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C API bindings

IREE provides a low level C API for its runtime1, which can be used directly or through higher level APIs and language bindings built on top of it.

API header files are organized by runtime component:

Component header file Overview
iree/base/api.h Core API, type definitions, ownership policies, utilities
iree/vm/api.h VM APIs: loading modules, I/O, calling functions
iree/hal/api.h HAL APIs: device management, synchronization, accessing hardware features

The samples/ directory demonstrates several ways to use IREE's C API.


To use IREE's C API, you will need to build the runtime from source. The iree-template-cpp community project also shows how to integrate IREE into an external project using CMake2.


By default, IREE uses its own tiny Virtual Machine (VM) at runtime to interpret program instructions on the host system. VM instructions may also be lowered further to LLVM IR, C, or other representations for static or resource constrained deployment.

The VM supports generic operations like loads, stores, arithmetic, function calls, and control flow. It builds streams of more complex program logic and dense math into command buffers that are dispatched to hardware backends through the Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) interface.

Most interaction with IREE's C API involves either the VM or the HAL.


  • VM instances can serve multiple isolated execution contexts
  • VM contexts are effectively sandboxes for loading modules and running programs
  • VM modules provide extra functionality to execution contexts, such as access to hardware accelerators through the HAL. Compiled user programs are also modules.


  • HAL drivers are used to enumerate and create HAL devices
  • HAL devices interface with hardware, such as by allocating device memory, preparing executables, recording and dispatching command buffers, and synchronizing with the host
  • HAL buffers and buffer views represent storage and shaped/typed views into that storage (aka "tensors")

Using the C API


Include headers:

#include "iree/base/api.h"
#include "iree/hal/api.h"
#include "iree/vm/api.h"

// The VM bytecode and HAL modules will typically be included, along
// with those for the specific HAL drivers your application uses.
// Functionality extensions can be used via custom modules.
#include "iree/modules/hal/module.h"
#include "iree/hal/drivers/local_task/registration/driver_module.h"
#include "iree/vm/bytecode_module.h"

Check the API version and register components:

// Device drivers are managed through registries.
// Applications may use multiple registries to more finely control driver
// lifetimes and visibility.


The IREE_CHECK_OK() macro calls assert() if an error occurs. Applications should propagate errors and handle or report them as desired.

Configure stateful objects

Create a VM instance along with a HAL driver and device:

// Applications should try to reuse instances so resource usage across contexts
// is handled and extraneous device interaction is avoided.
iree_vm_instance_t* instance = NULL;
IREE_CHECK_OK(iree_vm_instance_create(iree_allocator_system(), &instance));

// Modules with custom types must be statically registered before use.

// We use the CPU "local-task" driver in this example, but could use a different
// driver like the GPU "vulkan" driver. The driver(s) used should match with
// the target(s) specified during compilation.
iree_hal_driver_t* driver = NULL;
    iree_allocator_system(), &driver));

// Drivers may support multiple devices, such as when a machine has multiple
// GPUs. You may either enumerate devices and select based on their properties,
// or just use the default device.
iree_hal_device_t* device = NULL;
    driver, iree_allocator_system(), &device));

// Create a HAL module initialized to use the newly created device.
// We'll load this module into a VM context later.
iree_vm_module_t* hal_module = NULL;
    iree_hal_module_create(instance, device, IREE_HAL_MODULE_FLAG_NONE,
                           iree_allocator_system(), &hal_module));
// The reference to the driver can be released now.


The default iree_allocator_system() is backed by malloc and free, but custom allocators may also be used.

Load a vmfb bytecode module containing program data:

// (Application-specific loading into memory, such as loading from a file)

iree_vm_module_t* bytecode_module = NULL;
    iree_const_byte_span_t{module_data, module_size},
    /*allocator=*/iree_allocator_system(), &bytecode_module));


Many IREE samples use c_embed_data to embed vmfb files as C code to avoid file I/O and ease portability. Applications should use what makes sense for their platforms and deployment configurations.

Create a VM context and load modules into it:

iree_vm_context_t* context = NULL;
iree_vm_module_t* modules[2] = {hal_module, bytecode_module};
    IREE_ARRAYSIZE(modules), modules,
    iree_allocator_system(), &context));
// References to the modules can be released now.

Look up the function(s) to call:

iree_vm_function_t main_function;
    context, iree_string_view_literal("module.main_function"), &main_function));

Invoke functions

// (Application-specific I/O buffer setup, making data available to the device)

IREE_CHECK_OK(iree_vm_invoke(context, main_function, IREE_VM_INVOCATION_FLAG_NONE,
                             /*policy=*/NULL, inputs, outputs,

// (Application-specific output buffer retrieval and reading back from the device)

Cleanup resources


  1. We are exploring adding a C API for IREE's compiler, see this GitHub issue 

  2. We plan on deploying via vcpkg in the future too, see this GitHub project