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Title: Region Based Memory Allocation
DIP: 46
Version: 1
Status: Draft
Created: 2013-08-28
Last Modified: 2013-08-28
Language: D2
Breaks: Nothing (extension)
Author: Walter Bright


Stateless programming is a popular technique for encapsulation. D currently supports it marvelously with the 'pure' function attribute:

T statelessOp(const args) pure;

Under the hood, however, the GC is not stateless. Allocated memory may be left over after the call, and it may never get collected. Adding precise GC will not fix this 100%. What's needed is a way to guarantee that all memory allocated by statelessOp() is released.


One way to do this is by a region allocator. Create a new region at the start of statelessOp(), and throw the reqion away at the end. All allocations during that call will have been allocated within that region.

Fortunately, druntime's GC implementation is all controlled by a proxy, a global variable _gc. All GC operations are member functions of _gc. This means we can, instead of using a __gshared _gc, key off of a thread local _gctls. This will default to being _gc, and so the default behavior will be as now.

A user can then:


which will then create a new instance of the GC and set _gctls to it. All calls to the GC in the current thread will now go to the new instance. When done,


will throw away that GC implementation and all the memory it allocated, and revert to the previous value of _gctls.

Some observations:

1. statelessOp() will have to be nothrow. This is because throw allocates GC memory for the exception, and all such memory cannot survive gc_pop().

2. statelessOp() cannot spawn a new thread. Of course, it can't anyway because it is pure.

3. statelessOp() may not cast memory to shared.

4. The new region GC instance will be thread local, meaning it no longer has to acquire/release locks, and it doesn't need to stop other threads when doing a collection cycle. The thread running the region GC will still have to be stopped when the global GC is collecting, as its stack and locals may still refer to global GC data.

5. Pairs of gc_push()/gc_pop() can be nested.

6. The default 'roots' of the new instance will be the current thread's stack. Adding other roots will be the responsibility of the caller. If the caller gets this wrong, undefined behavior will result. Consider the following:

auto s = toStringz(msg); // return value kept in register, e.g. EDI
statelessOp(s); // passes s in EAX, trashes EDI

and statelessOp stores the value in the thread local GC only:

void statelessOp(char* s)
    char** ps = gc_malloc(s.sizeof);
    *ps = s;
    // now there is no more reference to s on the stack or in register
    // but access through *ps is possible

The same can happen right now with an external C function if it changes the argument on the stack.

7. It will be up to the user to ensure that when gc_pop() is called, no further references to that GC instance's allocations will be made.

8. The return value, if it as allocated in the region, will have to be deep-copied.

9. statelessOp() will have to be expensive enough to justify the time spent creating/destroying a region.

A further observation is that class GC has virtual functions in it. This opens up the possibility of doing a gc_push() with a different GC. Two possibilities come to mind:

1. Allocate-but-never-free, like DMD does. This would be very fast.

2. Assert-on-any-allocation, used for code that wants to be "nogc". This avoids the complexity of adding a "nogc" attribute to D. More discussion of "nogc": https://github.com/D-Programming-Language/druntime/pull/493


Thanks to Rainer Schuetze for his helpful comments on this.


This document has been placed in the Public Domain.