[Gc] Re: Do finalizers run at exit?

David Jones dej at inode.org
Thu Dec 27 07:28:39 PST 2007

On Thursday 27 December 2007 08:46, Christophe Meessen wrote:

> The possibility to call finalizers is there because of the few
> exceptions where it is required to have them : recycle resources
> controlled by the destructed object like a file descriptor. Keep in mind
> that the program can crash and that the situation where no finalizer is
> called is a possible use case.

And there is the problem: under a tracing garbage collection regime, you have 
no control over the lifetime of resources held by an object.  If you rely on 
finalization to clean up resources, then those resources may be held 
indefinitely.  Even in Java, with a good generational GC, a long-running 
server may have no need to do a full-world collection if the generational 
collections are sufficient to provide enough memory to run.

Since you cannot control the lifetime of non-memory resources, GC should not 
be used to manage non-memory resources indirectly through finalizers.  If you 
have objects that manage non-memory resources, then your interactions with 
them should be explicit, to bound lifetimes of important resources.  For 
example, a file reader object with an embedded file handle should have a 
close() method which will close the underlying file.  In C++ you can have the 
destructor for the object call close() automatically, which is a convenience 
when the object is created on the stack.  However, the destructor won't be 
called for an object allocated on a GC heap and therefore if you allocate the 
object on the heap you must call close() explicitly.

And if you do that, you have no need for finalizers, period.  At least I have 
yet to see a good use of finalizers in a well-designed and correct program.

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