Tech Note 05e: Tutorial: Creating a Shared Library

October 10, 2003

© 2022 NSB Corporation. All rights reserved.

This tutorial describes adding Palm OS shared libraries written in C to an NSBasic program. It assumes NSBasic 3.2.0 or better and CodeWarrior for Palm OS version 9.


Shared libraries provide a way to extend the functionality of NSBasic programs. They are small pieces of executable code that can either be embedded into an NSBasic program or distributed separately as .prc files for the Palm. Each shared library contains a series of uniquely named procedures and functions. A shared library procedure can be called much like an NSBasic subroutine, and a shared library function can be evaluated much like an NSBasic function. Because shared libraries are written in C and then compiled directly to native machine code, they are fast and have access to all the features of the Palm OS.

Step 1: Design

The first step is to design the shared library. While this is recommended as the first step in any software project, it is especially important when designing shared libraries, as changing the number of functions and procedures after creating the first project is awkward.

Our first shared library will be a simple base conversion package called Cnv. It will contain two functions to convert positive to different bases, such as binary and hexadecimal, and vice-versa. We will start the design by imagining how we want to use the library in NSBasic:

Dim s As String
Dim n As Integer
s = Cnv.DecToBase(37, 16)     's will be 37 in base 16
n = Cnv.BaseToDec("177", 8)   'n will be the value of 177 in octal
s = Cnv.DecToBase(42, 10)     'Works like Str for positive integers
When the input is out of range, DecToBase will return a blank string, and BaseToDec will return -1.

There is one more design decision that, strictly speaking, does not need to be made now, but we need to be aware of it. A shared library can either be distributed as a separate .prc file for the user to download to the Palm or embedded within the .prc file that NSBasic creates. We will refer to these kinds of shared libraries as "separate" and "embedded."

Step 2: Create the .inf file

NSBasic needs a file with an extension of .inf at compile time to determine how to use the library. Create a file in C:\nsbasic\lib called Cnv.inf and enter these lines:
Version=1.0 Alpha

DecToBase = 1, func, 2, "convertedValue = DecToBase(in n as integer, in base as Integer) as String"
BaseToDec = 2, func, 2, "decValue = BaseToDec(in s as String, in base as Integer) as integer"
Each line in the GlobalMechods section of the .inf file specifies a single function or procedure. (Even if this line wraps around when you view it, it must be entered as a single line.) Reading from left to right, each procedure or function has a name, an index, a type, a number of arguments, and a descriptor.

The name of each must be unique. The index should start at 1 for the first function or procedure and increase for subsequent ones with no gaps. The type is either func for a function or proc for a procedure. Both in our example are functions, but we will see how to use procedures later. The next number is the number of arguments that are passed from NSBasic; in both cases the number is 2.

The descriptor is new to this version of NSBasic. Old versions permitted anything in the descripor. The new version used this descriptor for type information. Take care when writing the descriptor; if there is an error, NSBasic will assume that this is an old-style library. For new development, always use the new style.

Let's look at the descriptor for the DecToBase function:

convertedValue = DecToBase(in n as integer, in base as Integer) as String
The "convertedValue = " is for documentation purposes only and can be omitted. Next comes the name of the function, Dec2Base, and an opening parenthesis. (The function name must be exactly the same as the name at the beginning of the line, and the parentheses must be present even if the function takes no arguments.) Next are the arguments, separated by commas. Take the first argument:
in n as integer
This specifies three pieces of information: that the argument is an "in" argument, it is named "n," and it is an integer.

In arguments are used when the argument only goes into the function and is passed to the shared library by value. Out and inout arguments are used when the argument is expected to come out of or both go into and come out of the function and is passed by pointer reference. There is currently no difference between out and inout. Strings and variants are exceptions to this rule, as they are always passed as pointer references and work like inout arguments.

Now look at the second argument:

in base as Integer
It's quite similar, but in this case Integer is capitalized. This is to show that capitalization does not matter.

After the closing parenthesis, there is an as clause giving the type of the return value. In this case, it is returned as a String.

