Creating a Pointer to SAFEARRAY in Python for COM Interactions

Friendly Introduction

Welcome! Today, we are exploring how to create a pointer to a SAFEARRAY when working with COM (Component Object Model) in Python. This topic is intriguing as it connects Python with the realm of Windows programming.

What You’ll Learn

In the upcoming minutes, you will discover how to create and manipulate pointers to SAFEARRAYs using Python. This knowledge is particularly valuable for engaging with COM objects in Windows applications.

Understanding SAFEARRAYs and Their Importance in COM

To tackle this challenge effectively, it’s crucial to understand what SAFEARRAYs are and why they hold significant importance in COM interactions. A SAFEARRAY is a self-describing array that conveys essential data about its bounds, dimensions, and element type. This self-descriptive nature makes it safer and easier to work with across various programming languages. In COM automation, functions often necessitate arguments or return values as SAFEARRAYs to ensure consistency and safety across language boundaries.

Our solution involves leveraging the ctypes library in Python, which serves as a foreign function library providing C-compatible data types. It enables calling functions in DLLs or shared libraries seamlessly. We will utilize ctypes to define our SAFEARRAY structure based on Windows API definitions and demonstrate how to interact with this array through a pointer.


import ctypes

# Define necessary structures from Windows API
class SAFEARRAYBOUND(ctypes.Structure):
    _fields_ = [("cElements", ctypes.c_ulong), ("lLbound", ctypes.c_long)]

class SAFEARRAY(ctypes.Structure):
    _fields_ = [("cDims", ctypes.c_ushort), 
                ("fFeatures", ctypes.c_ushort),
                ("cbElements", ctypes.c_ulong),
                ("cLocks", ctypes.c_ulong),
                ("pvData", ctypes.POINTER(ctypes.c_void_p)),
                ("rgsabound", SAFEARRAYBOUND * 1)]

# Function prototype for creating SafeArray
SafeArrayCreate = ctypes.windll.oleaut32.SafeArrayCreate

# Define parameter types for SafeArrayCreate function
SafeArrayCreate.argtypes = [ctypes.c_uint16, ctypes.c_uint32,
SafeArrayCreate.restype = ctypes.POINTER(SAFEARRAY)

# Create a SafeArrayBound instance for our array bounds.
bounds = SAFEARRAYBOUND(5, 0) # Array of 5 elements starting at index 0

# Create the safe array pointer.
psa = SafeArrayCreate(12, 1, bounds)

# Copyright PHD


Let’s dissect the code provided above:

  • Defining Structures: Initially, we define two crucial structures: SAFEARRAYBOUND, storing information about the array’s bounds (size and lower bound), followed by SAFEARRAY, encapsulating details about the actual array including dimensions (cDims), features (fFeatures), element size (cbElements), lock count (cLocks), raw data pointer (pvData), and finally our specified bounds (rgsabound). These structures mirror those defined by Microsoft for use with COM objects.

  • Creating The Array: After setting up our structures using ctypes, we proceed by defining SafeArrayCreate, directly mapping onto its counterpart within oleaut32.dll. Setting the expected argument types for this function along with its return type as pointers to our previously defined SAFE ARRAY, we invoke it passing an element type identifier (’12’ representing VT_VARIANT; can vary based on requirements), dimensionality (‘1’, since we’re creating a one-dimensional array here) alongside our specified boundary conditions encapsulated within ‘bounds’.

This process yields a pointer – ‘psa’ pointing towards our freshly created safe array ready for interaction either directly via python or passed into other components expecting such constructs typically within larger automation workflows leveraging COM interfaces under windows environments.

  1. How do I manipulate elements within my created SafeArray?

  2. To manipulate elements within your created SafeArray, you can access them through indexing using standard Python syntax like array[index].

  3. Can I create multi-dimensional SafeArrays using this method?

  4. Yes, you can create multi-dimensional SafeArrays by adjusting the number of dimensions during creation and updating your structure accordingly.

  5. What are common issues encountered when working with pointers in Python?

  6. Common issues include memory leaks if not managed properly, potential segmentation faults due to incorrect memory access, and compatibility challenges between different data types.

  7. How do I pass my created SafeArray as an argument to other functions requiring such parameters?

  8. You can pass your created SafeArray by providing its pointer as an argument when calling functions that expect SAFEARRAY parameters.

  9. Is it possible to resize an existing Safearray?

  10. It is possible to resize an existing Safearray by reallocating memory for the array data while preserving existing elements where necessary.


Exploring pointers management especially towards intricate constructs like ‘SAFEARRYS’ may appear daunting initially due to their inherent complexities bridging gaps between varying runtime environments such as Python versus traditional windows development paradigms like .NET or direct win32api calls. However, armed with proper understanding of fundamentals behind these mechanisms coupled with suitable tools/libraries empowers you with much power and flexibility. This enables automating integration across a wide variety of systems processes making it worth delving deep into mastering skills required successfully navigating challenges presented by these scenarios!

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