Custom Types in LuaTables++ Done Right

October 22, 2013

Even though I am qute happy with LuaTables++ I figured storing and retrieval of custom types could be made even nicer. In my previous post I presented how one could add a custom type (i.e. a C++ struct or class) such that it can be assigned to values in Lua. It still required knowledge of the Lua C-API and would furthermore have made assignment of nested values more cumbersome. It now dawned to me that I could re-use facilities in LuaTables++ to circumvent both points.

For a struct of the form:

struct CustomType {
    string name;
    double age;
    bool drunken;
    double position[3];

especially setting the values of the double position[3] array would require creation of a new table which can be a bit cumbersome if one is not familiar with Lua’s stack. However this kind of functionality is already included in LuaTables++. Using the new API one can now implement the LuaTableNode::getDefault<CustomType>(const CustomType &value) function as:

CustomType LuaTableNode::getDefault<CustomType>(const CustomType &default_value) {
    CustomType result = default_value;

    if (exists()) {
        LuaTable custom_table = stackQueryTable(); = custom_table["name"].get<std::string>();
        result.age = custom_table["age"];
        result.drunken = custom_table["drunken"];
        result.position[0] = custom_table["position"][1];
        result.position[1] = custom_table["position"][2];
        result.position[2] = custom_table["position"][3];


    return result;

and similarly the LuaTableNode::set<CustomType>(const CustomType &value) as:

void LuaTableNode::set<CustomType>(const CustomType &value) {
    LuaTable custom_table = stackCreateLuaTable();

    // set the fields of the custom type
    custom_table["name"] =;
    custom_table["age"] = value.age;
    custom_table["drunken"] = value.drunken;
    custom_table["position"][1] = value.position[0];
    custom_table["position"][2] = value.position[1];
    custom_table["position"][3] = value.position[2];

    // restore the stack

One has to keep in mind that Lua starts its indices at 1 instead of 0. But apart from that I guess it should now be quite easy to add any kind of structs or classes even with complex member variables. If you have a suggestion to make it even simpler, let me know!


Using Lua Scripts as Config Files from C++

October 16, 2013

tl;dr: LuaTables++ is a library that allows you to access values from Lua scripts in an easy manner. Custom types (i.e. structs or classes) can be easily added so that storing and retrieval to and from Lua is super simple. Serialization to strings is included. Code available here (MIT license). Handling of custom classes / structs is explained here.


For my visualization tool MeshUp I am using jsoncpp to store the configurations files. However it dawned to me that it should be easy to implement a library that allows to store and retrieve values from Lua scripts similarly easy as jsoncpp. As Lua has a nicer syntax than JSON this would allow me to store the configuration as Lua scripts and thus getting all the scripting capabilities there as well.


The last few days I spent some time to pimp the my LuaTables (which I mentioned here) library to make it more intuitive to use from C++ and I ended up something very nice. It even deserves a renaming to LuaTables++. First, an example:

-- agentsettings.lua
person = {
    name = "James Bond",
    age = 42.,
    drunken = true,
    address = {
        country = "United Kingdom"

return person

Can be accessed using LuaTables++ using:

LuaTable ltable = LuaTable::fromFile("myfile.lua")

std::string name = ltable["name"];
double age = ltable["age"];
bool drunken = ltable["drunken"];
std::string country = ltable["address"]["country"];

Similarly you can set values:

ltable["drunken"] = false;

And also convert the table back to a string, e.g. to save the configuration back to a file:

std::string config_string = ltable.serialize();

Custom Types

Update: I have found a much better solution on how to handle custom types with LuaTables++.

