Binding to native code using dart:ffi

Flutter mobile can use the dart:ffi library to call native C APIs. FFI stands for foreign function interface. Other terms for similar functionality include native interface and language bindings.

Before your library or program can use the FFI library to bind to native code, you must ensure that the native code is loaded and its symbols are visible to Dart. This page focuses on compiling, packaging, and loading native code within a Flutter plugin or app.

This tutorial demonstrates how to bundle C/C++ sources in a Flutter plugin and bind to them using the Dart FFI library on both Android and iOS. In this walkthrough, you’ll create a C function that implements 32-bit addition and then exposes it through a Dart plugin named “native_add”.

Dynamic vs static linking

A native library can be linked into an app either dynamically or statically. A statically linked library is embedded into the app’s executable image, and is loaded when the app starts.

Symbols from a statically linked library can be loaded using DynamicLibrary.executable or DynamicLibrary.process.

A dynamically linked library, by contrast, is distributed in a separate file or folder within the app, and loaded on-demand. On Android, a dynamically linked library is distributed as a set of .so (ELF) files, one for each architecture. On iOS, it’s distributed as a .framework folder.

A dynamically linked library can be loaded into Dart via

API documentation is available from the Dart dev channel: Dart API reference documentation.

Step 1: Create a plugin

If you already have a plugin, skip this step.

To create a plugin called “native_add”, do the following:

$ flutter create --platforms=android,ios --template=plugin native_add
$ cd native_add

Step 2: Add C/C++ sources

You need to inform both the Android and iOS build systems about the native code so the code can be compiled and linked appropriately into the final application.

You add the sources to the ios folder, because CocoaPods doesn’t allow including sources above the podspec file, but Gradle allows you to point to the ios folder. It’s not required to use the same sources for both iOS and Android; you may, of course, add Android-specific sources to the android folder and modify CMakeLists.txt appropriately.

The FFI library can only bind against C symbols, so in C++ these symbols must be marked extern C. You should also add attributes to indicate that the symbols are referenced from Dart, to prevent the linker from discarding the symbols during link-time optimization.

For example, to create a C++ file named ios/Classes/native_add.cpp, use the following instructions. (Note that the template has already created this file for you.) Start from the root directory of your project:

cat > ios/Classes/native_add.cpp << EOF
#include <stdint.h>

extern "C" __attribute__((visibility("default"))) __attribute__((used))
int32_t native_add(int32_t x, int32_t y) {
    return x + y;

On iOS, you need to tell Xcode to statically link the file:

  1. In Xcode, open Runner.xcworkspace.
  2. Add the C/C++/Objective-C/Swift source files to the Xcode project.

On Android, you need to create a CMakeLists.txt file to define how the sources should be compiled and point Gradle to it. From the root of your project directory, use the following instructions

cat > android/CMakeLists.txt << EOF
cmake_minimum_required(VERSION 3.4.1)  # for example

add_library( native_add

             # Sets the library as a shared library.

             # Provides a relative path to your source file(s).
             ../ios/Classes/native_add.cpp )

Finally, add an externalNativeBuild section to android/build.gradle. For example:

android {
  // ...
  externalNativeBuild {
    // Encapsulates your CMake build configurations.
    cmake {
      // Provides a relative path to your CMake build script.
      path "CMakeLists.txt"
  // ...

Step 3: Load the code using the FFI library

In this example, you can add the following code to lib/native_add.dart. However the location of the Dart binding code is not important.

First, you must create a DynamicLibrary handle to the native code. This step varies between iOS and Android:

import 'dart:ffi'; // For FFI
import 'dart:io'; // For Platform.isX

final DynamicLibrary nativeAddLib = Platform.isAndroid
    : DynamicLibrary.process();

Note that on Android the native library is named in CMakeLists.txt (see above), but on iOS it takes the plugin’s name.

With a handle to the enclosing library, you can resolve the native_add symbol:

final int Function(int x, int y) nativeAdd = nativeAddLib
    .lookup<NativeFunction<Int32 Function(Int32, Int32)>>('native_add')

Finally, you can call it. To demonstrate this within the auto-generated “example” app (example/lib/main.dart):

// Inside of
        body: Center(
          child: Text('1 + 2 == ${nativeAdd(1, 2)}'),

Other use cases

iOS and macOS

Dynamically linked libraries are automatically loaded by the dynamic linker when the app starts. Their constituent symbols can be resolved using DynamicLibrary.process. You can also get a handle to the library with to restrict the scope of symbol resolution, but it’s unclear how Apple’s review process handles this.

Symbols statically linked into the application binary can be resolved using DynamicLibrary.executable or DynamicLibrary.process.

Platform library

To link against a platform library, use the following instructions:

  1. In Xcode, open Runner.xcworkspace.
  2. Select the target platform.
  3. Click + in the Linked Frameworks and Libraries section.
  4. Select the system library to link against.

First-party library

A first-party native library can be included either as source or as a (signed) .framework file. It’s probably possible to include statically linked archives as well, but it requires testing.