Now look at the second function:

decValue = BaseToDec(in s as String, in base as Integer) as integer
Note that the first argument is declared as an in argument with a type of String. Strings are always treated as inout arguments, but they should still be declared as in variables.

Shared libraries support most NSBasic types. When writing the code of the shared library, you will need to know which NSBasic type corresponds to which C type. Out and inout arguments are referred to in C as pointers to the appropriate type (except for String and Variants, which are pointers already):

NSBasic type         .inf type                             C type
Integer		     Int32, Int4, long, UInt32, UInt4      long
Short                Int16, Int2, int, UInt16, UInt2       short
Float, Date, Time    double, date, time, Flt4, Flt32       double
Single               float, flt2, flt16                    float
Variant              Variant                               double *
String               String                                char *
There are a few things to notice about this table. First, the NSBasic type Float is represented in a .inf file and in the C code as double, and the NSBasic type double is represented as float. Second, the variant record for historical reasons is a pointer to a double. The only recommended use for variant records is to keep pointers between function calls. Dates and times are also represented as doubles.

Currently, entire arrays cannot be passed to shared libraries. This capability would require major changes to the way NSBasic works.

Step 3: Create the shared library

CodeWarrior 9 provides a wizard for creating shared libraries.

Start up CodeWarrior and close any files it may remember from the previous session. Pull down New... from the File menu. Make sure the Project tab is chosen. Select Palm OS Shared Library Wizard, enter Cnv in the Project name field, choose an appropriate destination, and press OK.

You will then see a window with four fields. The default values for all four fields will work. For production work, it is srtongly recommended that you get a unique creator ID from Palm at this point. The process is free and painless; just press the Visit Creator ID Website and follow the directions. However, as this is to be used for testing purposes only, we can leave the creator ID as STRT. Press the Next > button and dismiss the warning dialog window that comes up.

Now you will see a window for adding function names. Enter all the functions and procedures in your .inf file in order. Press Add and type DecToBase. Press Add again and type BaseToDec. Press Next >.

You will see a window with a list of libraries to add to your project. Most shared libraries do not need to call other libraries. Many of these libraries will not even work within shared libraries. Simply press the Finish button. A new project will appear.

Step 4: Write the shared library

Go into the Source folder. There should be a file called CnvImpl.c. Open this file. CodeWarrior has already produced a lot of useful code for you, including code to handle "global" variables you can use between function calls. It has implemented the CnvOpen, CnvClose, CnvSleep, and CnvWake functions.

It has also provided stubs for your the two functions to implement, CnvDecToBase and CnvBaseToDec. (Even though you may have functions and procedures for NSBasic, C uses the word "function" to describe both, and they are implemented the same way.

Take a look at CnvDecToBase. It is declared like this:

Err CnvDecToBase(UInt16 refNum)
The "Err" indicates that this function returns an error value. This is not the value returned to NSBasic. All shared library functions for NSBasic should return errNone, indicating no error. The function contains one argument, a refNum. This is always the same. It is the reference number of one particular instance of a shared library. (They are shared, so several applications can use them. Each has a unique reference number.) You will not need to use this unless you want to keep values between function calls, in which case, study the other code that CodeWarrior has provided.

To start implementing this function, we look back at the line in the .inf file:

convertedValue = DecToBase(in n as integer, in base as Integer) as String
Using the table of type conversions, we can derive the additional arguments:
Argument 1: An Int32
Argument 2: An Int32
Return value: A char *
The return value is always last in the declaration. Using this information, we change the C declaration to the following:
Err CnvDecToBase(UInt16 refNum, Int32 n, Int32 base, char *retVal)
We also have to go into Cnv.h, within the Headers directory, and change the declaration to the following:
extern Err CnvDecToBase(UInt16 refNum, Int32 n, Int32 base, char *retVal)
	CNV_LIB_TRAP(sysLibTrapBase + 5);
Similarly, we can use the .inf line for the CnvBaseToDec to change the declarations as follows:
decValue = BaseToDec(in s as String, in base as Integer) as integer

Err CnvBaseToDec(UInt16 refNum, char *s, Int32 base, Int32 *retVal)

extern Err CnvBaseToDec(UInt16 refNum, char *s, Int32 base, Int32 *retVal)
	CNV_LIB_TRAP(sysLibTrapBase + 6);
Note that the return value is declared as a pointer.