This was very nice, but it gets better: LuaTables++ uses some templating magic inside which can be used to add reading and writing for structured data. E.g. to add the following custom type:

struct CustomType {
    CustomType() :
        name ("unnamed"),
        age (-1.),
        drunken (false) {}

    string name;
    double age;
    bool drunken;

one has to implement two functions:

Here the function for converting from LuaTables++ to the C++ CustomType:

template<> CustomType LuaTableNode::getDefault<CustomType>(const CustomType &default_value) {
    CustomType result = default_value;

    if (stackQueryValue()) {
        lua_getfield (luaTable->L, -1, "name"); = lua_tostring (luaTable->L, -1);
        lua_pop (luaTable->L, 1);

        lua_getfield (luaTable->L, -1, "age");
        result.age = lua_tonumber (luaTable->L, -1);
        lua_pop (luaTable->L, 1);

        lua_getfield (luaTable->L, -1, "drunken");
        result.drunken = lua_toboolean (luaTable->L, -1);
        lua_pop (luaTable->L, 1);


    return result;

And here the function to store a C++ CustomType to LuaTables++:

template<> void LuaTableNode::set<CustomType>(const CustomType &value) {

    // create new table for the CustomType
    lua_newtable(luaTable->L);  // parent, CustomTable

    // set the fields of the custom type
    lua_pushstring (luaTable->L, "name");
    lua_pushstring (luaTable->L,;
    lua_settable (luaTable->L, -3);

    lua_pushstring (luaTable->L, "age");
    lua_pushnumber (luaTable->L, value.age);
    lua_settable (luaTable->L, -3);

    lua_pushstring (luaTable->L, "drunken");
    lua_pushboolean (luaTable->L, value.drunken);
    lua_settable (luaTable->L, -3);

    // add table of CustomType to the parent
    stackPushKey(); // parent, CustomTable, key
    lua_pushvalue(luaTable->L, -2); // parent, CustomTable, key, CustomTable
    lua_settable(luaTable->L, -4);

    // restore the stack

Once this is done, one can directly store and retrieve any CustomType to Lua:

// Create a new Custom Type
CustomType agent007; = "James Bond";
agent007.age = 42.;
agent007.drunken = true;

// Store it in LuaTables++
ltable["agents"][123] = agent007;

// Retrieve it from LuaTables++
CustomType other_agent = ltable["agents"][123];

One nice thing about this is, that once you have implemented the set() and getDefault() functions you automatically can serialize and de-serialize CustomTypes. Yeeeehaaaa!


LuaTables++ is available from only depends on the STL and Lua, which should be easy to fulfill. It is licensed under the MIT license (same as Lua).

Fun Fact: Around the same time Elias Daler implemented something similar to retrieve values from a Lua script His article also contains a brief introduction how the internals work.


Switching between Lua and LuaJIT using CMake

August 26, 2013

The more I work with Lua, the more I get addicted to it. Lua itself is a formidable language and additionally it is (somewhat) fun to write wrappers to C/C++ code.

Lua itself is fast, but it can be made even faster by using LuaJIT, which is one of the fastest scripting language implementations available. The nice thing about LuaJIT is, that it is both API and ABI compatible to the standard Lua 5.1 implementation. This means that you simply need to link against the LuaJIT library instead of the Lua library and you get increased performance for free*!

For most of my C/C++ code I am using CMake as a build tool, which is does its job most of the time, albeit its language and syntax is rather cumbersome (especially compared to Lua). There is premake, a build system using Lua, which looks very interesting, however right now I have too little time to move my stuff over to it.

CMake comes with scripts to find Lua 5.0 and 5.1 but not to find LuaJIT. So I wrote my own FindLua.cmake script that searches for Lua 5.1 or LuaJIT depending on the value of the variable LUA_USE_LUAJIT option. Adjusting this variable allows easy switching between the standard Lua and LuaJIT.

CMake caches most of its variables and therefore you cannot change the type of Lua implementation using the CMake GUI. To alleviate this you can use the following lines, that ensure the invalidation of the cached CMake variables and nice and snappy switching between the implementations from the CMake GUI:

OPTION (LUA_USE_LUAJIT "Use LuaJIT instead of default Lua" OFF)

Here is full FindLua.cmake script:

# Copyright (c) 2013 Martin Felis &lt;;
# License: Public Domain (Unlicense:
# Try to find Lua or LuaJIT depending on the variable LUA_USE_LUAJIT.
# Sets the following variables:
#   Lua_FOUND
# Use it in a CMakeLists.txt script as:
#   OPTION (LUA_USE_LUAJIT "Use LuaJIT instead of default Lua" OFF)
    SET (LUA_LIBRARY_NAME luajit-5.1)
    SET (LUA_INCLUDE_DIRS /usr/include/luajit-2.0 /usr/local/include/luajit-2.0)
    SET (LUA_INCLUDE_DIRS /usr/include/lua5.1 /usr/local/include/lua5.1)

