Avoiding Garbage Collector: Delphi and Apple side by side

Among all trolling subject in forums, you'll find out the great Garbage Collection theme.

Fashion languages rely on it. At the core of the .Net and Java framework, and all scripting languages (like JavaScript, Perl, Python or Ruby), you'll find a Garbage Collector. New developers, just released from schools, do learn about handling memory only in theory, and just can't understand how is memory allocated - we all have seen such rookies involved in Delphi code maintenance, leaking memory as much as they type. In fact, most of them did not understood how a computer works. I warned you this will be a trolling subject.

And, in Delphi, there is no such collector. We handle memory in several ways:

  • Creating static variables - e.g. on the stack, inside a class or globally;
  • Creating objects with class instances allocated on heap - in at least three ways: with a try..finally Free block, with a TComponent ownership model in the VCL, or by using an interface (which creates an hidden try..finally Free block);
  • Creating reference-counted variables, i.e. string, array of, interface or variant kind of variables.

It is a bit complex, but it is also deadly powerful. You have several memory allocation models at hand, which can be very handy if you want to tune your performance and let program scale. Just like manual recycling at home will save the planet. Some programmers will tell you that it's a waste of cell brain, typing and time. Linux kernel gurus would not say so, I'm afraid.

Then came the big Apple company, which presented its new ARC model (introduced in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion) as a huge benefit for Objective-C in comparison with the Garbage Collection model. And let's face it: this ARC just sounds like the Delphi memory model.

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True per-class variable

For our ORM, we needed a class variable to be available for each TSQLRecord class type.

This variable is used to store the properties of this class type, i.e. the database Table properties (e.g. table and column names and types) associated with a particular TSQLRecord class, from which all our ORM objects inherit.

The class var statement was not enough for us:
- It's not available on earlier Delphi versions, and we try to have our framework work with Delphi 6-7 up to XE;
- This class var instance will be shared by all classes inheriting from the class where it is defined - and we need ONE instance PER class type, not ONE instance for ALL

We needed to find another way to implement this class variable

An unused VMT slot in the class type description was identified, then each class definition was patched in the process memory to contain our class variable.

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