C++ language FIDL tutorial

About this tutorial

This tutorial describes how to make client calls and write servers in C++ using the FIDL InterProcess Communication (IPC) system in Fuchsia.

Refer to the main FIDL page for details on the design and implementation of FIDL, as well as the instructions for getting and building Fuchsia.

The reference section documents the high-level C++ interface bindings.

Getting started

We'll use the echo.test.fidl sample that we discussed in the FIDL concepts doc, by opening //garnet/examples/fidl/services/echo.test.fidl.

library fidl.examples.echo;

protocol Echo {
    EchoString(string? value) -> (string? response);


You can build the code via the following:

fx set core.x64 --with //garnet/packages/examples:fidl
fx build

Generated files

Building runs the FIDL compiler automatically. It writes the glue code that allows the protocols to be used from different languages. Below are the implementation files created for C++.


Echo server

The echo server implementation can be found at: //garnet/examples/fidl/echo_server_cpp/.

Find the implementation of the main function, and that of the Echo protocol.

To understand how the code works, here's a summary of what happens in the server to execute an IPC call.

  1. Fuchsia loads the server executable, and your main() function starts.
  2. main creates an EchoServerApp object which will bind to the service protocol when it is constructed.
  3. EchoServerApp() registers itself with the StartupContext by calling context->outgoing().AddPublicService<Echo>(). It passes a lambda function that is called when a connection request arrives.
  4. Now main starts the run loop, expressed as an async::Loop.
  5. The run loop receives a request to connect from another component, so calls the lambda created in EchoServerApp().
  6. That lambda binds the EchoServerApp instance to the request channel.
  7. The run loop receives a call to EchoString() from the channel and dispatches it to the object bound in the last step.
  8. EchoString() issues an async call back to the client using callback(value), then returns to the run loop.

Let's go through the details of how this works.

File headers

First the namespace definition. This matches the namespace defined in the FIDL file in its "library" declaration, but that's incidental:

namespace echo {

Here are the #include files used in the server implementation:

#include <fidl/examples/echo/cpp/fidl.h>
#include <lib/async-loop/cpp/loop.h>
#include <lib/async-loop/default.h>
#include <lib/zx/channel.h>

#include "src/lib/component/cpp/startup_context.h"
  • fidl.h contains the generated C++ definition of our Echo FIDL protocol.
  • startup_context.h is used by EchoServerApp to expose service implementations.


Most main() functions for FIDL components look very similar. They create a run loop using async::Loop or some other construct, and bind service implementations. The Loop.Run() function enters the message loop to process requests that arrive over channels.

Eventually, another FIDL component will attempt to connect to our component.

The EchoServerApp() constructor

Note that a connection is defined as the first channel with another component. Any additional channels are not "connections". Therefore, service registration is performed before the run loop begins and before the first connection is made.

Here's what the EchoServerApp constructor looks like:

    : context_(fuchsia::sys::ComponentContext::CreateFromStartupInfo()) {
      [this](fidl::InterfaceRequest<Echo> request) {
        bindings_.AddBinding(this, std::move(request));

The function calls AddPublicService once for each service it makes available to the other component (remember that each service exposes a single protocol). The information is cached by StartupContext and used to decide which Interface factory to use for additional incoming channels. A new channel is created every time someone calls ConnectToService() on the other end.

If you read the code carefully, you'll see that the parameter to AddPublicService is actually a lambda function that captures this. This means that the lambda function won't be executed until a channel tries to bind to the protocol, at which point the object is bound to the channel and will receive calls from other components. Note that these calls have thread-affinity, so calls will only be made from the same thread.

The function passed to AddPublicService can be implemented in different ways. The one in EchoServerApp uses the same object for all channels. That's a good choice for this case because the implementation is stateless. Other, more complex implementations could create a different object for each channel or perhaps re-use the objects in some sort of caching scheme.

Connections are always point to point. There are no multicast connections.

The EchoString() function

Finally we reach the end of our server discussion. When the message loop receives a message in the channel to call the EchoString() function in the Echo protocol, it will be directed to the implementation below:

void EchoString(fidl::StringPtr value, EchoStringCallback callback) override {
  printf("EchoString: %s\n", value->data());

Here's what's interesting about this code:

  • The first parameter to EchoString() is a fidl::StringPtr. As the name suggests, a fidl::StringPtr can be null. Strings in FIDL are UTF-8.
  • The EchoString() function returns void because FIDL calls are asynchronous. Any value we might otherwise return wouldn't have anywhere to go.
  • The last parameter to EchoString() is the client's callback function. In this case, the callback takes a fidl::StringPtr.
  • EchoServerApp::EchoString() returns its response to the client by calling the callback. The callback invocation is also asynchronous, so the call often returns before the callback is run in the client.
  • Because the callback is async, the callback also returns void.

Any call to a protocol in FIDL is asynchronous. This is a big shift if you are used to a procedural world where function calls return after the work is complete. Because it's async, there's no guarantee that the call will ever actually happen, so your callback may never be called. The remote FIDL component might close, crash, be busy, etc.

Echo client

Let's take a look at the client implementation:


The structure of the client is similar to that of the server, with a main function and an async::Loop. The difference is that the client immediately kicks off work once everything is initialized. In contrast, the server does no work until a connection is accepted.

Here is the summary of how the client makes a connection to the echo service.

