1. Use Cases for Garbage Collection in C++
  2. Analysis of Each Use Case
  3. Complexity of Current GC for C++ Design
  4. Outline a Proposal to Address Some Issues
  5. Conclusions

Use Cases for Garbage Collection in C++

  • Object oriented programming - reference based objects
  • Functional programming - avoiding copies of immutable objects
  • Trash collection - preventing bad code from crashing or exhausting memory or address space.

Analysis of Each Use Case

  • Current solutions - reference counting and pooled memory
  • Look at what happens with reference counting with move semantics
  • For trash collection - sight issues with trash and reference counted systems [I had a good one recently - can’t find it at the moment - bug easy to google for.]

Complexity of Current GC for C++ Design

  • Type qualifiers vs. modifiers vs. attribute for gc_strict and gc_relaxed - are none of these. We have no experience with such constructs and how they interact with type system.
  • The new operator has some unspecified magic which allows it to communicate with the type system to know about strict/weak declarations. This information is not available to anyone writing a replacement allocator (which is quite common) and makes it impossible to use an existing application GC allocator (such as sharing an allocator with JavaScript or Managed C++) unless the system provides it.
  • The proposal breaks conventions for RAII - and we have no experience or guidelines. When should one call delete?
  • The gc_required and gc_forbidden keywords bifurcate the language.
  • Suppress and collect must be used for critical areas of performance.
  • No guidance on how multiple collectors in the same application will interact.

  • Note that the vast amount of complexity necessary for GC is apparent in the number of keywords and library routines to support it. This is a strong argument that it is of little use for saving bad application - it is just as likely that GC will be misused (if not more so) then memory. Google “unmanaged pointers managed C++” for many examples. Note that as long as we support the C libraries (and C runtime) such issues will always be part of C++.

Outline a Proposal to Address Some Issues

  • Eliminate gc_required
  • gc_strict as a type qualifier or attribute
  • Definition of a operator new() in the presence of GC
  • Use of gc_strict as part of type to guide and check RAII.


  • Complex solution to problem for which simple solutions are widely used and will be improved by C++0x leaving us little need.
  • We have little to no experience with the recommended language features which are to be standardized.
  • Fixing bad software complex system will never work.
  • Recommend minor language changes to improve future GC support - disallow hiding of pointers (xor list trick) as one example.

  • Finally - address the “C++ is bad because it has no GC” argument head-on. C++ doesn’t generate garbage and so has no need for GC. Clearly Java, C#, Objective C, etc. generate lots of garbage.