TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Deferred Garbage Collection

Volume Number: 13 (1997)
Issue Number: 12
Column Tag: C++ Workshop

Deferred Garbage Collection

by Marc White

Implementing a simple deferred C++ object garbage collection class

Self Deleting Objects

When developing object oriented software using C++ there are certain situations where you may need an object that can delete itself. For instance, you might have a window or dialog class that manages its own mouse clicks and key down events. But what does the dialog object do when it determines that the user has pressed the escape or delete key, or clicked the window's close box? To stay true to the object oriented design, the window should be able to do whatever processing is needed when it determines that it is being closed and then free up the memory allocated for the object by itself.

Delete This

While the C++ syntax delete this is a legal call, it can cause serious problems if the object that makes the call is referenced in any way after the call is made. This could possibly happen while the stack is unwinding after a mouse click or key down event.

The TGarbageCollector Class

The TGarbageCollector class is a simple, drop in utility class that allows any C++ object to be safely deleted at a later time.

Listing 1: The TGarbageCollector Class

The TGarbageCollector class is a non-instance class with two public static methods: Add, and Empty, and one private static member variable: fTrashCan which is pointer to a TGarbage object.

class TGarbageCollector {
friend class TGarbage;
public:
  static void Add      ( void *trash );
  static void Empty    ( void );
  
private:
  static TGarbage      *fTrashCan;
};

TGarbageCollector::Add

The Add method of the TGarbageCollector class simply instantiates a new TGarbage object passing it a pointer to the C++ object to be deleted. Note that the trash pointer is a void pointer.

void TGarbageCollector::Add( void *trash )
{
  // create a new TGarbage object
  new TGarbage( trash );
}

TGarbageCollector::Empty

The Empty method of the TGarbageCollector class deletes all of the TGarbage objects pointed to by the fTrashCan variable. This method should be called periodically at idle time in the application's main event loop. The TGarbage object's destructor maintains the linked list.

void TGarbageCollector::Empty( void )
{
  // delete all of the items in the trash can
  while( TGarbageCollector::fTrashCan )
    delete( TGarbageCollector::fTrashCan );
}

I developed the TGarbageCollector class as a part of an application framework I was designing. The easiest way to design the garbage collection class would have been to have it delete only objects derived from a specific class, perhaps a TTrashableObject class. But, I wanted the garbage collector to be able to delete any C++ object, and I didn't want to have every class in the framework be derived from a single base class.

The TGarbage Class

This is where the TGarbage class comes in. Because the TGarbage class accepts a void pointer as a pointer to the object it will delete, any pointer can be passed into the garbage collection class to be deleted. This means that it is up to the developer (not the compiler) to make sure that the pointer passed in is a pointer to a valid C++ object.

There is one more catch which I will describe in the What's the Catch section, but for now let's take a look at the TGarbage class.

Listing 2: The TGarbage Class

The TGarbage class is a simple self-linking singly linked list class which accepts a void pointer through its constructor. It stores a pointer to the object to delete in the fTrash variable and a pointer to the next TGarbage object in the list in its fNext variable.

class TGarbage {
public:
            TGarbage    ( void *trash );
  virtual    ~TGarbage  ( void );
private:
  void        *fTrash;
  TGarbage    *fNext;
};

TGarbage::TGarbage

The TGarbage constructor stores a pointer to object to delete in its fTrash variable. Next it links itself into the linked list pointed to by the TGarbageCollector's static fTrashCan variable. It can access this private item since the TGarbageCollector has the declared the TGarbage class as a friend.

TGarbage::TGarbage( void *trash ) : fTrash( trash )
{
  // store a pointer to the next item in the chain
  if( TGarbageCollector::fTrashCan )
    this->fNext = TGarbageCollector::fTrashCan;
  else
    this->fNext = nil;
  
  // set this item as the first item in the trash can
  TGarbageCollector::fTrashCan = this;
}

TGarbage::~TGarbage

This is where the real magic happens. When the TGarbage object gets deleted we have no idea what type of object its fTrash variable points to, all that we know is that it is pointing to a C++ object. So just type cast it to a C++ class pointer (in this case a TGarbage pointer) and call the delete operator. The real object's destructor will get called and its memory will be deallocated. It's just that easy!

