Kobe Kobe - 1 year ago 117
C# Question

Memory allocation/deallocation when working with C# and C++ unmanaged

I am working with some C# and C++ unmanaged code and there are two things I don't understand when dealing with memory. If someone can help me understand:

  1. If a variable is dynamically allocated under C# (using new) and then is passed to the C++ unmanaged code. Does that variable memory needs to be deallocated manually under the C++ unmanaged code by the user ?

  2. If a variable is dynamically allocated under C++ unmanaged (using new) and then passed to C#, is it safe to say the Garbage Collector will deallocate that memory ?

Answer Source

It's really simple!

  1. Depends
  2. Depends

Eh, Sorry about that.

  1. Under typical conditions, C# will keep track of the memory and get rid of it any time after it's no longer used on the C# side. It has no way of tracking references on the C++ side, so one common mistake in interop is that the memory is deallocated before the unmanaged side is done with it (resulting in loads of FUN). This only applies for cases where the memory is directly referenced, not when its copied (the typical case being a byte[] that's pinned for the duration of the unmanaged call). Don't use automatic marshalling when the life-time of the object/pointer being passed to unmanaged code is supposed to be longer than the run of the invoked method.
  2. Under typical conditions, C# has no way of tracking memory allocations in the C++ code, so you can't rely on automatic memory management. There are exceptions (e.g. some COM scenarios), but you'll almost always need to manage the memory manually. This usually means sending the pointer back to the C++ code to do the deallocation, unless it used a global allocator of some kind (e.g. CoMemoryInitialize). Remember that in the unmanaged world, there is no one memory manager that you can safely invoke to dispose of memory; you don't really have the necessary information anyway.

This only applies to pointers, of course. Passing integers is perfectly fine, and using automatic marshalling usually means the marshaller takes care of most of the subtleties (though still only in the simplest case, so be careful). Unmanaged code is unmanaged - you need to understand perfectly how the memory is allocated, and how, when and who is responsible for cleaning up the memory.

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