Updated 2018-01-07 11:31:20 by pooryorick

The Tcl Extension Architecture, or TEA, by John Ousterhout and others, is a set of guidelines and techniques for the distribution, configuration, compilation, and installation of Tcl extensions. TEA also provides a set of utilities that operate accordingly. Many Tcl extensions leverage the TEA utilities, which are designed to be easily customizable.

Attributes  edit

last release version
release time

See Also  edit

Tcl Extension Architecture Developer’s Guide — DRAFT
Tcl extension developer guide
TEA_INIT does exact version matching, 2007-04-18
Details about the design and operation of TEA_INIT().

Documentation  edit

The Tcl Extension Architecture, Brent Welch and Michael Thomas, 1999
The current implementation of the TEA utilities updates and obsoletes some of this documentation.
TIP 34: Modernize TEA Build System
TIP 78: TEA 2.0 Definitions
TEA: a summary of trying to use it, Vince Darley
Annotated 10 steps to success with TEA, by Vince Darley
Reveals some frequently made mistakes in trying to build extensions for the first time on Windows.
Converting your Tcl extension to TEA2

Description  edit

TEA is largely defined by the tcl.m4 file in tclconfig, along with the configure.in and Makefile files in the sample extension. A makefile.vc and rules.vc file is also included for Windows builds. TEA describes a directory layout both for the source distribution and for files installed as part of the extension. Files in the source distribution of an extension are laid out such that platform-specific components live in a directory dedicated to that platform.

The version of TEA is defined by the TEA_VERSION variable in the tcl.m4 file in tclconfig.

TEA is generally used with the standard approach to building software for a given platform. For example, on Unix systems, the standard way to build a TEA-conforming extension is
make test
make install

. Developers for non-Unix operating systems and other build systems could contribute to the sample extension files and utilties supporting their chosen platform.

TEA remains neutral on exact details of loading extensions, but in general, an extension is loaded via the appropriate package require invocation, which in turn employs some combination of load and source.

TEA offers a set of guidelines and aspires to become a reference for best practices, but there is room for improvement and, indeed, alternatives.

Versions  edit

(aka TEA2002) simplified the original TEA configuration files and added features.

Tools  edit

has a "generate TEA package" feature

A Small Subset of Extensions Using TEA  edit

VUW widgets

Versions for Mac, Unix, and Windows are available. Especially for the former of these, see Jim Ingham's comments in ...

Compiling a TEA Extension  edit

MSW says: TEA doesn't pay attention to prefix. If you specify "--prefix=something" TEA still insists on "exec-prefix" being the directory where tcl was found. THIS SUCKS. As a simple example, configure anything with a --prefix of something, it'll try to install into /usr/local/tcl/ or wherever tcl is found. Have you people not ever tried installing something as non-root???? TEA-based Makefiles thus mean breaking any locality of installed extensions. Welcome to the great wonderful world of tomorrow.

DGP: So, the complaint is that --prefix= and --exec-prefix= options must both be provided? It's a sensible complaint. Register it as either a bug or feature request.

PYK: This is reported in Tcl Bug 1777301

LV: I've found that, at least at times, the sample, Tcl, and Tk distributed packages do the prefix/exec_prefix correctly. The way these are supposed to work are that man pages, tcl scripts, script demos, etc. go under prefix while binary libraries and binary .exe (a.out) commands would be installed under exec_prefix. AND, when configure goes looking for things, it should use exec_prefix and prefix as the first locations to look for the various things it needs. Not every use of TEA gets these things right, it seems.

Another tip - if you hard code path names (with versions in them ) into configure, make certain these are updated each time a new version of tcl comes out.

C++ Extensions with TEA, MAK 2004-11-09  edit

I was going to submit this as a patch, but I don't have a complete and necessarily correct solution, it turns out. More on that in a moment. The template files and tests provided by TEA assume C-only extensions. A few quick and simple changes can put you on your way to using TEA for C++ extensions.

First, in tcl.m4, find "AC_PROG_CC" in the TEA_SETUP_COMPILER_CC function, and add another line that says "AC_PROG_CXX" and then run autoconf to regenerate configure from configure.in. This adds the necessary tests to determine how to run the C++ compiler, whether it be called "g++" or "CC" or whatever.