TGarbage::~TGarbage( void )
{
  // pull this object out of the linked list
  TGarbageCollector::fTrashCan = this->fNext;
  
  // delete the trash
  delete( (TGarbage *)this->fTrash );
}

Sample Usage

Let's take a look at the TGarbageCollector class in action. Code listing 3 shows the DoKeyDown method of a typical dialog class.

Listing 3: A Dialog Class Method

void FDialog::DoKeyDown( char theKey )
{
  switch( theKey ) {
    case kEscKey:
      // add this object to the trash
      TGarbageCollector::Add( this );
      // hide this dialog
      this->Hide();
      // do any other processing needed here before closing
      break;
    default:
      inherited::DoKeyDown( theKey );
  }
}

Notice that the dialog can add itself to the trash at any time once it determines that it needs to be deleted. The dialog object is still valid until the trash gets collected.

Next we'll take a look at the event loop method of a typical application class. This is where the TGarbageCollector's Empty method gets called and all of the objects added to the trash are deleted.

Listing 4: An Application Class Event Loop Method

void FApplication::EventLoop( void )
{
  EventRecord  theEvent;

  while( this->fQuit == false ) {
    if( WaitNextEvent( everyEvent, &theEvent, 30, nil ) ) {
      switch( theEvent.what ) {
        // handle all normal events here
        default:
          TGarbageCollector::Empty();
          break;
      }
    } else {
      TGarbageCollector::Empty();
    }
  }
}

What's The Catch?

So there has to be a catch, right? Well, of course there is. The catch is that any C++ object added to the trash must be structured in the same way as the object used to type cast the void pointer in the TGarbage object before calling its delete operator.

In simpler terms, any object added to the trash must have a virtual destructor, and its destructor must be the first virtual method of that class. This is because of the way a C++ object is structured from a class.

The TGarbage class typecasts the void pointer to the object it is going to delete into a pointer to a TGarbage object. This instructs the compiler to use the virtual table, or vtbl, of the TGarbage class to find the location of the object's destructor which it calls before deallocating the object's memory.

In the case of the TGarbage class, the destructor is the first virtual method of the class and therefore will be the first entry in the vtbl. As long as any object added to the trash can has its destructor as the first item in the vtbl, it will be properly called when the TGarbage class deletes the object.

What would happen if the object being trashed did not have a virtual destructor, or if the destructor was not the first virtual method? If the object's virtual destructor is not the first virtual method in the class, or it's destructor is not virtual, then before the memory for that object is deallocated the first virtual method of that class will be called. In the case of an object that does not have any virtual methods, the object will not even have a vtbl which means that some random memory location is going be executed as a method. Obviously, neither of these two scenarios are desirable, which is why it is very important that the developer structures the classes for trashable objects properly.

Multiple Inheritance

Can objects that use multiple inheritance be successfully deleted using the TGarbageCollector class? In short, yes, as long as they still adhere to the virtual-destructor-first method like the other classes.

However, there is an exception. Depending upon how the compiler implements multiple inheritance (I am using CodeWarrior for this example), as long as the first class specified in the inheritance chain has a virtual destructor as its first virtual method, the order of the virtual methods of the other superclasses does not matter.

Listing 5: Multiple Inheritance

// destructor is the first virtual method
class A {
public:
              A    ( void );
  virtual      ~A    ( void );
};

// destructor is the second virtual method
class B {
public:
              B    ( void );
  virtual void  Test  ( void );
  virtual      ~B    ( void );
};

// inherit from A first, then B
class C : public A, public B {
public:
              C    ( void );
  virtual      ~C    ( void );
};

// inherit from B first, then A 
class D : public B, public A {
public:
              D    ( void );
  virtual      ~D    ( void );
};

In code listing 5, class A follows the virtual-destructor-first method which would allow any object of class A to be deleted properly by the TGarbageCollector class. Class B, however, has its virtual destructor declared as the second virtual method in the class, and therefore, would not be deleted properly by the TGarbageCollector class. The B object's Test method would actually get called when the TGarbage class deleted it.

Since class C inherits from class A first and class B second, class C objects can successfully be deleted using this method. When the TGarbage class calls the C object's delete operator, the class C destructor will be called first, the class B destructor second, and the A destructor third.

