Porting python-dbus to Python 3

This is an experimental port to Python 3.x where x >= 2. There are lots of great sources for porting C extensions to Python 3, including:

I also consulted an early take on this port by John Palmieri and David Malcolm in the context of Fedora:

although I have made some different choices. The patches in that tracker issue also don't cover porting the Python bits (e.g. the test suite), nor the pygtk -> pygi porting, both which I've also attempted to do in this branch.

This document outlines my notes and strategies for doing this port. Please feel free to contact me with any bugs, issues, disagreements, suggestions, kudos, and curses.

Barry Warsaw barry@python.org 2011-11-11

User visible changes

You've got some dbus-python code that works great in Python 2. This branch should generally allow your existing Python 2 code to continue to work unchanged. There are a few changes you'll notice in Python 2 though:

  • The minimum supported Python 2 version is 2.6.
  • All object reprs are unicodes. This change was made because it greatly simplifies the implementation and cross-compatibility with Python 3.
  • Some exception strings have changed.
  • MethodCallMessage and SignalMessage objects have better reprs now.

What do you need to do to port that to Python 3? Here are the user visible changes you should be aware of, relative to Python 2. Python 3.2 is the minimal required version:

  • ByteArray objects must be initialized with bytes objects, not unicodes. Use b'' literals in the constructor. This also works in Python 2, where bytes objects are aliases for 8-bit strings.
  • Byte objects must be initialized with either a length-1 bytes object (again, use b'' literals to be compatible with either Python 2 or 3) or an integer.
  • byte signatures (i.e. y type codes) must be passed either a length-1 bytes object or an integer. unicodes (str in Python 3) are not allowed.
  • ByteArray is now a subclass of bytes, where in Python 2 it is a subclass of str.
  • dbus.UTF8String is gone, use dbus.String. Also utf8_string arguments are no longer allowed.
  • All longs are now ints, since Python 3 has only a single int type. This also means that the class hierarchy for the dbus numeric types has changed (all derive from int in Python 3).

Bytes vs. Strings

All strings in dbus are defined as UTF-8:


However, the dbus C API accepts char* which must be UTF-8 strings NUL terminated and no other NUL bytes.

This page describes the mapping between Python types and dbus types:


Notice that it maps dbus string ('s') to dbus.String (unicode) or dbus.UTF8String (str). Also notice that there is no direct dbus equivalent of Python's bytes type (although dbus does have byte arrays), so I am mapping dbus strings to unicodes in all cases, and getting rid of dbus.UTF8String in Python 3. I've also added a dbus._BytesBase type which is unused in Python 2, but which forms the base class for dbus.ByteArray in Python 3. This is an implementation detail and not part of the public API.

In Python 3, object paths ('o' or dbus.ObjectPath), signatures ('g' or dbus.Signature), bus names, interfaces, and methods are all strings. A previous aborted effort was made to use bytes for these, which at first blush may makes some sense, but on deeper consideration does not. This approach also tended to impose too many changes on user code, and caused lots of difficult to track down problems.

In Python 3, all such objects are subclasses of str (i.e. unicode).

(As an example, dbus-python's callback dispatching pretty much assumes all these things are strings. When they are bytes, the fact that 'foo' != b'foo' causes dispatch matching to fail in difficult to debug ways. Even bus names are not immune, since they do things like bus_name[:1] == ':' which fails in multiple ways when bus_name is a bytes. For sanity purposes, these are all unicode strings now, and we just eat the complexity at the C level.)

I am using #include <bytesobject.h>, which exposes the PyBytes API to Python 2.6 and 2.7, and I have converted all internal PyString calls to PyBytes calls. Where this is inappropriate, we'll use PyUnicode calls explicitly. E.g. all repr() implementations now return unicodes. Most of these changes shouldn't be noticed, even in existing Python 2 code.

Generally, I've left the descriptions and docstrings saying "str" instead of "unicode" since there's no distinction in Python 3.