  1. The shell loads the client executable and calls main.
  2. main() creates an EchoClientApp object to handle connecting to the server, calls Start() to initiate the connection, and then starts the message loop.
  3. In Start(), the client calls context_->launcher()->CreateComponent with the url to the server component. If the server component is not already running, it will be created at this point.
  4. Next, the client calls ConnectToService() to open a channel to the server component.
  5. main calls into echo_->EchoString(...) and passes the callback. Because FIDL IPC calls are async, EchoString() will probably return before the server processes the call.
  6. main then blocks on a response on the protocol.
  7. Eventually, the response arrives, and the callback is called with the result.


main() in the client is very different from the server, as it's synchronous on the server response.

int main(int argc, const char** argv) {
  std::string server_url = "fuchsia-pkg://fuchsia.com/echo_server_cpp#meta/echo_server_cpp.cmx";
  std::string msg = "hello world";
  for (int i = 1; i < argc - 1; ++i) {
    if (!strcmp("--server", argv[i])) {
      server_url = argv[++i];
    } else if (!strcmp("-m", argv[i])) {
      msg = argv[++i];
  async::Loop loop(&kAsyncLoopConfigAttachToCurrentThread);
  echo::EchoClientApp app;
  app.echo()->EchoString(msg, [&loop](fidl::StringPtr value) {
    printf("***** Response: %s\n", value->data());
  return loop.Run();


Start() is responsible for connecting to the remote Echo service.

void Start(std::string server_url) {
  fuchsia::sys::LaunchInfo launch_info;
  launch_info.url = server_url;
  launch_info.directory_request = echo_provider_.NewRequest();

First, Start() calls CreateComponent() to launch echo_server. Then, it calls ConnectToService() to bind to the server's Echo protocol. The exact mechanism is somewhat hidden, but the particular protocol is automatically inferred from the type of EchoPtr, which is a typedef for fidl::InterfacePtr<Echo>.

The second parameter to ConnectToService() is the service name.

Next the client calls EchoString() in the returned protocol. FIDL protocols are asynchronous, so the call itself does not wait for EchoString() to complete remotely before returning. EchoString() returns void because of the async behavior.

Since the client has nothing to do until the server response arrives, and is done working immediately after, main() then blocks using loop.Run(), then exits. When the response will arrive, then the callback given to EchoString(), will execute first, then Run() will return, allowing main() to return and the program to terminate.

Run the sample

You can run the Hello World example like this:

$ run fuchsia-pkg://fuchsia.com/echo_client_cpp#meta/echo_client_cpp.cmx

You do not need to specifically run the server because the call to CreateComponent() in the client will automatically launch the server.


This section builds on the C Language Bindings and reuses many of its elements where appropriate.

See Comparing C, Low-Level C++, and High-Level C++ Language Bindings for a comparative analysis of the goals and use cases for all the C-family language bindings.



  • Support encoding and decoding FIDL messages with C++14.
  • Small, fast, efficient.
  • Depend only on a small subset of the standard library.
  • Minimize code expansion through table-driven encoding and decoding.
  • All code produced can be stripped out if unused.
  • Reuse encoders, decoders, and coding tables generated for C language bindings.

Code Generator

Mapping Declarations

Mapping FIDL Types to C++ Types

This is the mapping from FIDL types to C types which the code generator produces.

FIDL High-Level C++
bool bool
int8 int8_t
uint8 uint8_t
int16 int16_t
uint16 uint16_t
int32 int32_t
uint32 uint32_t
int64 int64_t
uint64 uint64_t
float32 float
float64 double
handle, handle? zx::handle
handle<T>,handle<T>? zx::T (subclass of zx::object)
string std::string
string? fidl::StringPtr
vector<T> std::vector<T>
vector<T>? fidl::VectorPtr<T>
array<T>:N std::array<T, N>
protocol, protocol? Protocol class ProtocolPtr
request<Protocol>, request<Protocol>? fidl::InterfaceRequest<Protocol>
struct Struct class Struct
struct? Struct std::unique_ptr<Struct>
table Table class Table
union Union class Union
union? Union std::unique_ptr<Union>
enum Foo enum class Foo : data type

Mapping FIDL Identifiers to C++ Identifiers

TODO: discuss reserved words, name mangling

Mapping FIDL Type Declarations to C++ Types

TODO: discuss generated namespaces, constants, enums, typedefs, encoding tables

Bindings Library


Depends only on Zircon system headers, libzx, and a portion of the C and C++ standard libraries.

Does not depend on libftl or libmtl.

Code Style

To be discussed.

The bindings library could use Google C++ style to match FIDL v1.0 but though this may ultimately be more confusing, especially given style choices in Zircon so we may prefer to follow the C++ standard library style here as well.

High-Level Types

TODO: adopt main ideas from FIDL 1.0

InterfacePtr / interface_ptr?

InterfaceRequest / interface_req?

async waiter


Suggested API Improvements over FIDL v1

The FIDL v1 API for calling and implementing FIDL protocols has generally been fairly effective so we would like to retain most of its structure in the idiomatic FIDL v2 bindings. However, there are a few areas that could be improved.

TODO: actually specify the intended API

Handling Connection Errors

Handling connection errors systematically has been a cause of concern for clients of FIDL v1 because method result callbacks and connection error callbacks are implemented by different parts of the client program.

It would be desirable to consider an API which allows for localized handling of connection errors at the point of method calls (in addition to protocol level connection error handling as before).

See https://fuchsia-review.googlesource.com/#/c/23457/ for one example of how a client would otherwise work around the API deficiency.

One approach towards a better API may be constructed by taking advantage of the fact that std::function<> based callbacks are always destroyed even if they are not invoked (such as when a connection error occurs). It is possible to implement a callback wrapper which distinguishes these cases and allows clients to handle them more systematically. Unfortunately such an approach may not be able to readily distinguish between a connection error vs. proxy destruction.

Alternately we could wire in support for multiple forms of callbacks or for multiple callbacks.

Or we could change the API entirely in favor of a more explicit Promise-style mechanism.

There are lots of options here...

TBD (please feel free to amend / expand on this)