C++ Smart Pointers

Published in category Programming
on Christian Mayer's Weblog.

It’s been awhile since my last blog post. It’s also been awhile since I last programmed C++. But recently I’m doing C++ again. I also bought a book about C++. My long-term plan is to rewrite all tools in C++. But only the most used ones.

I like how fast native code and how stable the C++ language is. It feels good. We also got new language standards since my last use of C++. C++11, C++14 and C++17. Upcoming C++ standards every 3 years. This motivates my to rewrite my tools using C++.

I currently rewriting the Wallet project using C++. Back then I created this project to learn Ruby. The Ruby project will remain. The C++ Wallet project will be a separate Git repository.

I want to use best practice and the latest standard C++17. Therefore I learned that raw pointers are no longer welcome. This is fine. Get rid of raw pointers seems like a good idea. You can do everything like the same way using smart pointers.

Old APIs

Some old APIs need Raw Pointers. In the following example the f() function is legacy.

class Widget;

void f(const Widget*);

So the legacy call would look like this:

const Widget* wp = new Widget();
delete wp;

With smart pointers this is now:

#include <memory>   // for std::unique_ptr
                    // and std::make_unique()
auto wp = std::make_unique<Widget>();
// no 'delete' needed here anymore

Especially when you do not use wp after the f() call the C++11 code can also look like:

#include <memory>   // same as above
auto wp = std::make_unique<Widget>();   // same

This will release the ownership of the managed object. But it could lead to a memory leak since release() will not call the destructor of Widget. Therefore would I recommend not using release() in this case.

The use case of release() is useful when you have legacy code like this:

f(new Widget());

The new created Widget object is not managed on the caller level. So f() should be responsible to free the Widget. The corresponding C++11 code is the same as above.

#include <memory>
auto wp = std::make_unique<Widget>();

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About the Author

Christian is a professional software developer living in Vienna, Austria. He loves coffee and is strongly addicted to music. In his spare time he writes open source software. He is known for developing automatic data processing systems for Debian Linux.