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

A beginner's guide to Spellbinders
Spellbinderslooks a heck of a lot like Clash Royale, but has an entirely different pace to it. As such, it can be difficult to adjust to. Just in case you've been playing way too much Clash Royale (and who hasn't), we've put together a bunch of... | Read more »
Camping With Grandpa (Education)
Camping With Grandpa 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Education Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Black Hole Joyrider (Games)
Black Hole Joyrider 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Guide your spacecraft through the gravity well of a powerful black hole using only your retro-thrusters and dwindling fuel... | Read more »
My Koi (Games)
My Koi 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: My Koi is a beautiful and relaxing fish pond app. Customise and name each fish. Feed them daily. Watch them grow. Collect new fish.... | Read more »
Never Gone (Games)
Never Gone 1.0.2 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.2 (iTunes) Description: ###IMPPORTANT### Never Gone's HD art resources require devices with more than 1GB RAM, so please note that iPhone 4/4s, iPad 2/... | Read more »
INKS. (Games)
INKS. 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: From the makers of BAFTA-winning Lumino City comes INKS. INKS updates pinball for a new generation. It combines the joy of pinball with... | Read more »
How to maximise your profits in Bakery B...
Running a bakery can be an expensive venture. You’ll need to continuously upgrade your oven, your kitchen supplies, and even your ingredients to keep customers happy. Most of these renovations in Bakery Blitz cost a pretty penny, but we have a few... | Read more »
How to manage your time in Bakery Blitz
It can be tricky, especially when you risk burning your kitchen to the ground if you forget a cake in the oven, so make sure to use these time management tricks to keep your bakery running smoothly. Don’t collect the money right away [Read more] | Read more »
Model 15 (Music)
Model 15 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Music Price: $29.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: The Moog Model 15 App is the first Moog modular synthesizer and synthesis educational tool created exclusively for iPad, iPhone and... | Read more »
How to deal with wind in Angry Birds Act...
Angry Birds Action! is a physics-based puzzler in which you're tasked with dragging and launching birds around an obstacle-littered field to achieve a set objective. It's simple enough at first, but when wind gets introduced things can get pretty... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Hybrid Tablets Meet Rising Demand for a Singl...
Rising demand for a new breed of hybrid tablets — 2 in 1 devices that function as either a laptop or a tablet — is shaking up the tablet market and contributing to a shift in the way owners are... Read more
Bausch + Lomb and IBM Collaborate on iPhone...
Global eye health company Bausch + Lomb, and IBM on Thursday announced a collaboration to develop the first app of its kind for iPhone and iPad for surgeons who perform cataract surgery. The... Read more
Apple & SAP Partner to Deliver New iOS Ap...
Apple and Walldorf, Germany based SAP have announced a partnership to revolutionize the mobile work experience for enterprise customers of all sizes, combining powerful native apps for iPhone and... Read more
New 12-inch 1.1GHz Rose Gold Retina MacBook o...
B&H Photo has the new 2016 12″ 1.1GHz/256GB Rose Gold Retina MacBook (sku MMGL2LL/A) on sale for $1199 including free shipping plus NY tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest... Read more
12-inch 128GB iPad Pros on sale for up to $10...
B&H Photo has 12″ 128GB WiFi iPad Pros on sale for up to $100 off MSRP, each including free shipping. B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 12″ Space Gray 128GB WiFi iPad Pro: $899 $50 off MSRP... Read more
Global Tablet Sales Slump Continues, iPad’s F...
Another miserable showing for the global slate tablet category in calendar Q1/16, with global tablet shipments falling another 1ten percent to 46.5 million units during the according to Strategy... Read more
Revel Systems to Showcase iPad POS Platform w...
Revel Systems, specialists in iPad Point of Sale management solution for brick-and-mortar retail, food businesses and more, today announced that it will showcase its innovative iPad Point of Sale... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999,...
B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Read more
Apple refurbished 2015 iMacs available for up...
Apple now has a full line of Certified Refurbished 2015 21″ & 27″ iMacs available for up to $350 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. The following models are... Read more
Indian Smartphone Market Grows Annually by 12...
India’s smartphone market grew by 12 percent year-over-year, with 24.4 million units shipping in Q1 2016. The top five vendors stayed the same, with Samsung in the lead, followed by Micromax, Intex... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Support Technician II - Worldventure...
…global, fast growing member based travel company, is currently sourcing for an Apple Support Technician II to be based in our Plano headquarters. WorldVentures is Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Restaurant Manager (Neighborhood Captain) - A...
…in every aspect of daily operation. WHY YOU'LL LIKE IT: You'll be the Big Apple . You'll solve problems. You'll get to show your ability to handle the stress and Read more
Automotive Sales Consultant - Apple Ford Linc...
…you. The best candidates are smart, technologically savvy and are customer focused. Apple Ford Lincoln Apple Valley is different, because: $30,000 annual salary Read more
Restaurant Manager (Neighborhood Captain) - A...
…in every aspect of daily operation. WHY YOU'LL LIKE IT: You'll be the Big Apple . You'll solve problems. You'll get to show your ability to handle the stress and Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.