Second, in Makefile.in, find the CC definition and add a CXX definition. The configure script will replace @CXX@ the way it does @CC@ so you can use $(CXX) to refer to the C++ compiler rather than the $(CC) for the C compiler.
CC              = @CC@
CXX             = @CXX@

Third, find the definition of the variable COMPILE and remove the $(CC) at the start of it:

Fourth, you'll need to add the $(CC) into the .c.o rule, and add a .cpp.o rule to call the appropriate compiler for .cpp files:
       $(CC) $(COMPILE) -c `@CYGPATH@ $<` -o $@

       $(CXX) $(COMPILE) -c `@CYGPATH@ $<` -o $@

That's pretty much it, other than wrapping your extension's Init function in extern "C" {...} to prevent mangling so Tcl's load command can find it. (You don't need to wrap other functions, such as command functions, since they're provided to Tcl via pointers rather than Tcl needing to search the symbol table for them.)

Now, the problem: later versions of gcc can't link C++ objects because it will try to use the wrong runtime library, and you'll get a number of unknown symbol errors (on new/delete and gxx_personality_v0 etc.) Unfortunately the command used for linking (assigned to the SHLIB_LD variable in the Makefile) either comes from tclConfig.sh, or else is re-determined (either way it looks the same to me), but either way it specifies the plain C compiler as the linker. You can get around the problem by linking to the C++ runtime library, for instance by adding "-lstdc++" to TEA_ADD_LIBS in your configure.in script, but I suspect this is GNU-specific, and thus is probably not a good to codify in the sample extension. The way TEA determines how to link shared libraries could stand a little improvement in this regard. Maybe someone more familiar with autoconf and m4 than I (who's not particularly familiar with either) can take the above information, figure out what to do about SHLIB_LD and make C++ extensions directly supported by TEA.

Generating Source Files  edit

PYK 2017-06-27: The following steps allowed for the generation of .c files in a recent TEA project:

  1. In tclconfig/tcl.m4, neuter the file existence checks for TEA_ADD_SOURCES and TEA_ADD_HEADERS
  2. include the relative directory name to .c files added to TEA_ADD_SOURCES and TEA_ADD_HEADERS in autoconf.ac
  3. in Makefile.in, make PKG_LIB_FILE dependant on PKG_SOURCES and PKG_HEADERS
  4. add a %.c %.h target to do the generation

The History of TEA  edit

On 1999-03-15, Scriptics hosted the Tcl Extension Architecture (TEA) Summit in Mountain View, CA.

Discussion  edit

Lars H 2004-11-06: I've been told that TEA is a close relative (further development of?) some GNU build system. Could someone provide links to introductory material on that? It is my impression that the TEA docs are written with the assumption that the developer already has some knowledge of some similar system, so maybe there are some non-TEA-specific docs out there that explains the basics...''

MAK 2004-11-09: Not exactly a relative, but rather TEA uses GNU autoconf-generated configure scripts (i.e., rather than a relative, it is based on the GNU build systems). It provides a template configure.in (the input to autoconf) and Makefile.in (which the configure script uses to generate Makefile), and and some other support files such as tcl.m4, which defines the Tcl-specific tests done by the configure script. It also defines the common "generic/unix/win/mac" layout you see in extensions.

For the most part, unless you need to write additional tests (e.g. determining if certain headers are present, whether or not the platform supports a particular function, etc.) the template files are pretty much "fill in the blanks" (or otherwise "replace the name 'sample' with your extension's name") and you don't have to worry about the nastiness of m4.

[Sean McKnight] posted the following information on his experiences:
 I posted a similar question about a month ago and got some pointers
 to the Minimal GNU Windows 32 environment (i.e. mingw32) from some
 Tcl programmers.  Check out the mingw32 site for some good explanations
 as to how Windows DLLs work.  Essentially, all I wanted to do was
 to create a DLL out of some basic C code that made some calls to the
 Tcl/Tk libraries.

 Note that in the instructions that follow I do not make use of the
 TEA specification but instead just use a single Makefile.  I would
 have liked to stay with the TEA spec (and may do so eventually)
 but from my experience I have found that the TEA is somewhat
 incomplete at this point.  I am hoping that will change at some
 point in future (I wonder if anyone in the Tcl core group would
 know what the plans for the TEA are at this point?).

