Wieshawn Wieshawn - 6 months ago 28
C++ Question

Why delete is needed in the definition of the copy-assignment operator?

I am a C++ beginner. And I am doing the exercises in C++ Primer (5th Edition). I found a reference to
Exercise 13.8 from Github (Here), which is shown below.

#include <string>
#include <iostream>

using std::cout;
using std::endl;

class HasPtr {
HasPtr(const std::string &s = std::string()) : ps(new std::string(s)), i(0) { }
HasPtr(const HasPtr &hp) : ps(new std::string(*hp.ps)), i(hp.i) { }
HasPtr& operator=(const HasPtr &hp) {
std::string *new_ps = new std::string(*hp.ps);
delete ps; // I don't know why it is needed here?
// But when I delete this line, it also works.
ps = new_ps;
i = hp.i;
return *this;

void print() {
cout << *(this->ps) << endl;
cout << this->i << endl;

std::string *ps;
int i;

int main() {
HasPtr hp1("hello"), hp2("world");
hp1 = hp2;
cout << "After the assignment:" << endl;

What makes me confusing is the
HasPtr& operator=(const HasPtr &hp)
function. I don't know why
delete ps;
is needed here. I thought it was an error, but it worked when I compiled the code. However, it also works when I delete the line of
delete ps;
. So, I do not know whether
delete ps;
is needed and what is the advantage if it is reserved.


HasPtr::ps is an heap-allocated std::string pointer.

It is allocated and constructed using new in all HasPtr constructors. Therefore, when HasPtr::ps gets replaced by another heap-allocated pointer, the existing memory has to be released using delete to avoid memory leaks.

Note that, in modern C++, you should almost never use new and delete for managing objects like this. Use smart pointers instead, like std::unique_ptr or std::shared_ptr, which take care of memory management for you, safely and conveniently.

I still suggest getting familiar with new and delete, as an huge amount of existing code makes use of them. cppreference.com is a great place to find detailed information about the language.

As Jan Hudec mentioned in the comments, it is generally pretty silly to store an std::string on the heap - std::string is a wrapper around an heap-allocated character array, which already manages the memory for you.