* the only “downside” of using LuaJIT instead of Lua that I faced so far is that you have ensure all your wrappers actually return an integer. Otherwise LuaJIT crashes when it calls a wrapped function. But you should return an from a integer function anyways, so it just encourages better code.


code snippet: luatables simple access to lua tables from C/C++

June 5, 2012

The last two gamejams definitely convinced me that Lua is a very elegant, fast and easy to learn scripting language. Combined with the amazing LÖVE engine really cool things can happen.

When I created on my simple skeletal animation tool MeshUp, I thought that using JSON as a fileformat would be way better than XML as it is not as verbose and therefore easier to read. Also there is a nice C++ library for reading and writing JSON files.

However the syntax of JSON is actually fairly similar to Lua so I thought it would be a nice thing to have scripting powers in the model description files as it empowers you to even … script repetitive tasks!!!

The only problem was that the interface to get values from Lua into C can be a little counter intuitive as one has to interact with Lua through its stack. I do have to not here that the Lua stack is – just as the language itself – a very elegant way for passing data in and out of Lua’s virtual machine. But as said before it is not as intuitive when one wants to do simple things.

For this I hacked together a small set of functions, called luatables, that should simplify using Lua as a fileformat. There are of course various libraries already available, but I wanted a) get to know Lua a bit better and b) have a lightweight solution that does not add bloat or dependencies.

I published it under the (very permissive) zlib open-source license. You can grab it from:




January 11, 2012

Last week I started working on a small, yet powerful visualization tool for animations or more generally spoken for any multi-body simulations. It is based on skeletal animation and magic and is called MeshUp!.

The frames for the skeleton are defined in a JSON file (thanks to jsoncpp this was relatively easy to implement). In the same file meshes can be attached to the frames (e.g. some random monkey head to the “Head” frame, etc.) and are then moved with the head bone.

The meshes themselves are Wavefront OBJ files that can be exported by nearly every 3d content creation package. I wrote the importer in about 2 hours which surprised me. I feared that to be a lot more of a hassle.

Furthermore it finally made me play around with Quaternions a bit more. Turns out that they are not as hard and are actually quite efficient. Before that I used some matrix calculations for the rotations but with the Quaternions I basically have the same usage but about 10% performance gain (not that it would matter, but it surprised me a little). The biggest problems I had, was that in my computer animation reference book a formula for a conversion had a typo. Thanks to test driven development this was easy to debug and will not occur in the future! Yay!

Oh, also it is coordinate system agnostic. Meaning you can use whatever angle convention you like! ZYX Euler? Sure! YZX Euler? Why not? Just define the proper coordinate system and rotation order in the model file and that’s it!

I published MeshUp! at bitbucket account. You can download the source at:

So far I havent’t decided on a license. Any suggestions?



Rigid Body Dynamics Library

December 7, 2011

Hi there…

some time ago, I posted a video about my C++ implementation of the Articulated Body Algorithm (ABA), one of the best available algorithms available to perform forward dynamics computations on kinematic tree structures (if this sounds weird, replace “forward dynamics computations” by “physics simulations” and “kinematic tree structures” by “human-like figures” and you might be able to get a clue what you can do with it).

I mostly use it for my scientific work, which is funded by the Heidelberg Graduate School of Mathematical  and Computational Methods for the Sciences. I spent quite some time in programming it and making sure it does what it should (91 tests!).

Some highlights:

So far I am very happy with it and thought that maybe other can benefit from it as well.

Therefore I decided to publish it under an open-source license, namely the very permissive zlib license (which is also used by Bullet), which should allow pretty much anyone to do what he/she/it wants with it. However comments, suggestions or acknowledgements are still very welcome.

You can grab it at:

It does feel a little weird to let it out into the wild, but I hope it is of use for anyone.