Class D, however, inherits from the B class first, which means that it will behave exactly like a B object would when being deleted by the TGarbageCollector, the inherited B object's Test method will get called.

So, even though there is an exception to the virtual-destructor-first rule in the case of multiple inheritance, it is much safer to make sure that any object that might be deleted by the TGarbageCollector have its virtual destructor declared before any other virtual methods.

Summary

The TGarbageCollector class provides a simple means of adding deferred object deletion to any C++ application. However, the developer must make certain that the classes of objects which will be deleted in this manner are structured according to the virtual-destructor-first rule.


Marc White is a Macintosh programmer at US WEST Dex, Inc., where he develops client/server software used to paginate the US WEST phone directories. He can be reached at mwhite@eagle.mrg.uswest.com.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Merlin Project 4.2.0 - Project managemen...
Merlin Project is the leading professional project management software for OS X. If you plan complex projects on your Mac, you won’t get far with a simple list of tasks. Good planning raises... Read more
Skim 1.4.28 - PDF reader and note-taker...
Skim is a PDF reader and note-taker for OS X. It is designed to help you read and annotate scientific papers in PDF, but is also great for viewing any PDF file. Skim includes many features and has a... Read more
RapidWeaver 7.3.2 - Create template-base...
RapidWeaver is a next-generation Web design application to help you easily create professional-looking Web sites in minutes. No knowledge of complex code is required, RapidWeaver will take care of... Read more
Together 3.8.1 - Store and organize all...
Together helps you organize your Mac, giving you the ability to store, edit and preview your files in a single clean, uncluttered interface. Features Smart storage. With simple drag-and-drop... Read more
Apple MainStage 3.3 - Live performance t...
Apple MainStage makes it easy to bring to the stage all the same instruments and effects that you love in your recording. Everything from the Sound Library and Smart Controls you're familiar with... Read more
Apple iOS 10.3 - The latest version of A...
iOS 10 is the biggest release of iOS ever. A massive update to Messages brings the power of the App Store to your conversations and makes messaging more personal than ever. Find your route with... Read more
Postbox 5.0.12 - Powerful and flexible e...
Postbox is a new email application that helps you organize your work life and get stuff done. It has all the elegance and simplicity of Apple Mail, but with more power and flexibility to manage even... Read more
Apple Keynote 7.1 - Apple's present...
Easily create gorgeous presentations with the all-new Keynote, featuring powerful yet easy-to-use tools and dazzling effects that will make you a very hard act to follow. The Theme Chooser lets you... Read more
Apple Pages 6.1 - Apple's word proc...
Apple Pages is a powerful word processor that gives you everything you need to create documents that look beautiful. And read beautifully. It lets you work seamlessly between Mac and iOS devices, and... Read more
Apple Numbers 4.1 - Apple's spreads...
With Apple Numbers, sophisticated spreadsheets are just the start. The whole sheet is your canvas. Just add dramatic interactive charts, tables, and images that paint a revealing picture of your data... Read more

4 smart and stylish puzzle games like Ty...
TypeShift launched a little over a week ago, offering some puzzling new challenges for word nerds equipped with an iOS device. Created by Zach Gage, the mind behind Spelltower, TypeShift boasts, like its predecessor, a sleak design and some very... | Read more »
The best deals on the App Store this wee...
Deals, deals, deals. We're all about a good bargain here on 148Apps, and luckily this was another fine week in App Store discounts. There's a big board game sale happening right now, and a few fine indies are still discounted through the weekend.... | Read more »
The best new games we played this week
It's been quite the week, but now that all of that business is out of the way, it's time to hunker down with some of the excellent games that were released over the past few days. There's a fair few to help you relax in your down time or if you're... | Read more »
Orphan Black: The Game (Games)
Orphan Black: The Game 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Dive into a dark and twisted puzzle-adventure that retells the pivotal events of Orphan Black. | Read more »
The Elder Scrolls: Legends is now availa...
| Read more »
Ticket to Earth beginner's guide: H...
Robot Circus launched Ticket to Earth as part of the App Store's indie games event last week. If you're not quite digging the space operatics Mass Effect: Andromeda is serving up, you'll be pleased to know that there's a surprising alternative on... | Read more »
Leap to victory in Nexx Studios new plat...
You’re always a hop, skip, and a jump away from a fiery death in Temple Jump, a new platformer-cum-endless runner from Nexx Studio. It’s out now on both iOS and Android if you’re an adventurer seeking treasure in a crumbling, pixel-laden temple. | Read more »
Failbetter Games details changes coming...
Sunless Sea, Failbetter Games' dark and gloomy sea explorer, sets sail for the iPad tomorrow. Ahead of the game's launch, Failbetter took to Twitter to discuss what will be different in the mobile version of the game. Many of the changes make... | Read more »
Splish, splash! The Pokémon GO Water Fes...
Niantic is back with a new festival for dedicated Pokémon GO collectors. The Water Festival officially kicks off today at 1 P.M. PDT and runs through March 29. Magikarp, Squirtle, Totodile, and their assorted evolved forms will be appearing at... | Read more »
Death Road to Canada (Games)
Death Road to Canada 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $7.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Get it now at the low launch price! Price will go up a dollar every major update. Update news at the bottom of this... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

