Tcl/Tk with C for Image Processing

See how to use a mix of Tcl, Tk, and C to make image manipulation both easy and efficient.
Tcl/Tk as an Interface for Your C Programs

Let's make a small distinction between two kinds of C-Tcl/Tk applications: those which act like a shell (wish, for example) and those which use the Tcl/Tk extension in a predetermined way.

If you want to create another “instance” of wish with some extra commands you have created, you should read the man pages concerning Tcl_Main and Tcl_AppInit.

If your program uses Tcl/Tk only for the interface, and it is not intended to be used in a “shell-like” fashion, the approach is slightly different. I recommend you grab the nice demo program tkHelloWorld.tar.gz (see Sidebar) to use as an example.

Basically, your program has to implement the following four steps:

  • Initialize Tcl and Tk.

  • Create the Tcl commands responsible for calling your C routines.

  • Ask Tcl to evaluate an “interface description” file.

  • Let Tk control the main flow of the program.

In the C code shown in Listing 1, the comments identify exactly which of the four steps is being done.

Listing 1

From this point on, we wish to use C programming only for some critical functions, since the main flow and control of our application is handled by Tk.

Calling C Functions from Tcl

If you are interested in the myriad ways you can call a C routine, read TCL and the TK Toolkit by John K. Ousterhout, Addison-Wesley, 1994.

Essentially your C function must have a prototype like the following:

int
C_func_name (ClientData cd, Tcl_Interp *interp,
             int argc, char **argv);

and you must register it by:

Tcl_CreateCommand (interp, "Tcl_func_name",
        C_func_name, (ClientData *) NULL,
        (Tcl_CmdDeleteProc *) NULL);
Then, whenever Tcl encounters the command Tcl_func_name, it will call your routine, which will receive the Tcl parameters just as main receives the argc and argv arguments from the shell, i.e., argc will be the number of words and argv will be the “vector of strings”.

Passing Images Back and Forth

We want our C routine to process an image called image_name under Tk. The immediate solution would be to pass the color of each pixel (the photo widget has this option) again and again until the image is complete. While this program was running, we could go out for lunch, visit a few friends, have dinner and see a movie. However, there is a better way to accomplish the goal. From C, we ask Tk to take care of it. First, we have to define:

Tk_PhotoHandle      image;
Tk_PhotoImageBlock  blimage;

Then call the following functions in sequence:

image = Tk_FindPhoto ("image_name");
Tk_PhotoGetImage (image, &blimage);
The image is in blimage, which is a structure defined in tk.h as:
typedef struct {
  unsigned char *pixelPtr;
  int width;
  int height;
  int pitch;
  int pixelSize;
  int offset[3];
} Tk_PhotoImageBlock;
All color information comes in unsigned characters (values between 0 and 255). The pixelPtr is the address of the first pixel (top-left corner). The width and height define the image dimensions, while pixelSize is the address difference between two horizontally adjacent pixels, and pitch is the address difference between two vertically adjacent ones. Finally, the offset array contains the offsets from the address of a pixel to the addresses of the bytes containing the red, green and blue components.

Using the above definitions allows different representations of the image; for example:

  • Define a point with a dimension of three bytes, one for each color component. Then the pixelSize is 3, the offset 0, 1 and 2 and the pitch three times the width.

  • Think of the color image as three planes (images), one for each color. Then the pixelSize is 1, the offset is 0, width*height and 2*width*height. Finally, the pitch is equal to the width.

The colors of a given pixel can be obtained with three simple C macros:

#define RED(p,x,y)  ((p)->pixelPtr[(y)*(p)->
pitch + (x)*(p)->pixelSize + (p)->offset[0]] )
#define GREEN(p,x,y) ((p)->pixelPtr[(y)*(p)->
pitch + (x)*(p)->pixelSize + (p)->offset[1]])
#define BLUE(p,x,y)  ((p)->pixelPtr[(y)*(p)->
pitch + (x)*(p)->pixelSize + (p)->offset[2]])

You call the macros giving the address of the block structure explained above as the first parameter, and the x and y coordinates (where 0,0 is the upper-left corner) of the pixel as the second and third. For an optimized program, it would be much faster to use address differences to determine the position of the next pixel from the current pixel, i.e., its neighbor.

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