MuPDF API Overview

Basic MuPDF usage example

For an example of how to use MuPDF in the most basic way, see doc/example.c. To limit the complexity and give an easier introduction this code has no error handling at all, but any serious piece of code using MuPDF should use the error handling strategies described below.

Common function arguments

Many functions in MuPDFs interface take a context argument.

A context contains global state used by MuPDF inside functions when parsing or rendering pages of the document. It contains for example:

  • an exception stack (see error handling below),
  • a memory allocator (allowing for custom allocators)
  • a resource store (for caching of images, fonts, etc.)
  • a set of locks and (un-)locking functions (for multi-threading)


Other functions in MuPDF’s interface take arguments such as document, stream and device which contain state for each type of object. Those arguments each have a reference to a context and therefore act as proxies for a context.

Without the set of locks and accompanying functions the context and its proxies may only be used in a single-threaded application.

Error handling

MuPDF uses a set of exception handling macros to simplify error return and cleanup. Conceptually, they work a lot like C++’s try/catch system, but do not require any special compiler support.

The basic formulation is as follows:

The fz_always block is optional, and can safely be omitted.

The macro based nature of this system has 3 main limitations:

1. Never return from within try (or ‘goto’ or longjmp out of it). This upsets the internal housekeeping of the macros and will cause problems later on. The code will detect such things happening, but by then it is too late to give a helpful error report as to where the original infraction occurred.

2. The fz_try(ctx) { … } fz_always(ctx) { … } fz_catch(ctx) { … } is not one atomic C statement. That is to say, if you do:

  • if (condition)
  • fz_try(ctx) { … }
  • fz_catch(ctx) { … }
    then you will not get what you want. Use the following instead:

3. The macros are implemented using setjmp and longjmp, and so the standard C restrictions on the use of those functions apply to fz_try/fz_catch too. In particular, any “truly local” variable that is set between the start of fz_try and something in fz_try throwing an exception may become undefined as part of the process of throwing that exception.

As a way of mitigating this problem, we provide an fz_var() macro that tells the compiler to ensure that that variable is not unset by the act of throwing the exception.

A model piece of code using these macros then might be:

Things to note about this:

1. If make_tiles throws an exception, this will immediately be handled by some higher level exception handler. If it succeeds, t will be set before fz_try starts, so there is no need to fz_var(t);

2. We try first off to make some bricks as our building material. If this fails, we fall back to straw. If this fails, we’ll end up in the fz_catch, and the process will fail neatly.

3. We assume in this code that combine takes new reference to both the walls and the roof it uses, and therefore that w and r need to be cleaned up in all cases.

4. We assume the standard C convention that it is safe to destroy NULL things.


First off, study the basic usage example in doc/example.c and make sure you understand how it works as the data structures manipulated there will be refered to in this section too.

MuPDF can usefully be built into a multi-threaded application without the library needing to know anything threading at all. If the library opens a document in one thread, and then sits there as a ‘server’ requesting pages and rendering them for other threads that need them, then the library is only ever being called from this one thread.

Other threads can still be used to handle UI requests etc, but as far as MuPDF is concerned it is only being used in a single threaded way. In this instance, there are no threading issues with MuPDF at all, and it can safely be used without any locking, as described in the previous sections.

This section will attempt to explain how to use MuPDF in the more complex case; where we genuinely want to call the MuPDF library concurrently from multiple threads within a single application.

MuPDF can be invoked with a user supplied set of locking functions. It uses these to take mutexes around operations that would conflict if performed concurrently in multiple threads. By leaving the exact implementation of locks to the caller MuPDF remains threading library agnostic.

The following simple rules should be followed to ensure that multi-threaded operations run smoothly:

1. “No simultaneous calls to MuPDF in different threads are allowed to use the same context.”

Most of the time it is simplest to just use a different context for every thread; just create a new context at the same time as you create the thread.

2. “The document is bound to the context with which it is created.”

All subsequent accesses to the document implicitly use the same context; this means that only 1 thread can ever be accessing the document at once. This does not mean that the document can only ever be used from one thread, though in many cases this is the simplest structure overall.

3. “Any device is bound to the context with which it is created.”

All subsequent uses of a device implicitly use the context with which it was created; this means that if a device is used with a document, it should be created with the same context as that document was. This does not mean that the device can only ever be used from one thread, though in many cases this is the simplest structure overall.

So, how does a multi-threaded example differ from a non-multithreaded one?

Firstly, when we create the first context, we call fz_new_context as before, but the second argument should be a pointer to a set of locking functions.

The calling code should provide FZ_LOCK_MAX mutexes, which will be locked/unlocked by MuPDF calling the lock/unlock function pointers in the supplied structure with the user pointer from the structure and the lock number, i (0 <= i < FZ_LOCK_MAX). These mutexes can safely be recursive or non-recursive as MuPDF only calls in a non- recursive style.

To make subsequent contexts, the user should NOT call fz_new_context again (as this will fail to share important resources such as the store and glyphcache), but should rather call fz_clone_context. Each of these cloned contexts can be freed by fz_free_contextas usual.

To open a document, call fz_open_document as usual, passing a context and a filename; this context is bound to the document. All future calls to access the document will use this context internally.

Only one thread at a time can therefore perform operations such as fetching a page, or rendering that page to a display list. Once a display list has been obtained however, it can be rendered from any other thread (or even from several threads simultaneously, giving banded rendering).

This means that an implementer has two basic choices when constructing an application to use MuPDF in multi-threaded mode. Either he can construct it so that a single nominated thread opens the document and then acts as a ‘server’ creating display lists for other threads to render, or he can add his own mutex around calls to mupdf that use the document. The former is likely to be far more efficient in the long run.

For an example of how to do multi-threading see doc/multi-threaded.c which has a main thread and one rendering thread per page.