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Lifetime Management of C++ Objects in MATLAB

If a library creates an object,​ then the library is responsible for releasing the memory. Likewise, if MATLAB® creates the object,​ then MATLAB is responsible for releasing the memory. There are situations, however, where memory allocated by both the user library and MATLAB might be combined into a single MATLAB object. MATLAB lets you control the lifetime management of objects by specifying ReleaseOnCall and DeleteFcn arguments in the library definition file.

Pass Ownership of Memory to the Library

MATLAB owns memory that is allocated by calling a constructor. The user library should not free this memory. To change this behavior, set the ReleaseOnCall argument in defineArgument (ConstructorDefinition), defineArgument (FunctionDefinition), or defineArgument (MethodDefinition).

Suppose that you have a function in library libname which takes ownership of the input argument.

void setInputObj(ObjClass *obj);

If you create the argument in MATLAB, then MATLAB owns the memory.

obj = clib.libname.ObjClass;

If you pass obj to setInputObj, then both MATLAB and setInputObj own the memory, which is unsafe.


To transfer memory ownership to the library, modify the setInputObj definition in the library definition file.

%setInputObjDefinition = addFunction(libnameDefinition, ...
%    'setInputObj(ObjClass * obj)', ...

Set DIRECTION and SHAPE and add a ReleaseOnCall argument.


Pass Ownership of Memory to MATLAB

MATLAB does not free memory allocated by the library. You can transfer ownership of memory to MATLAB by using the DeleteFcn name-value argument for these arguments:

If you specify a library function for the deleter function, then that function is not included in the interface and users cannot call the function from MATLAB. The MATLAB user calls the MATLAB delete function, which calls the function specified by deleteFcn.

For more information, see Memory Management for void* and void** Arguments.

Manage Memory of Returned Pointer or Reference

This example shows how to manage memory for functions returning a pointer or a reference to an object. Suppose that you have a member function objFree that frees memory.

ObjClass *objCreate(int32 a, int32 b); 
void objFree(ObjClass *obj);

To use objFree when MATLAB deletes object ObjClass, modify the objCreate definition in the library definition file.


Set SHAPE and add a DeleteFcn argument.


The MATLAB delete function calls libname::objFree.

myObj = clib.libname.objCreate(x,y)

Manage Memory of Double Pointer Input Argument

This example shows how to manage memory for an input argument of type void** configured as a scalar output. This procedure applies to class objects as well. See parameter type T** in the User-Defined Types data mapping table.

Suppose that you have a member function clearTask that frees memory.

#include <cstdint>
typedef void* handle; 
int32_t createTask (const char taskName[], handle *taskHandle);  
void clearTask (handle taskHandle); 

To allow MATLAB to take ownership of the void* object handle created by function createTask, assign clearTask as a DeleteFcn argument.

%defineArgument(createTaskDefinition, "taskHandle", "clib.lib.handle", "output", 1);

Add the DeleteFcn argument.

defineArgument(createTaskDefinition, "taskHandle", "clib.lib.handle", "output", 1, "DeleteFcn", "clearTask");

See Also

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