Source code

To link directly to source code, use the following instructions:

  1. In Xcode, open Runner.xcworkspace.
  2. Add the C/C++/Objective-C/Swift source files to the Xcode project.
  3. Add the following prefix to the exported symbol declarations to ensure they are visible to Dart:


    extern "C" /* <= C++ only */ __attribute__((visibility("default"))) __attribute__((used))



Compiled (dynamic) library

To link to a compiled dynamic library, use the following instructions:

  1. If a properly signed Framework file is present, open Runner.xcworkspace.
  2. Add the framework file to the Embedded Binaries section.
  3. Also add it to the Linked Frameworks & Libraries section of the target in Xcode.

Compiled (dynamic) library (macOS)

To create add a closed source library to a Flutter macOS Desktop app, use the following instructions.

  1. Follow the instructions for Flutter desktop to create a Flutter desktop app.
  2. Open the yourapp/macos/Runner.xcworkspace in Xcode.
    1. Drag your precompiled library (libyourlibrary.dylib) into Runner/Frameworks.
    2. Click Runner and go to the Build Phases tab.
      1. Drag libyourlibrary.dylib into the Copy Bundle Resources list.
      2. Under Embed Libraries, check Code Sign on Copy.
      3. Under Link Binary With Libraries, set status to Optional. (We use dynamic linking, no need to statically link.)
    3. Click Runner and go to the General tab.
      1. Drag libyourlibrary.dylib into the Frameworks, Libararies and Embedded Content list.
      2. Select Embed & Sign.
    4. Click Runner and go to the Build Settings tab.
      1. In the Search Paths section configure the Library Search Paths to include the path where libyourlibrary.dylib is located.
  3. Edit lib/main.dart.
    1. Use'libyourlibrary.dylib') to dynamically link to the symbols.
    2. Call your native function somewhere in a widget.
  4. Run flutter run and check that your native function gets called.
  5. Run flutter build macos to build a selfcontained release version of your app.

Open-source third-party library

To create a Flutter plugin that includes both C/C++/Objective-C and Dart code, use the following instructions:

  1. In your plugin project, open ios/<myproject>.podspec.
  2. Add the native code to the source_files field.

The native code is then statically linked into the application binary of any app that uses this plugin.

Closed-source third-party library

To create a Flutter plugin that includes Dart source code, but distribute the C/C++ library in binary form, use the following instructions:

  1. In your plugin project, open ios/<myproject>.podspec.
  2. Add a vendored_frameworks field. See the CocoaPods example.

Do not upload this plugin (or any plugin containing binary code) to Instead, this plugin should be downloaded from a trusted third-party, as shown in the CocoaPods example.


Platform library

To link against a platform library, use the following instructions:

  1. Find the desired library in the Android NDK Native APIs list in the Android docs. This lists stable native APIs.
  2. Load the library using For example, to load OpenGL ES (v3):'');

You might need to update the Android manifest file of the app or plugin if indicated by the documentation.

First-party library

The process for including native code in source code or binary form is the same for an app or plugin.

Open-source third-party

Follow the Add C and C++ code to your project instructions in the Android docs to add native code and support for the native code toolchain (either CMake or ndk-build).

Closed-source third-party library

To create a Flutter plugin that includes Dart source code, but distribute the C/C++ library in binary form, use the following instructions:

  1. Open the android/build.gradle file for your project.
  2. Add the AAR artifact as a dependency. Don’t include the artifact in your Flutter package. Instead, it should be downloaded from a repository, such as JCenter.


This feature is not yet supported for web plugins.


Android APK size (shared object compression)

Android guidelines in general recommend distributing native shared objects uncompressed because that actually saves on device space. Shared objects can be directly loaded from the APK instead of unpacking them on device into a temporary location and then loading. APKs are additionally packed in transit - that is why you should be looking at download size.

Flutter APKs by default don’t follow these guidelines and compress and - this leads to smaller APK size but larger on device size.

Shared objects from third parties can change this default setting with android:extractNativeLibs="true" in their AndroidManifest.xml and stop the compression of,, and any user-added shared objects. To re-enable compression, override the setting in your_app_name/android/app/src/main/AndroidManifest.xml in the following way.

@@ -1,5 +1,6 @@
 <manifest xmlns:android=""
-    package="com.example.your_app_name">
+    xmlns:tools=""
+    package="com.example.your_app_name" >
     <!-- is an that
          calls FlutterMain.startInitialization(this); in its onCreate method.
          In most cases you can leave this as-is, but you if you want to provide
          additional functionality it is fine to subclass or reimplement
          FlutterApplication and put your custom class here. -->
@@ -8,7 +9,9 @@
-        android:icon="@mipmap/ic_launcher">
+        android:icon="@mipmap/ic_launcher"
+        android:extractNativeLibs="true"
+        tools:replace="android:extractNativeLibs">

iOS symbols stripped

When creating a release archive (IPA) the symbols are stripped by Xcode.

  1. In Xcode, go to Target Runner > Build Settings > Strip Style.
  2. Change from All Symbols to Non-Global Symbols.