Mixing Rcpp modules and Rcpp attributes

Bob Jansen — written Jun 8, 2020 — source


With Rcpp attributes Rcpp modules (described in the Rcpp vignettes) it is easy to expose C++ classes and functions to R. This note describes how to use classes exported by modules in conjunction with functions exported using Rcpp attributes through the use of RCPP_EXPOSED* macros.

In the following snippets, a simple example is given of a simple class and a function that takes that class as an argument. The C++ function is exported using Rcpp attributes as follows:

#include <Rcpp.h>

// [[Rcpp::export]]
void shout(std::string message) {
    Rcpp::Rcout << message << "!" << std::endl;

Now, calling this function from R is as easy as one can hope:

shout("Hello World")
Hello World!

C++ classes can be exported using Rcpp modules. The simple class Echo below has a get() method which returns the original constructor parameter.

#include <Rcpp.h>
#include <string>

using namespace Rcpp;

class Echo {
      std::string message;
      Echo(std::string message) : message(message) {}

      std::string get() {
        return message;

This class can now be exposed to R by specifing the constructors and the methods that should be callable from R with

RCPP_MODULE(echo_module) {
      .method("get", &Echo::get)

Unfortunately, combining these two snippets as above creates a problem. The Rcpp attributes machinery that exports shout() will not be automagically aware of the Echo class. This will cause an error when the package is loaded by R as the required functionality that transforms the class between a SEXP and a regular C++ object can’t be loaded. The solution is simple: instruct the compiler to do so explicitly using the RCPP_EXPOSED* family of macros. In the current case it suffices to add


Now, constructing and using the class from R is again straightforward

echo <- new(Echo, "Hello World")
[1] "Hello World"
Hello World!

The RCPP_EXPOSED* macros

Rcpp defines a number RCPP_EXPOSED* macros in inst/include/Rcpp/macros/module.h, the most important ones are

  • RCPP_EXPOSED_AS which allows passing objects from R to C++. As seen above, this is needed when exported functions want to take a C++ object as argument. Other uses include methods and constructors of other Rcpp modules classes that take a C++ object as argument;
  • RCPP_EXPOSED_WRAP which allows the other way around; This is needed when a exported function or method wants to return a C++ object;
  • RCPP_EXPOSED_CLASS which allows both.

tags: basics  modules 

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