Nav Nav - 2 months ago 7
C++ Question

Is it bad practice to allocate memory in a DLL and give a pointer to it to a client app?

I'm using an exe which dynamically loads a DLL. A function in the DLL allocates memory on the heap and passes a pointer to that memory to the exe.

A senior says that it is bad practice to do so. He says that if I ever have to share memory between the exe and the DLL, the exe has to allocate memory and pass a pointer to that to the DLL, and not vice versa. Is this true? Why?

EDIT: In my case, I planned to allocate and deallocate memory inside the DLL itself.

Answer

Here some reasons for having the caller supply a pointer:

  1. Symmetric ownership semantics. This is already explained by several other answers.
  2. Avoids mismatching the allocator and deallocator. As mentioned in Aesthete's answer, if the DLL allocates a pointer and returns it, the caller must call the corresponding deallocator to free it. This is not necessarily trivial: the DLL might be statically linked against one version of, say, malloc/free while the .exe is linked against a different version of malloc/free. (For example, the DLL could be using release versions while the .exe is using specialized debug versions.)
  3. Flexibility. If the DLL is meant for general use, having the caller allocate the memory gives the caller more options. Suppose the caller doesn't want to use malloc and instead wants memory to be allocated from some specific memory pool. Maybe it's a case where the caller could provide a pointer to memory allocated on the stack. If the DLL allocated the memory itself, the caller does not have any of these options.

(The second and third points also mostly can be addressed by having the .exe supply an allocator/deallocator for the DLL code to use.)

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