APIs which previously returned PyStrings will usually return PyUnicodes, not PyBytes.

Ints vs. Longs

Python 3 only has PyLong types; PyInts are gone. For that reason, I've switched all PyInt calls to use PyLong in both Python 2 and Python 3. Python 3.0 had a nice <intobject.h> header that aliased PyInt to PyLong, but that's gone as of Python 3.1, and the minimal required Python 3 version is 3.2.

In the above page mapping basic types, you'll notice that the Python int type is mapped to 32-bit signed integers ('i') and the Python long type is mapped to 64-bit signed integers ('x'). Python 3 doesn't have this distinction, so ints map to 'i' even though ints can be larger in Python 3. Use the dbus-specific integer types if you must have more exact mappings.

APIs which accepted ints in Python 2 will still do so, but they'll also now accept longs. These APIs obviously only accept longs in Python 3.

Long literals in Python code are an interesting thing to have to port. Don't use them if you want your code to work in both Python versions.

dbus._IntBase is removed in Python 3, you only have dbus._LongBase, which inherits from a Python 3 int (i.e. a PyLong). Again, this is an implementation detail that users should never care about.


In types-internal.h, I define PY3K when PY_MAJOR_VERSION >= 3, so you'll see ifdefs on the former symbol within the C code.

Python 3 really could use a PY_REFCNT() wrapper for ob_refcnt access.

PyCapsule vs. PyCObject

_dbus_bindings._C_API is an attribute exposed to Python in the module. In Python 2, this is a PyCObject, but these do not exist in Python >= 3.2, so it is replaced with a PyCapsules for Python 3. However, since PyCapsules were only introduced in Python 2.7, and I want to support Python 2.6, PyCObjects are still used when this module is compiled for Python 2.

Python level compatibility

from dbus import _is_py3 gives you a flag to check if you must do something different in Python 3. In general I use this flag to support both versions in one set of sources, which seems better than trying to use 2to3. It's not part of the dbus-python public API, so you must not use it in third-party projects.


The PyDoc_STRVAR() documentation is probably out of date. Once the API choices have been green-lighted upstream, I'll make a pass through the code to update them. It might be tricky based on any differences between Python 2 and Python 3.

There were a few places where I noticed what might be considered bugs, unchecked exception conditions, or possible reference count leaks. In these cases, I've just fixed what I can and hopefully haven't made the situation worse.

dbus_py_variant_level_get() did not check possible error conditions, nor did their callers. When dbus_py_variant_level_get() encounters an error, it now returns -1, and callers check this.

As much as possible, I've refrained from general code cleanups (e.g. 80 columns), unless it just bugged me too much or I touched the code for reasons related to the port. I've also tried to stick to existing C code style, e.g. through the use of pervasive Py_CLEAR() calls, comparison against NULL usually with !foo, and such. As Bart Simpson might write on his classroom blackboard:

This is not a rewrite
This is not a rewrite
This is not a rewrite
This is not a rewrite

and so on. Well, mostly ;).

I think I fixed a reference leak in DBusPyServer_set_auth_mechanisms(). PySequence_Fast() returns a new reference, which wasn't getting decref'd in any return path.

  • Instantiation of metaclasses uses different, incompatible syntax in Python 2 and 3. You have to use direct calling of the metaclass to work across versions, i.e. Interface = InterfaceType('Interface', (object,), {})
  • iteritems() and friends are gone. I dropped the "iter" prefixes.
  • xrange() is gone. I changed them to use `range().
  • isSequenceType() is gone in Python 3, so I use a different idiom there.
  • __next__() vs. next()
  • PyUnicode_FromFormat() %V flag is a clever hack!
  • sys.version_info is a tuple in Python 2.6, not a namedtuple. i.e. there is no sys.version_info.major
  • PyArg_Parse(): No 'y' code in Python 2; in Python 3, no equivalent of 'z' for bytes objects.

Open issues

Here are a few things that still need to be done, or for which there may be open questions:

- Update all C extension docstrings for accuracy.