C++ FAQ Celebrating Twenty-One Years of the C++ FAQ!!!
(Click here for a personal note from Marshall Cline.)
Section 16:
16.1 Does delete p delete the pointer p, or the pointed-to-data *p?
16.2 Is it safe to delete the same pointer twice?
16.3 Can I free() pointers allocated with new? Can I delete pointers allocated with malloc()?
16.4 Benefits of new over malloc()?
16.5 Can I use realloc() on pointers allocated via new?
16.6 Checking for NULL after p = new Fred()?
16.7 How can I convince my (older) compiler to automatically check new to see if it returns NULL?
16.8 Checking for NULL before delete p?
16.9 What are the two steps that happen when I say delete p?
16.10 Does p = new Fred() leak memory if the ctor throws an exception?
16.11 How do I allocate / unallocate an array of things?
16.12 What if I forget the [] when deleteing an array allocated via new T[n]?
16.13 Can I drop the [] when deleteing an array of some built-in type (char, int, etc)?
16.14 After p = new Fred[n], how does the compiler know there are n objects to be destructed during delete[] p?
16.15 Is it legal (and moral) for a member function to say delete this?
16.16 How do I allocate multidimensional arrays using new?
16.17 How to simplify the Matrix code from the previous FAQ?
16.18 How to make the Matrix class generic?
16.19 What's another way to build a Matrix template?
16.20 Does C++ have arrays whose length can be specified at run-time?
16.21 Allocating all objects via new, not local/global/static?
16.22 How do I do simple reference counting?
16.23 How do I provide reference counting with copy-on-write semantics?
16.24 How do I provide reference counting with copy-on-write semantics for a hierarchy of classes?
16.25 Preventing people from subverting the reference counting mechanism?
16.26 Can I use a garbage collector in C++?
16.27 What are the two kinds of garbage collectors for C++?
16.28 Where can I get more info on garbage collectors for C++?
[16.27] What are the two kinds of garbage collectors for C++?

In general, there seem to be two flavors of garbage collectors for C++:

  1. Conservative garbage collectors. These know little or nothing about the layout of the stack or of C++ objects, and simply look for bit patterns that appear to be pointers. In practice they seem to work with both C and C++ code, particularly when the average object size is small. Here are some examples, in alphabetical order:

  2. Hybrid garbage collectors. These usually scan the stack conservatively, but require the programmer to supply layout information for heap objects. This requires more work on the programmer's part, but may result in improved performance. Here are some examples, in alphabetical order:

Since garbage collectors for C++ are normally conservative, they can sometimes leak if a bit pattern "looks like" it might be a pointer to an otherwise unused block. Also they sometimes get confused when pointers to a block actually point outside the block's extent (which is illegal, but some programmers simply must push the envelope; sigh) and (rarely) when a pointer is hidden by a compiler optimization. In practice these problems are not usually serious, however providing the collector with hints about the layout of the objects can sometimes ameliorate these issues.