13-inch MacBook Airs, Apple refurbished, in s...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2016 13″ MacBook Airs available starting at $849. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free: - 13″ 1.6GHz/8GB/128GB MacBook Air: $... Read more
12-inch Retina MacBooks on sale for $1199, sa...
B&H has 12″ 1.1GHz Retina MacBooks on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 12″ 1.1GHz Space Gray Retina MacBook: $1199 $100 off MSRP - 12″ 1.1GHz... Read more
Save up to $260 with Apple refurbished 12-inc...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2016 12″ Retina MacBooks available for $200-$260 off MSRP. Apple will include a standard one-year warranty with each MacBook, and shipping is free. The following... Read more
13-inch 2.7GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
B&H Photo has the 2015 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina Apple MacBook Pro on sale for $170 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro (MF839LL/A): $... Read more
15-inch 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
B&H Photo has the 2015 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro (MJLQ2LL/A) on sale for $1799.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $200 off MSRP. Read more
Save up to $160 with Apple refurbished 9-inch...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 9″ and 12″ Apple iPad Pros available for up to $160 off the cost of new iPads. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: - 32GB 9″... Read more
Apple Chip Foundry TSMC To Begin A11 System-o...
Digitimes’ Steve Shen is reporting today that according to the Chinese-language Economic Daily News (EDN), chipmaker and major Apple supplier foundery Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC... Read more
MacX MediaTrans 3.5 iOS Data Transfer Spring...
MacXDVD Software has announced general availability of the latest MacX MedTrans 3.5, featuring a new user interface (UI). MacX MediaTrans is ann iPhone manager that enables free data transfer between... Read more
Regular Price $19.95 DupeZap 4 Finder For OS...
Hyperbolic Software has announced the release of DupeZap 4.0.2, their modern duplicate finder developed exclusively for macOS. DupeZap 4 is an utility for Mac owners seeking to reclaim disk space... Read more
B-Eng Releases SSD Health Check for MVNe for...
Fehraltorf, Switzerland based B-Eng has announced the release and immediate availability of SSD Health Check for MVNe for MacBook Pro, their app that delivers important data and insights for MVNe... Read more

Jobs Board

Fulltime aan de slag als shopmanager in een h...
Ben jij helemaal gek van Apple -producten en vind je het helemaal super om fulltime shopmanager te zijn in een jonge en hippe elektronicazaak? Wil jij werken in Read more
*Apple* Mobile Master - Best Buy (United Sta...
**492889BR** **Job Title:** Apple Mobile Master **Location Number:** 000886-Norwalk-Store **Job Description:** **What does a Best Buy Apple Mobile Master do?** Read more
*Apple* Mobile Master - Best Buy (United Sta...
**492472BR** **Job Title:** Apple Mobile Master **Location Number:** 000470-Seattle-Store **Job Description:** **What does a Best Buy Apple Mobile Master do?** Read more
*Apple* Mobile Master - Best Buy (United Sta...
**492562BR** **Job Title:** Apple Mobile Master **Location Number:** 000853-Jackson-Store **Job Description:** **What does a Best Buy Apple Mobile Master do?** Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.