See also

User docs for scripting


FRR has the ability to call Lua scripts to perform calculations, make decisions, or otherwise extend builtin behavior with arbitrary user code. This is implemented using the standard Lua C bindings. The supported version of Lua is 5.3.

C objects may be passed into Lua and Lua objects may be retrieved by C code via a marshalling system. In this way, arbitrary data from FRR may be passed to scripts. It is possible to pass C functions as well.

The Lua environment is isolated from the C environment; user scripts cannot access FRR’s address space unless explicitly allowed by FRR.

For general information on how Lua is used to extend C, refer to Part IV of “Programming in Lua”.


Why Lua

Lua is designed to be embedded in C applications. It is very small; the standard library is 220K. It is relatively fast. It has a simple, minimal syntax that is relatively easy to learn and can be understood by someone with little to no programming experience. Moreover it is widely used to add scripting capabilities to applications. In short it is designed for this task.

Reasons against supporting multiple scripting languages:

  • Each language would require different FFI methods, and specifically different object encoders; a lot of code
  • Languages have different capabilities that would have to be brought to parity with each other; a lot of work
  • Languages have vastly different performance characteristics; this would create alot of basically unfixable issues, and result in a single de facto standard scripting language (the fastest)
  • Each language would need a dedicated maintainer for the above reasons; this is pragmatically difficult
  • Supporting multiple languages fractures the community and limits the audience with which a given script can be shared


FRR’s concept of a script is somewhat abstracted away from the fact that it is Lua underneath. A script in has two things:

  • name
  • state

In code:

struct frrscript {
        /* Script name */
        char *name;

        /* Lua state */
        struct lua_State *L;

name is simply a string. Everything else is in state, which is itself a Lua library object (lua_State). This is an opaque struct that is manipulated using lua_* functions. The basic ones are imported from lua.h and the rest are implemented within FRR to fill our use cases. The thing to remember is that all operations beyond the initial loading the script take place on this opaque state object.

There are four basic actions that can be done on a script:

  • load
  • execute
  • query state
  • unload

They are typically done in this order.


A snippet of Lua code is referred to as a “chunk”. These are simply text. FRR presently assumes chunks are located in individual files specific to one task. These files are stored in the scripts directory and must end in .lua.

A script object is created by loading a script. This is done with frrscript_load(). This function takes the name of the script and an optional callback function. The string “.lua” is appended to the script name, and the resultant filename is looked for in the scripts directory.

For example, to load /etc/frr/scripts/bingus.lua:

struct frrscript *fs = frrscript_load("bingus", NULL);

During loading the script is validated for syntax and its initial environment is setup. By default this does not include the Lua standard library; there are security issues to consider, though for practical purposes untrusted users should not be able to write the scripts directory anyway. If desired the Lua standard library may be added to the script environment using luaL_openlibs(fs->L) after loading the script. Further information on setting up the script environment is in the Lua manual.


After loading, scripts may be executed. A script may take input in the form of variable bindings set in its environment prior to being run, and may provide results by setting the value of variables. Arbitrary C values may be transferred into the script environment, including functions.

A typical execution call looks something like this:

struct frrscript *fs = frrscript_load(...);

int status_ok = 0, status_fail = 1;
struct prefix p = ...;

struct frrscript_env env[] = {
        {"integer", "STATUS_FAIL", &status_fail},
        {"integer", "STATUS_OK", &status_ok},
        {"prefix", "myprefix", &p},

int result = frrscript_call(fs, env);

To execute a loaded script, we need to define the inputs. These inputs are passed by binding values to variable names that will be accessible within the Lua environment. Basically, all communication with the script takes place via global variables within the script, and to provide inputs we predefine globals before the script runs. This is done by passing frrscript_call() an array of struct frrscript_env. Each struct has three fields. The first identifies the type of the value being passed; more on this later. The second defines the name of the global variable within the script environment to bind the third argument (the value) to.

The script is then executed and returns a general status code. In the success case this will be 0, otherwise it will be nonzero. The script itself does not determine this code, it is provided by the Lua interpreter.

Querying State

When a chunk is executed, its state at exit is preserved and can be inspected.

After running a script, results may be retrieved by querying the script’s state. Again this is done by retrieving the values of global variables, which are known to the script author to be “output” variables.

A result is retrieved like so:

struct frrscript_env myresult = {"string", "myresult"};

char *myresult = frrscript_get_result(fs, &myresult);

... do something ...

XFREE(MTYPE_TMP, myresult);

As with arguments, results are retrieved by providing a struct frrscript_env specifying a type and a global name. No value is necessary, nor is it modified by frrscript_get_result(). That function simply extracts the requested value from the script state and returns it.

In most cases the returned value will be allocated with MTYPE_TMP and will need to be freed after use.


To destroy a script and its associated state:


Values returned by frrscript_get_result are still valid after the script they were retrieved from is unloaded.

Note that you must unload and then load the script if you want to reset its state, for example to run it again with different inputs. Otherwise the state from the previous run carries over into subsequent runs.


Earlier sections glossed over the meaning of the type name field in struct frrscript_env and how data is passed between C and Lua. Lua, as a dynamically typed, garbage collected language, cannot directly use C values without some kind of marshalling / unmarshalling system to translate types between the two runtimes.

