|GObject Reference Manual|
The memory-management API for GObjects is a bit complicated but the idea behind it is pretty simple: the goal is to provide a flexible model based on reference counting which can be integrated in applications which use or require different memory management models (such as garbage collection, aso...). The methods which are used to manipulate this reference count are described below.
/* Refcounting */ gpointer g_object_ref (gpointer object); void g_object_unref (gpointer object); /* * Weak References */ typedef void (*GWeakNotify) (gpointer data, GObject *where_the_object_was); void g_object_weak_ref (GObject *object, GWeakNotify notify, gpointer data); void g_object_weak_unref (GObject *object, GWeakNotify notify, gpointer data); void g_object_add_weak_pointer (GObject *object, gpointer *weak_pointer_location); void g_object_remove_weak_pointer (GObject *object, gpointer *weak_pointer_location); /* * Cycle handling */ void g_object_run_dispose (GObject *object);
increase and decrease the reference count.These functions are thread-safe as of GLib 2.8.
The reference count is, unsurprisingly, initialized to one by
g_object_new which means that the caller
is currently the sole owner of the newly-created reference.
When the reference count reaches zero, that is,
g_object_unref is called by the last client holding
a reference to the object, the dispose and the
finalize class methods are invoked.
Finally, after finalize is invoked,
g_type_free_instance is called to free the object instance.
Depending on the memory allocation policy decided when the type was registered (through
one of the
g_type_register_* functions), the object's instance
memory will be freed or returned to the object pool for this type.
Once the object has been freed, if it was the last instance of the type, the type's class
will be destroyed as described in the section called “Instantiable classed types: objects” and
the section called “Non-instantiable classed types: interfaces”.
The table below summarizes the destruction process of a GObject:
|Invocation time||Function Invoked||Function's parameters||Remark|
|Last call to
||target type's dispose class function||GObject instance||When dispose ends, the object should not hold any reference to any other member object. The object is also expected to be able to answer client method invocations (with possibly an error code but no memory violation) until finalize is executed. dispose can be executed more than once. dispose should chain up to its parent implementation just before returning to the caller.|
|target type's finalize class function||GObject instance||Finalize is expected to complete the destruction process initiated by dispose. It should complete the object's destruction. finalize will be executed only once. finalize should chain up to its parent implementation just before returning to the caller. The reason why the destruction process is split is two different phases is explained in the section called “Reference counts and cycles”.|
|Last call to
||interface' interface_finalize function||On interface' vtable||Never used in practice. Unlikely you will need it.|
|interface' base_finalize function||On interface' vtable||Never used in practice. Unlikely you will need it.|
|target type's class_finalize function||On target type's class structure||Never used in practice. Unlikely you will need it.|
|type's base_finalize function||On the inheritance tree of classes from fundamental type to target type. base_init is invoked once for each class structure.||Never used in practice. Unlikely you will need it.|
Weak References are used to monitor object finalization:
g_object_weak_ref adds a monitoring callback which does
not hold a reference to the object but which is invoked when the object runs
its dispose method. As such, each weak ref can be invoked more than once upon
object finalization (since dispose can run more than once during object
g_object_weak_unref can be used to remove a monitoring
callback from the object.
Weak References are also used to implement
g_object_remove_weak_pointer. These functions add a weak reference
to the object they are applied to which makes sure to nullify the pointer given by the user
when object is finalized.
Note: the following section was inspired by James Henstridge. I guess this means that all praise and all curses will be directly forwarded to him.
GObject's memory management model was designed to be easily integrated in existing code using garbage collection. This is why the destruction process is split in two phases: the first phase, executed in the dispose handler is supposed to release all references to other member objects. The second phase, executed by the finalize handler is supposed to complete the object's destruction process. Object methods should be able to run without program error (that is, without segfault :) in-between the two phases.
This two-step destruction process is very useful to break reference counting cycles.
While the detection of the cycles is up to the external code, once the cycles have been
detected, the external code can invoke
will indeed break any existing cycles since it will run the dispose handler associated
to the object and thus release all references to other objects.
Attentive readers might now have understood one of the rules about the dispose handler
we stated a bit sooner: the dispose handler can be invoked multiple times. Let's say we
have a reference count cycle: object A references B which itself references object A.
Let's say we have detected the cycle and we want to destroy the two objects. One way to
do this would be to invoke
g_object_dispose on one of the
If object A releases all its references to all objects, this means it releases its reference to object B. If object B was not owned by anyone else, this is its last reference count which means this last unref runs B's dispose handler which, in turn, releases B's reference on object A. If this is A's last reference count, this last unref runs A's dispose handler which is running for the second time before A's finalize handler is invoked !
The above example, which might seem a bit contrived can really happen if your GObject's are being handled by language bindings. I would thus suggest the rules stated above for object destruction are closely followed. Otherwise, Bad Bad Things will happen.