December 96 - The OpenDoc Road: OpenDoc Memory Management and the Toolbox
The OpenDoc Road:
OpenDoc Memory Management and the Toolbox
Troy Gaul and Vincent Lo
OpenDoc has its own memory management system, but OpenDoc part editors also
need to interact with the Macintosh Toolbox, which often does memory management
using its own system. This column will point out potential pitfalls resulting
from the interaction of these two systems, and suggest strategies to avoid
OpenDoc has adopted the well-tested Memory Manager from the MacApp and Bedrock
frameworks for its own use. This memory manager was designed to provide fast
and efficient memory allocation to the framework, and since OpenDoc's memory
requirements are similar to those of a framework, it's natural for OpenDoc to
reuse the code that has served the framework so well. The OpenDoc Memory
Manager (as we'll call it here) is installed with OpenDoc as a shared library
and handles most of the memory allocation and deallocation in an OpenDoc
There are several reasons for OpenDoc to have its own memory manager:
- The OpenDoc Memory Manager can improve upon the memory manager of the
underlying platform. On Macintosh 7.x systems, for instance, a faster and more
space-efficient memory allocation algorithm replaces the one provided by the
Macintosh Toolbox. In general, having a separate memory manager for OpenDoc
allows the platform implementer to fine-tune OpenDoc performance.
- The OpenDoc Memory Manager provides a cross-platform API for both
platform implementers and part developers, covering both nonrelocatable and
relocatable blocks. For platforms with no built-in relocatable blocks, platform
implementers could provide relocatable blocks through the OpenDoc Memory
Manager API without changing the underlying operating system.
- The OpenDoc Memory Manager is packaged as a CFM shared library, so it
can easily be replaced if a new version is required for improved performance or
feature enhancements. Also, as Apple evolves the Mac OS and its memory manager,
OpenDoc will adopt this new technology. Developers using the OpenDoc Memory
Manager API will reap the benefits of the new system memory manager without
modifying or even recompiling their part editors.
The OpenDoc Memory
Manager defines a low-level procedural API, which is described in the "Memory
Management" section of Appendix A in the OpenDoc Cookbook
. An OpenDoc utility
library named ODMemory (provided as source code) organizes the low-level API
into high-level functions. The major difference between the underlying API and
the "wrapper" ODMemory API is that the latter signals an exception when an
error condition is encountered. For more on exception handling in OpenDoc, see
"OpenDoc Exception Handling."
Handling exceptions in OpenDoc is a large topic, which will only be touched on
here. Readers should refer to the "Exception Handling" section of Appendix A in
the OpenDoc Cookbook for more details.
In a nutshell, OpenDoc allows developers to choose their own exception
mechanisms while providing a convenient utility to enable these exception
mechanisms to work with SOMobjects(TM) for Mac OS (the Apple implementation of
the IBM SOM(TM) technology), which underlies OpenDoc.
SOM propagates exceptions through the environment parameter (commonly known as
the ev parameter). It's illegal to throw an exception out of a SOM method.
Instead, the exception code should be stuffed into the ev parameter and
returned to the caller. The caller should examine the ev parameter to see
whether an error has been signaled in the called function. Since this checking
needs to be done after every SOM method invocation, OpenDoc provides a utility
to automatically check the ev parameter. If an error has been signaled, the
utility will use the chosen exception mechanism (through the use of macros) to
propagate the exception.
The macros for the SOM exception handlers are prefixed with "SOM_": SOM_TRY,
SOM_CATCH_ALL, and SOM_ENDTRY. These macros should not be confused with TRY,
CATCH_ALL, and ENDTRY. The non-SOM exception handler macros do not propagate
the exception automatically unless RERAISE is called explicitly in the catch
block, and they can't be used to propagate an exception across a SOM
To ensure optimum usage of memory, part developers should use the OpenDoc
Memory Manager API or the ODMemory utility library to satisfy their memory
needs. The only exception is when the part editor is interacting with a Toolbox
manager that requires memory to be allocated in a certain memory heap. We'll go
into more detail about this in a moment.
The OpenDoc Memory Manager allocates fixed-sized, nonrelocatable blocks of
memory and organizes them into heaps. The memory allocated for these heaps may
come from the application heap, temporary memory, or the system heap. These
memory blocks (called allocation segments
) are subdivided into smaller memory
blocks as memory requests are made by OpenDoc objects and part editors. When
MMAllocate or ODNewPtr is called to allocate a block of memory, the OpenDoc
Memory Manager returns a pointer to one of these memory blocks in an allocation
When an OpenDoc process is started up, the OpenDoc Memory Manager allocates a
small amount of memory for a heap, which becomes the default heap. Clients of
the OpenDoc Memory Manager can create extra heaps and make any of these the
If a new block is requested and no allocation segments have enough free space
to satisfy the request, the OpenDoc Memory Manager will trigger the creation of
another allocation segment, which has the effect of growing the heap.
