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CALLBACK to a Function

Posted on 2000-03-12
Medium Priority
Last Modified: 2010-04-02
What is the meaning of CALLBACK to a
function in C? Is it same as a function
pointer? How & when a CALLBACK is implemented (written)?  Why are they needed? Can you please explain with an example?
Question by:mansi
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LVL 12

Expert Comment

ID: 2610065
Quick answer: yes, a callback is just a function pointer. Callbacks can have any number of parameters and return any sort of value. I don't know where you'd use them in normal C coding, but under Windows (for example) they're used quite a lot--if you wanted to get a list of all the fonts on the system you'd call the EnumFontFamiliesEx() function and pass it a callback which would get the names of the fonts. This is useful because you have no idea how many fonts are installed before you call the function and therefore could not easily allocate space for the information.
LVL 32

Accepted Solution

jhance earned 1600 total points
ID: 2610087
Strictly speaking, a callback function is any function that is available to be called directly by the operating system.

In a Windows application, for instance, the best example of a CALLBACK function is the main message processing loop:

    HWND hwnd,        // handle to window
    UINT uMsg,        // message identifier
    WPARAM wParam,    // first message parameter
    LPARAM lParam)    // second message parameter
    switch (uMsg)
        case WM_CREATE:
            // Initialize the window.
            return 0;
        case WM_PAINT:
            // Paint the window's client area.
            return 0;
        case WM_SIZE:
            // Set the size and position of the window.
            return 0;
        case WM_DESTROY:
            // Clean up window-specific data objects.
            return 0;
        // Process other messages.
            return DefWindowProc(hwnd, uMsg, wParam, lParam);
    return 0;

Windows calls the function (in this case MainWndProc) whenever there are messages for this application to process.   Some other API functions also have callback features.  For example the asynchronous sockets functions can be use dwith callbacks so that a particular function will get called whenever the socket needs attention.  

Bottom line is that this is just a method of marking a function so that it will be available and callable from the OS whenever the appliction is running.

Expert Comment

ID: 2613440
Callback is also used to export a function from a dll. As in;
EXPORT char* CALLBACK dosomething( char* incoming_parameter)
// body of dosomething
return "Hello"
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Author Comment

ID: 2616239
Dear jhance,

     some of my confusion is cleared.
but still some points are remaining about callback. I am editing the question. so Please bear with me.

                  With Thanks,
LVL 32

Expert Comment

ID: 2616309

Please don't edit the original question.  This makes it confusing for others who might read this question later.

Just add followup questions as comments here.


Author Comment

ID: 2660946
Dear jhance,
      first of all sicerely sorry for the delay in responding.
Now back to callback-
      In your first response, you had written-
Strictly speaking, a callback function is any function that is
available to be called directly by the operating system.
      Now I am told that callback is like a function pointer.Now please let me know which
of the following is correct-
      1) The function pointers used by operating systems are called
as CALLBACKs. The normal function pointer used in developing process
by a programmer are called just "normal function pointers." & not CALLBACKs.
          hence technically there is no diff. between a function pointer & a CALLBACK.

      2) CALLBACK means a function pointer only or it may be a function also
some times.
      3) Is CALLBACK a reserved word in C? Can a programmer use it when
developing an application? or only a system programmer has this previlege?

      I was given the following example for explaining CALLBACK-

file: callback.h

typedef float(*fptr) (float a,float b);
void register_me(fptr func);
void print_result(float a,float b);

file : callback.c

static fptr current_func = 0;
void register_me(fptr func)
      current_func = func;
void print_result(float a , float b)
      float c;
      if (current_func)
            c=(*current_func) (a,b);
            printf("The result is %f ",c);
            printf("\n no function to call");
file: myapp.c


int main()
      return 0;

file: myapp.h

float a=25.0,b=15.0;
float add(float,float);
float subtr(float,float);

float subtr(float a,float b)

float add(float a,float b)

Is it right? Please let me know.

Author Comment

ID: 2673332
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