Making Win32 APIs More Accessible to More Languages

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Introduction

Win32 APIs provide powerful functionality that let you get the most out of Windows in your applications. While these APIs are readily accessible to C and C++ developers, other languages like C# and Rust require wrappers or bindings in order to access these APIs. In C#, this is commonly known as platform invoking or P/Invoke.

Historically this has required developers to handcraft the wrappers or bindings, which is error prone and doesn’t scale to broad API coverage. In recent years, given the strong demand for calling Win32 APIs from various languages, several community projects have spawned to provide more strongly typed and idiomatic representations of these wrappers and bindings to provide an improved developer experience and spare developers the overhead of creating them themselves. Some notable projects include PInvoke for .NET and winapi-rs for Rust.

The main challenge with these projects is they are manually maintained, which makes broad and sustained API coverage difficult and costly, and their work doesn’t really benefit other languages.

As owners of the Windows SDK, we wanted to see where we could provide unique value here, take some of the burden off of the community, and make achieving broad and sustainable API coverage across languages a reality.

The result of this is our win32metadata project and corresponding Win32 language projections now in preview on GitHub!

Win32 Metadata

The goal of the win32metadata project is to provide a complete description of the Win32 API surface in metadata so that it can be projected to any language in an automated way, improving correctness and minimizing maintenance overhead. The output of this project is effectively an ECMA-335 compliant Windows metadata file (winmd) published to Nuget.org containing metadata describing the entire Win32 API surface.

Win32 APIs have existed for a long time, so accurately describing all of them will take some iteration. We will be developing this tooling in the open and welcome community contributions to ensure an accurate representation of the Win32 API surface that will benefit all languages.

For this metadata to enable developers to call Win32 APIs idiomatically from the language of their choice, we need language projections built on top of it. The first such language projection is C#/Win32.

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