Signals and Callbacks

A convenient way for objects to inform each other about events are so-called signals. They are especially useful for GUI programming. For example, a button may inform other objects through the signal clicked about the fact that it has been clicked on.

You define signals in a class and interested parties register their callback functions to these signals of an instance. The instance can emit the signal in the style of a method call and each callback function (also referred to as handler) connected to the signal will get called.

In languages like Java which don't offer a special signal mechanism you have to implement this functionality usually with listeners, representing the same concept.

class Foo : Object {
    public signal void some_event ();   // definition of the signal

    public void method () {
        some_event ();                  // emitting the signal (callbacks get invoked)

void callback_a () {
    stdout.printf ("Callback A\n");

void callback_b () {
    stdout.printf ("Callback B\n");

void main () {
    var foo = new Foo ();
    foo.some_event.connect (callback_a);      // connecting the callback functions
    foo.some_event.connect (callback_b);
    foo.method ();

Compile and Run

$ valac signals.vala
$ ./signals

Note that a class with signals always has to inherit from Object or one of its sub-classes. Callback functions get connected to a signal by calling .connect() on the signal.

A signal may also have multiple parameters. The signatures of the callback functions have to match the one of the signal, except that you may either leave out as many trailing parameters of the signature as you like or provide the signal source additionally as the first parameter of the callback function. Example:

public class Foo : Object {
    public signal void some_event (int x, int y, double z);
    // ...

The following callback signatures now match the signal:

void on_some_event ()
void on_some_event (int x)
void on_some_event (int x, int y)
void on_some_event (int x, int y, double z)
void on_some_event (Foo source, int x, int y, double z)

The names of the parameters and of the callback function may get chosen freely, of course. The source object may help to distinguish in the case that you connect one callback to different instances of the same type.

With the following syntax you can connect signals to anonymous functions (lambdas) as well:

foo.some_event.connect ((source, x, y, z) => {
    stdout.printf ("%d %d %g\n", x, y, z);

Note that there are no type declarations in the parameter lists of anonymous functions. The compiler automatically infers them from the definition of the signal.

Disconnecting Signals

You can disconnect signal callbacks in one of two ways. The first and simple one is to call myobject.mysignal.disconnect(callback).

The more advanced way (which you'll need for closures for example) is to store the return value of the connect() call somewhere. Its a ulong containing a signal handler id. Pass this signal handler id to myobject.disconnect() - note that we are invoking disconnect() on the object and not on the signal this time around.

foo.some_event.connect (on_some_event);
foo.some_event.disconnect (on_some_event);

ulong handler_id = foo.some_event.connect (() => { /* ... */ });
foo.disconnect (handler_id);

Default Signal Handlers and connect_after()

A signal declared virtual may have a default signal handler implementation:

class Demo : Object {
    public virtual signal void sig () {
        stdout.printf ("default handler\n");

Signal handlers are connected before (i.e. executed before) the default signal handler. If you want to connect a signal after the default handler use connect_after():

void main () {
    var demo = new Demo ();
    demo.sig.connect (() => stdout.printf ("before\n"));
    demo.sig.connect_after (() => stdout.printf ("after\n"));
    demo.sig (); // emit signal


default handler

The default handler can be overridden by a subclass:

class Sub : Demo {
    public override void sig () {
        stdout.printf ("overridden default handler\n");

What about user_data?

If you're coming from a GObject/C background you might be wondering how to pass a user_data argument to a signal handler. The answer is: Vala uses the user_data argument implicitly in the generated C code, either for the context of a closure or for the instance reference (this) of an instance method. So you can just access either the outer data from within a closure or any instance variable of the handler's class.

class Foo {
    public signal void sig ();

class Bar {
    private int data = 42;

    public void handler () {
        stdout.printf ("Data via instance: %d\n",;

void main () {
    var foo = new Foo ();

    int data = 42;
    foo.sig.connect (() => {        // 'user_data' in C code = variables from outer context
        stdout.printf ("Data via closure: %d\n", data);

    var bar = new Bar ();
    foo.sig.connect (bar.handler);  // 'user_data' in C code = 'bar'

    // Emit signal
    foo.sig ();

Projects/Vala/SignalsAndCallbacks (last edited 2013-11-22 16:48:27 by WilliamJonMcCann)