Now the only thing left to do is implement the actual functions. Here is one possible implementation, which can be typed or pasted into CodeWarrior, replacing the stubs provided by the wizard:

Err CnvDecToBase(UInt16 refNum, Int32 n, Int32 base, char *retVal)
	#pragma unused(refNum)
	if (n < 0 || refNum < 2 || refNum > 32)
	    /* Bad parameters */
	    StrCopy(retVal, "");
	    return errNone;
	*retVal = '\0';
	    char *s;
	    char remainder;
	    /* Open up a space for the next digit */
	    for (s = retVal; *s; ++s){}
	    for (++s; s > retVal; --s)
	        *s = *(s - 1);
	    remainder = n % base;
	    if (remainder < 10)
	        *retVal = '0' + remainder;
	        *retVal = 'A' + (remainder - 10);
	    n /= base;
	} while (n > 0);
    return errNone;

Err CnvBaseToDec(UInt16 refNum, char *s, Int32 base, Int32 *retVal)
	#pragma unused(refNum)
	char *runner;
	*retVal = 0;
	if (base < 2 || base > 36)
	    /* Bad parameters */
	    *retVal = -1;
	    return errNone;
	for (runner = s; *runner; ++runner)
	    UInt16 digit;
	    if (*runner >= '0' && *runner <= '9')
	        digit = *runner - '0';
	    else if (*runner >= 'A' && *runner <= 'Z')
	        digit = *runner - 'A' + 10;
	    else if (*runner >= 'a' && *runner <= 'z')
	        digit = *runner - 'a' + 10;
	        *retVal = -1;
	        return errNone;
	    if (digit >= base)
	        *retVal = -1;
	        return errNone;
	    *retVal = *retVal * 10 + digit;
    return errNone;
Compile the shared library by choosing Make from the Project menu. If you did not make any errors in typing, it should compile and produce a file called Cnv.prc.

It is considered good practice in NSBasic shared libraries to include a 'tver' resource with ID 0 consisting of a string with the version number (in this case, "1.0 Devel"). However, CodeWarrior tries to prevent additional resources from being added to shared libraries. Use one of the free, downloadable editors available on the Palm developer web site to add this resource after the file has been created.

Step 5: Using the shared library in an NSBasic program

Now we need to use and test the new shared library in an NSBasic program.

First create a new project to test it. In the Startup Code, insert this line:

   LoadLibrary Cnv
We're going to make a simple decimal to hexidecimal converter. Create two text fields, one called Dec and the other called Hex. Then create a button. Within the subroutine of the button, insert these lines:
Dim ins as String
Dim in as Integer
Dim outs as String

    ins = Dec.text
    in = Cnv.BaseToDec(ins, 10)
    outs = Cnv.DecToBase(in, 16)
    Hex.text = outs
Test the new project by running it. If you successfully installed the .inf file, it should compile. However, when it runs, it should produce an error message because the library has been loaded.

As mentioned before, libraries can be embedded or separate. To get Cnv to work as a separate library, use the Install Application Database menu item from within the Palm OS Emulator to install Cnv.prc.

Now it should work. Enter a decimal number into the Dec field and press the button. Its hexadecimal equivalent should appear in the Hex field.

A new feature allows any number of shared libraries to be embedded in the application. To try this, first delete the Cnv shared library from the Palm OS Emulator. Go back to your NSBasic project. In the Project Explorer, there should be a folder called Resources. There should be no resources yet.

Right-click on the Resources folder and choose Add Resource. Navigate to Cnv.prc, select it, and press Open. A new resource will be added. Change the Resource Type to libr and the name to Cnv and recompile. You may note that the size of the project is a little bigger. This is because the shared library is now present in the project. It should run fine without having to install the shared library separately.