Similarly, when all blocks in an allocation segment are freed, the segment is
freed as well, shrinking the heap.
The OpenDoc Memory Manager and ODMemory utility also provide a way to allocate
relocatable blocks. These blocks are not suballocated from the allocation
segments; instead, the OpenDoc Memory Manager allocates them directly from the
same operating system heap zone that the OpenDoc heap allocates segments from.
Typically, several OpenDoc part editors run in the single process associated
with a document. There's no way to determine how many part editors are going to
be used in a document and how much memory each part editor requires. Therefore,
it's impossible to know how big the memory partition of the process should be
before opening the OpenDoc document. As described above, the OpenDoc Memory
Manager has its own allocation scheme, which is not limited by the application
partition, so the memory partition becomes less significant. (Currently the
default heap is allocated from temporary memory, but this may change in the
future.) The elimination of the need for the end user to understand the concept
of application heap and adjust the memory partition is one of the design goals
However, users familiar with OpenDoc might remember that the Document Info
dialog allows them to change the partition size of the process. You might ask,
"If the OpenDoc Memory Manager does what it claims to, why do I need to adjust
the memory partition?"
Even though most of the memory allocation is done through the OpenDoc Memory
Manager, Toolbox managers do allocate memory in the application heap, and the
amount required varies considerably depending on the size of the data
manipulated and the operations performed. Changing the memory partition is
needed to accommodate these cases.
When a document is created, it's opened into a process of a default size. Users
can change the default size for the document by using the Document Info dialog.
There's also a desktop utility called Infinity OpenDoc Sizer that's capable of
changing either the partition size of a particular document (without first
having to open it) or the default partition size used by all documents that
don't already have custom partitions. It's available in the Developer Release
area of the OpenDoc Web site (http://www.opendoc.apple.com) and accompanies
this column on this issue's CD and develop's Web site.
As your code makes calls into the Macintosh Toolbox, you'll find several places
where the Toolbox allocates memory for you. Generally, this memory is allocated
out of the current heap, which is usually the application heap. Since the size
of an OpenDoc document's application heap is limited (the default heap size
leaves only about 100K of space free after OpenDoc itself is loaded), you need
to be careful when calling Toolbox routines that allocate in that heap. With
some care, you can control your allocations so that your users won't have to
increase your document's heap size in order to use your part.
When you're dealing with resources in particular, there are a few techniques
you can use to handle memory allocations. Standard resource access routines
such as GetResource will generally cause the associated memory to be allocated
in the application heap. If you're using a resource for only a short period of
time and it's fairly small, you can continue to use these routines to access it
and load it into the application heap.
For larger resources, however, this won't work. Luckily, OpenDoc provides the
utility library UseRsrcM to help, as described in the "Resource Handling"
section of Appendix A in the OpenDoc Cookbook. The utility routine
ODReadResource allows you to load resources from your part's shared library
file into temporary memory. This works by determining the size of the resource,
allocating a relocatable block of this size in temporary memory, and using
ReadPartialResource to load the resource directly into that block. (Note,
however, that resources read in by ODReadResource are detached; you cannot, for
instance, call ChangedResource to write out modifications to them. Also, each
call to ODReadResource will return a new copy of the resource.) If you need to
access large resources from files other than your part -- for instance, for a
sound-editing part that needs to load an 'snd ' resource from another file --
you can use this same technique yourself. A part editor must also ensure that
its resource file is in the resource chain before accessing its resources (see
"Resource File Access").
In an OpenDoc environment, parts must share access to system services that
applications normally own exclusively. This adds some complications to the
programming model you're probably used to.
One such shared service is the resource chain. Since there are potentially many
parts all working in the active document, the resource chain must be shared
between them. Also, because OpenDoc parts are shared libraries, the resources
in your part's file aren't automatically available like those in an
The utility library UseRsrcM facilitates making your resource file available
and accessing resources from it. To open and initialize access to your shared
library's resource file, you call InitLibraryResources from your CFM
initialization routine. You also call CloseLibraryResources from your CFM
termination routine to close the resource file when you're done with it.
To access a resource from your part's shared library, you must first call
BeginUsingLibraryResources. This adds the part's resource file to the resource
chain and sets the top of the chain to that file (so that calls such as
Get1Resource will retrieve resources from the correct file). After reading or
writing the necessary resource, you call EndUsingLibraryResources to remove the
file from the resource chain. For C++ users, a stack-based class named
CUsingLibraryResources is provided to do this for you automatically.
There are a couple of implications about using this mechanism for handling the
resource chain. Because Resource Manager routines are available only inside a
Begin.../End... block, you must make sure your code and the Toolbox aren't
trying to manipulate resources at other times. You also have to be careful that
LoadResource isn't called on a purged resource from a file that's not in the
Other things, such as icons or Balloon Help in menus (which are loaded while
the menu is pulled down and the part isn't in control), can also cause
problems. If you understand the relationship between your resource file and the
resource chain, however, you can work around these potential pitfalls.
