Though Lua uses hashtables/dictionaries almost exclusively for all it’s data structures, Terra does not. Terra is much lower level than Lua and as yet does not have a standard library. There are two ways one can create a hashtable that can be used in Terra functions

  • using C code such as uthash
  • using a Lua hashtable and wrapping it in Terra+Lua.

I’ll demonstrate the latter and then explain why we need the former.

The Lua Code

If we want a hashtable, we need (much like in C/C++/Java) need to specify the type of the keys and values. So our call to create a Terra hashtable with integer keys and ComplexName values starts outside a terra function like:

hashIntToComplex = makeHash(int, &ComplexName,function(a) return(tonumber(a)) end)

where ComplexName is defined as

struct ComplexName
   name: &int8;
   x : double;
   y : double;

and ComplexName is a struct describing the values, int are the keys and the last lua function is the hashing function. What would the makeHash function be?

In essence the function makeHash returns a structure called Hash which methods add, get, exists, delete and makeIter. These methods have as their upvalue a lua dictionary. To access the dictionary and retrieve keys/values, they call wrapped lua functions. Note the lua functions need to be wrapped (indicating the appropriate return type) since when Lua functions are called from Terra functions, Terra has no idea of what the return type will be. This is the first part of makeHash

function makeHash(kType,vType,hashfunction)
  local b = {}
  local function add(self,key,value)
     b[hashfunction(key)] = {key,value}
  local function exists(self,key)
     if b[hashfunction(key)]~= nil then
  	 return true
  	 return false
  local function get(self,key)
     return terralib.cast(vType,b[hashfunction(key)][2])
  local function delete(self,key)
     b[hashfunction(key)] = nil
  local struct Hash   {   }
  Hash.methods.add =  terralib.cast( {&Hash,kType,vType} -> {}, add)
  Hash.methods.get = terralib.cast( {&Hash,kType} -> {vType}, get)
  Hash.methods.exists  = terralib.cast( {&Hash,kType} -> {bool}, exists)
  Hash.methods.del = terralib.cast( {&Hash,kType} -> {}, delete)

The Lua functions add, exists, get and delete do the obvious thing. Note we store keys as numbers, the numbers are obtained by hashing the key using the supplied hashfunction (in the github repo I have supplied a hash function for strings based on D.J.Bernstein’s code). The value stored is the original key and value (so that when we iterate we can return the original key and not the stored key).

Notice how get casts the return value to the specified type. This is a case where Terra types are just plain lua values. Crucial for meta programming. The methods to the Hash structure are terra methods wrapping the lua functions and indicating the appropriate types of the parameters and return values.

The code to iterate follows.

local struct Iterator
   local ck,cuk,vk
   local function setcknil() ck = nil end
   local function move() ck = next(b,ck)   end
   local hasNext = terralib.cast({}->bool,function() return ck~=nil end)
   local tk = terralib.cast({}->kType,function()
			       local cuk
			       cuk, vk = unpack(b[ck])
   			       return cuk
   local tv = terralib.cast({}->vType,function() return  vk end)

   terra Iterator:next()
      if hasNext() then do
	    self.key,self.value = tk(),tv()
	    return true
	 return false
   terra Hash:makeIter()
      var f:Iterator
      return f
   return Hash

The variables ck, cuk and vk are upvalues for Iterator:next(), thus state is kept across calls. Once again the casting is done appropriately.


And example of it’s use is then

C = terralib.includec("stdio.h")
C1 = terralib.includec("stdlib.h")
ffi = require("ffi")

function cncat(a,b)
   return terralib.cast(rawstring,"foo" .. tonumber(b))
tcncat = terralib.cast({&int8, int}->{&int8},cncat)

hashIntToComplex = makeHash(int, &ComplexName,function(a) return(tonumber(a)) end)

terra testme()
   var b : hashIntToComplex
   for i=1,10 do
      var c : &ComplexName = [&ComplexName](C1.malloc(sizeof(ComplexName))) ,c.x,c.y=tcncat("foo",i),1.0,2.0
   -- Get Something
   var d  = b:get(1)
   C.printf("Name = %s, x=%f, y=%f\n",, d.x,d.y)
   -- Iterate Over
   var p =b:makeIter()
   while p:next() do
      var v,k = p.value,p.key
      C.printf("key = %d Name=%s\n",k,

Note the manual memory management! c is created via malloc. However we can assign finalizers to run when this has no references pointing at it, using ffi.gc e.g. ffi.gc(c, Haven’t tried this though. Using this will then automatically free c when it is not being used anymore.

The full code and my work for using Terra in R can be viewed at


Well, we hit a 1GB limit here. As per this thread, because of implementation constraints in LuaJit (which is used by Terra) we cannot use more than 1GB via Lua data structures (note the b hashtable in the definition of makeHash). This is rather limiting and the solution to this is write a similar wrapper around uthash, a C macro based hashtable.

And that is future work.