Tutorial :Variant datatype library for C


Is there a decent open-source C library for storing and manipulating
dynamically-typed variables (a.k.a. variants)? I'm primarily interested in atomic values (int8, int16, int32, uint, strings, blobs, etc.), while JSON-style arrays and objects as well as custom objects would also be nice. A major case where such a library would be useful is in working with SQL databases.

The most obvious feature of such a library would be a single type for all supported values, e.g.:

struct Variant {      enum Type type;      union {          int8_t int8_;          int16_t int16_;          // ...      };  };  

Other features might include converting Variant objects to/from C structures (using a binding table), converting values to/from strings, and integration with an existing database library such as SQLite.

Note: I do not believe this is question is a duplicate of Any library for generic datatypes in C? , which refers to "queues, trees, maps, lists". What I'm talking about focuses more on making working with SQL databases roughly as smooth as working with them in interpreted languages.


GLib has implementation of generic value types in form of GValue: http://library.gnome.org/devel/gobject/unstable/gobject-Generic-values.html


Although I doubt that the original author still needs an answer (hopefully at least after 4 years), I wanted to add my 2ct.

First, let me state that the thing you ask for is called a sum-type and usually supported in functional languages (that is, it is rather a language design feature and not a library issue).

Second, it is highly doubtful that you will find a C-library for that case for the simple reason that any such library would support a fixed set of variants that probably does not fit your needs.

Howerver, for the sake of completeness, you might want to give msgpack a try.


I suggest reading the manual on the SQL database connector. The MySQL connector provides an API for obtaining the field types in the result.

You could create a Factory function that fills a structure based on the field type. Ironically, since C doesn't have Base types, you'll have to use a void * pointer and recast to the known structure type. (Even though void * is the type you are trying to get rid of.)


C is a very strong typed language, variants are not part of its philosophy. An union can't be a solution because you still have to choose the data type you want to use, it's typically used to store color codes on int and char[4].

If you look at the C-SQLite interface, this function is provided :

int sqlite_step(    sqlite_vm *pVm,          /* The virtual machine to execute */    int *pN,                 /* OUT: Number of columns in result */    const char ***pazValue,  /* OUT: Column data */    const char ***pazColName /* OUT: Column names and datatypes */  );  

Data types are represented by char* and it's the developer's task to figure how to get types from these. I think any kind of variant type would have been better but it's just not C. C does not implement variants and is not meant to.

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