There are times when the Toolbox loads resources for you. In these cases, you
generally can't get them to be loaded into temporary memory. In several cases,
the resources are small or are allocated for only a short time, so there isn't
much to worry about. For instance, when accessing resources such as string
lists ('STR#'), cursors, and icon families, you can continue to use the normal
Toolbox routines. In these cases, the resource is often accessed once and left
around in memory. Therefore, you'll want to make sure these resources are
marked as purgeable so that they can be deallocated automatically when more
space is needed.
There are other times when larger resources (such as pictures) are being
accessed and problems can crop up where you might not expect them. For
instance, if you have a large picture that's referenced by a dialog item (like
that 24-bit rendered image for the background of your About box) and there
isn't sufficient memory available when the dialog is displayed, the picture
won't be shown. One solution to this is to create your own heap zone, as
discussed later. Another is to create a user item procedure for the picture,
handling the memory allocation and spooling in of the picture yourself.
For resources such as menus and definition procedures (WDEFs, CDEFs, and
MDEFs), there is little you can safely do. Most of these types of resources,
although they persist for a long time, are fairly small, so having them
allocated in the application heap isn't terrible.
Another commonly used piece of memory allocated by the Toolbox, but in this
case not resource-based, is a region. If you're doing many region operations
and the regions aren't being kept around, you can continue to use NewRgn to
allocate them in the application heap. However, if you're keeping regions
around for long periods of time, there's an ODMemory utility routine, ODNewRgn,
that you can call to allocate your regions from the OpenDoc heap.
In some cases, the Toolbox allows you to specify that a memory allocation come
from temporary memory rather than the application heap. Probably the most
common example of this is a GWorld. Passing the useTempMem flag to NewGWorld or
UpdateGWorld will cause it to allocate the PixMap's buffer in temporary memory
rather than in the application heap. Use these opportunities when they present
Also, if you're allowed to specify the location of memory used by the Toolbox,
such as for the WindowRecord in calls to NewWindow and the sound channel in
SndNewChannel, you should take these opportunities to allocate the memory with
ODNewPtr rather than allowing the Toolbox to do the allocation.
Another technique that you might consider for dealing with large or long-term
resources is loading them into the system heap. This can be done by setting the
"system heap" flag in the resources' attributes. This has the advantage of
being easy to do and working even for resources allocated by the Toolbox. The
disadvantage is that increasing the system heap's size can be bad for
performance if virtual memory is enabled. Since the system heap is always paged
into real memory space in System 7, a large system heap means there isn't much
space in RAM available for paging in the rest of memory.
Yet another technique that can sometimes be useful is to create your own heap
zone. To do this, create a block in temporary memory using ODNewHandle, lock
it, and create a heap inside it by calling InitZone. This technique shouldn't
be used for just any allocation, but only if other methods don't work and if
the allocation is ephemeral. One example we mentioned before where this might
be useful is for a dialog box with large picture items. Note that you'll have
to make sure the heap is large enough to hold not only the pictures but also
the other dialog-related resources, and you'll want to leave some room to
spare. Also, you probably wouldn't want to have more than one of these heaps
allocated at a time. When locking any handle in temporary memory, make sure you
unlock it again as soon as possible.
Other parts of the Mac OS, such as QuickTime, will require you to use these and
other techniques to deal effectively with memory. (In the case of QuickTime,
you can use SetZone to switch to the system heap.) In such cases, it's a good
idea to use a tool such as Metrowerks' ZoneRanger to examine memory allocated
in the application heap and, if problems are found, look for ways to move
In the future, a new system memory manager will allow for heaps that can grow.
When this becomes available, many of these contortions will become unnecessary.
In the meantime, however, it's important to remember that you're sharing the
application heap with other clients and to act accordingly.
For more information on the memory manager in OpenDoc and the utility libraries
mentioned in this column, check out the following references:
- OpenDoc Programmer's Guide for the Mac OS by Apple Computer, Inc.
- OpenDoc Cookbook for the Mac OS by Apple Computer, Inc.
(Addison-Wesley, 1995). In particular, see Appendix A, "OpenDoc Utilities."
- The OpenDoc World Wide Web site, located at
TROY GAUL (email@example.com) has been writing OpenDoc parts -- er, Live Objects
-- since starting at Apple last May. Having created the Infinity Windoid WDEF
in 1991, he has since appeared in more About boxes than Elvis.*
VINCENT LO is Apple's technical lead for OpenDoc. When he's not dealing with
Live Objects, he's frequently spotted at fine dining establishments in the San
Francisco Bay Area. One of his dreams is to open up a Chinese restaurant in
Thanks to Jens Alfke, Dave Bice, and Steve Smith for reviewing this column.*