What is a “callback” in C and how are they implemented?

I am new to C, Objective-C, and Core Audio programming on OSX. From the reading that I have done, Core Audio relies heavily on callbacks (and C++, but that's another story). I understand the concept (sort of) of setting up a function that is called by another function repeatedly to accomplish a task. I just don't understand how they get set up and how they actually work. Any examples would be appreciated. Thanks.


There is no "callback" in C - not more than any other generic programming concept.

They're implemented using function pointers. Here's an example:

void populate_array(int *array, size_t arraySize, int (*getNextValue)(void))
    for (size_t i=0; i<arraySize; i++)
        array[i] = getNextValue();

int getNextRandomValue(void)
    return rand();

int main(void)
    int myarray[10];
    populate_array(myarray, 10, getNextRandomValue);

Here, the populate_array function takes a function pointer as its third parameter, and calls it to get the values to populate the array with. We've written the callback getNextRandomValue, which returns a random-ish value, and passed a pointer to it to populate_array. populate_array will call our callback function 10 times and assign the returned values to the elements in the given array.

Here is an example of callbacks in C.

Let's say you want to write some code that allows registering callbacks to be called when some event occurs.

First define the type of function used for the callback:

typedef void (*event_cb_t)(const struct event *evt, void *userdata);

Now, define a function that is used to register a callback:

int event_cb_register(event_cb_t cb, void *userdata);

This is what code would look like that registers a callback:

static void my_event_cb(const struct event *evt, void *data)
    /* do stuff and things with the event */

   event_cb_register(my_event_cb, &my_custom_data);

In the internals of the event dispatcher, the callback may be stored in a struct that looks something like this:

struct event_cb {
    event_cb_t cb;
    void *data;

This is what the code looks like that executes a callback.

struct event_cb *callback;


/* Get the event_cb that you want to execute */

callback->cb(event, callback->data);

A simple call back program. Hope it answers your question.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <unistd.h>
#include <fcntl.h>
#include <string.h>
#include "../../common_typedef.h"

typedef void (*call_back) (S32, S32);

void test_call_back(S32 a, S32 b)
    printf("In call back function, a:%d \t b:%d \n", a, b);

void call_callback_func(call_back back)
    S32 a = 5;
    S32 b = 7;

    back(a, b);

S32 main(S32 argc, S8 *argv[])
    S32 ret = SUCCESS;

    call_back back;

    back = test_call_back;


    return ret;

Callbacks in C are usually implemented using function pointers and an associated data pointer. You pass your function on_event() and data pointers to a framework function watch_events() (for example). When an event happens, your function is called with your data and some event-specific data.

Callbacks are also used in GUI programming. The GTK+ tutorial has a nice section on the theory of signals and callbacks.

This wikipedia article has an example in C.

A good example is that new modules written to augment the Apache Web server register with the main apache process by passing them function pointers so those functions are called back to process web page requests.

Usually this can be done by using a function pointer, that is a special variable that points to the memory location of a function. You can then use this to call the function with specific arguments. So there will probably be a function that sets the callback function. This will accept a function pointer and then store that address somewhere where it can be used. After that when the specified event is triggered, it will call that function.

A callback function in C is the equivalent of a function parameter / variable assigned to be used within another function.Wiki Example

In the code below,

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

/* The calling function takes a single callback as a parameter. */
void PrintTwoNumbers(int (*numberSource)(void)) {
    printf("%d and %d\n", numberSource(), numberSource());

/* A possible callback */
int overNineThousand(void) {
    return (rand() % 1000) + 9001;

/* Another possible callback. */
int meaningOfLife(void) {
    return 42;

/* Here we call PrintTwoNumbers() with three different callbacks. */
int main(void) {
    return 0;

The function (*numberSource) inside the function call PrintTwoNumbers is a function to "call back" / execute from inside PrintTwoNumbers as dictated by the code as it runs.

So if you had something like a pthread function you could assign another function to run inside the loop from its instantiation.

Need Your Help

Xcode LLDB Print Statements Fail - NSUndoManager

ios xcode lldb nsundomanager

I have a breakpoint set and want to print my UITextField's superview. I type po myTextField.superview but I receive the following error:

r.java doesn't generate ListView and it refers to another ListView in another project

android listview android-xml r.java-file

The listview wasn't declared in r.java I cleaned and built the app but it doesn't work.