 So here is what eventually worked:

 1).  I downloaded the "mingw32" environment for Windows and installed
     under WindowsNT 4.0 (also under Windows95).  I also downloaded
     the "impdef" utility, which is used (explained below) to generate
     an "export list" of functions that can be called directly from
     the DLL.  These can be found on the mingw32 site at

 2).  My Tcl/Tk extension makes use of the Tcl C library.  Under Windows,
     I am required to link with an import library when creating my
     extension DLL.  The import library is created as follows:

     C:\TCL832\BIN>  impdef tcl83.dll > tcl83.def
     C:\TCL832\BIN>  impdef tk83.dll > tk83.def
     C:\TCL832\BIN>  dlltool --dllname tcl83.dll --def tcl83.def \
                           --output-lib libtcl83.a
     C:\TCL832\BIN>  dlltool --dllname tk83.dll --def tk83.def \
                           --output-lib libtk83.a

 3).  An export list for my Tcl extension also had to be created. Normally
     only the "Init" function from the extension is exported, as it
     is the entry point for the extension when the extension is loaded
     into Tcl.  All I did to create the export list was echo a couple
     of lines into a text file:

     C:\MYEXT>  echo EXPORTS > myext.def
     C:\MYEXT>  echo Myext_Init >> myext.def

 4).  Each C source file in my extension is compiled using the "gcc"
     compiler from the "mingw32" installation.  After all the objects
     are compiled, the final DLL is constructed.  A snippet of the
     makefile is presented below:

     CC = gcc
     OBJS = myext1.o myext2.o myext3.o
     DLLTOOL = dlltool
     TCLLIBS = c:/tcl832/lib/libtcl83.a c:/tcl832/lib/libtk83.a
     RM = del

     dll: $(OBJS)
        $(CC) -mdll -o junk.tmp -Wl,--base-file,base.tmp $(OBJS) $(TCLLIBS)
        $(RM) junk.tmp
        $(DLLTOOL) --dllname myext.dll --base-file base.tmp --output-exp temp.exp --def myext.def
        $(RM) base.tmp
        $(CC) -mdll -o myext.dll $(OBJS) $(TCLLIBS) -Wl,temp.exp
        $(RM) temp.exp

 It seems to work, both under NT and 95 (at least for the extension that
 was tested, which is pretty basic).

The main challenge is understanding the requirements for constructing a DLL. Check the "mingw32" site documentation for the dirty details.

tclguy writes that, "If you have a TEA-based Makefile, with all the latest targets up-to-date, then [to launch gdb usefully] you should only need to do 'make gdb'. This will launch tclsh into gdb with the right environment that should allow you to say 'package require Receive' and get your debugging version."

Vince rants: Unfortunately 'TEA' is relatively fragile and difficult and generally hopeless to use, unless you are a unix-based and unix-expert developer. On Windows it also contains numerous bugs, has no decent documentation (again unless of course you've been doing this stuff for years on unix when it is all second nature), and somehow, to compile a single C file, requires one to create/modify/copy about 10 supporting files. Of course, when it works it is great, but it rarely, if ever, works for non-unix developers. Furthermore since every extension needs its own 10 supporting files, it is not practical for unix-savvy-developers to fix problems for every single extension. Altogether TEA is an embarrassment to Tcl's cross-platform claims.

stevel: Does this still apply with the recent TEA 2002 effort from Jeffrey Hobbs?

Vince: that's a good question, and it also points to a fundamental flaw in TEA. What Jeff did was update the 'sampleextension', but that has no impact at all on the many extensions which used TEA before (i.e. copied/modified the files from the old sampleextension as instructed by TEA). Therefore all those extensions need fixing (Jeff may have done some of this as well, but certainly not to any extension I looked at). And they will all need fixing again any time another fix is made to TEA. So, I can't answer your question properly. I've wasted days of my life on TEA and refuse to do so any more (and, as you can see, I feel quite strongly that TEA is a waste of everyone's time). Just yesterday I tried to compile tclpro on Windows, from the cvs head, and even 'autoconf' failed with an error, which is rather pathetic.

JCW barges in...: - I've recently suggested one way in which this could be improved IMO. Instead of asking people to copy the sample, fight it, and then struggle ever after, why not generate things? So one would have one or more source files, then a Tcl script produces as much litter as it likes <wink> - with as end result that one generates, then does configure/make as before. I absolutely agree that copying boilerplate which is tricky and of a substantial size makes no sense and is a huge time waster (I'll confess that I never bought into TEA either...).

Vince... that sounds like a very good idea for something to go in tcllib. We could even call the new module 'tea' grin.

Yet another rant about TEA - and yet, where is the better mousetrap to cause all of Tcl development to begin beating a path.