able to generate any GNOME crate you want. Happy coding!