Lua communicates with C code using a stack. C code wishing to provide data to Lua scripts must provide a function that marshalls the C data into a Lua representation and pushes it on the stack. C code wishing to retrieve data from Lua must provide a corresponding unmarshalling function that retrieves a Lua value from the stack and converts it to the corresponding C type. These two functions, together with a chosen name of the type they operate on, are referred to as codecs in FRR.

A codec is defined as:

typedef void (*encoder_func)(lua_State *, const void *);
typedef void *(*decoder_func)(lua_State *, int);

struct frrscript_codec {
        const char *typename;
        encoder_func encoder;
        decoder_func decoder;

A typename string and two function pointers.

typename can be anything you want. For example, for the combined types of struct prefix and its equivalent in Lua I have chosen the name prefix. There is no restriction on naming here, it is just a human name used as a key and specified when passing and retrieving values.

encoder is a function that takes a lua_State * and a C type and pushes onto the Lua stack a value representing the C type. For C structs, the usual case, this will typically be a Lua table (tables are the only datastructure Lua has). For example, here is the encoder function for struct prefix:

void lua_pushprefix(lua_State *L, const struct prefix *prefix)
        char buffer[PREFIX_STRLEN];

        zlog_debug("frrlua: pushing prefix table");

        lua_pushstring(L, prefix2str(prefix, buffer, PREFIX_STRLEN));
        lua_setfield(L, -2, "network");
        lua_pushinteger(L, prefix->prefixlen);
        lua_setfield(L, -2, "length");
        lua_pushinteger(L, prefix->family);
        lua_setfield(L, -2, "family");

This function pushes a single value onto the Lua stack. It is a table whose equivalent in Lua is:

{ ["network"] = "", ["prefixlen"] = 24, ["family"] = 2 }

decoder does the reverse; it takes a lua_State * and an index into the stack, and unmarshalls a Lua value there into the corresponding C type. Again for struct prefix:

void *lua_toprefix(lua_State *L, int idx)
        struct prefix *p = XCALLOC(MTYPE_TMP, sizeof(struct prefix));

        lua_getfield(L, idx, "network");
        str2prefix(lua_tostring(L, -1), p);
        lua_pop(L, 1);

        return p;

By convention these functions should be called lua_to*, as this is the naming convention used by the Lua C library for the basic types e.g. lua_tointeger and lua_tostring.

The returned data must always be copied off the stack and the copy must be allocated with MTYPE_TMP. This way it is possible to unload the script (destroy the state) without invalidating any references to values stored in it.

To register a new type with its corresponding encoding functions:

struct frrscript_codec frrscript_codecs_lib[] = {
          {.typename = "prefix",
           .encoder = (encoder_func)lua_pushprefix,
           .decoder = lua_toprefix},
          {.typename = "sockunion",
           .encoder = (encoder_func)lua_pushsockunion,
           .decoder = lua_tosockunion},


From this point on the type names are available to be used when calling any script and getting its results.


Marshalled types are not restricted to simple values like integers, strings and tables. It is possible to marshall a type such that the resultant object in Lua is an actual object-oriented object, complete with methods that call back into defined C functions. See the Lua manual for how to do this; for a code example, look at how zlog is exported into the script environment.

Script Environment


For convenience, script environments are populated by default with a log object which contains methods corresponding to each of the zlog levels:"info")

The log messages will show up in the daemon’s log output.


For a complete code example involving passing custom types, retrieving results, and doing complex calculations in Lua, look at the implementation of the match script SCRIPT command for BGP routemaps. This example calls into a script with a route prefix and attributes received from a peer and expects the script to return a match / no match / match and update result.

An example script to use with this follows. This script matches, does not match or updates a route depending on how many BGP UPDATE messages the peer has received when the script is called, simply as a demonstration of what can be accomplished with scripting.

-- Example route map matching
-- author: qlyoung
-- The following variables are available to us:
--   log
--     logging library, with the usual functions
--   prefix
--     the route under consideration
--   attributes
--     the route's attributes
--   peer
--     the peer which received this route
--     status code in case of failure
--     status code for no match
--     status code for match
--     status code for match-and-set
-- We need to set the following out values:
--   action
--      Set to the appropriate status code to indicate what we did
--   attributes
--      Setting fields on here will propagate them back up to the caller if
--      'action' is set to RM_MATCH_AND_CHANGE."Evaluating route " .. .. " from peer " .. peer.remote_id.string)

function on_match (prefix, attrs)"Match")
        action = RM_MATCH

function on_nomatch (prefix, attrs)"No match")
        action = RM_NOMATCH

function on_match_and_change (prefix, attrs)
        action = RM_MATCH_AND_CHANGE"Match and change")
        attrs["metric"] = attrs["metric"] + 7

special_routes = {
        [""] = on_match,
        [""] = on_nomatch,
        [""] = on_match_and_change,

if special_routes[] then
        special_routes[](prefix, attributes)
elseif peer.stats.update_in % 3 == 0 then
        on_match(prefix, attributes)
elseif peer.stats.update_in % 2 == 0 then
        on_nomatch(prefix, attributes)
        on_match_and_change(prefix, attributes)