Sunday, May 7, 2023

Careful with std::shared_ptr


std::shared_ptr is a C++ smart pointer who takes shared ownership of the pointee. It solves some of the memory problems associated with the C language which are memory leaks; buffer overruns and dangling pointers. The first two can be solved by using std::vector; the first and last one by using std::shared_ptr. shared_ptr has though some sharp edges:

  • one can create cycles between std::shared_ptr (i.e. A points to B; B points to A). The memory isn't released then. Solution is to use std::weak_ptr to break the cycle. Alternatively one can use a raw pointer to point back to the owner.
  • never assign a 'raw' resource to two std::shared_ptr's. Instead once a resource is assigned to a std::shared_ptr use the std::shared_ptr to share that resource.
  • use enabled_shared_from_this to hand out a std::shared_ptr of yourself. This fails in constructor because the std::shared_ptr structure is build after the constructor returns.

Garbage collectors don't suffer from these issues but the runtime price one pays for it is large. Also their non-deterministic destruction may another big hurdle to coop with.

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