Python stable ABI

Relationship between the C API and the ABI

Here is a short explanation. For a longer explanation, read A New C API for CPython (September 2017) by Victor Stinner.

Given the following code:

typedef struct {
    PyVarObject ob_base;
    PyObject **ob_item;   // <-- pointer to the array of list items
    Py_ssize_t allocated;
} PyListObject;

#define PyList_GET_ITEM(op, i) ((PyListObject *)op)->ob_item[i]

And the following C code:

PyObject *item = PyList_GET_ITEM(list, 0);

On a 64-bit machine, the machine code of a release build becomes something like:

PyObject **items = (PyObject **)(((char*)op) + 24);
PyObject *item = items[0];

whereas a debug build uses an offset of 40 instead of 24, because PyVarObject contains additional fields for debugging purpose:

PyObject **items = (PyObject **)(((char*)op) + 40);
PyObject *item = items[0];

As a consequence, the compiled C extension is incompatible at the ABI level: a C extension has to be build twice, once in release mode and once in debug mode.

To reduce the maintenance burden, Linux vendors only provide C extensions compiled in release mode, making the debug mode mostly unusable on Linux in practice.


Check for ABI changes