Ayende @ Rahien

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ChallengeStop the leaks

time to read 2 min | 208 words

Given the following API, can you think of a way that would prevent memory leaks?

public interface IBufferPool
    byte[] TakeBuffer(int size);
    void ReturnBuffer(byte[] buffer);

The problem with having something like this is that forgetting to return the buffer is going to cause a memory leak. Instead of having that I would like to have the application stop if a buffer is leaked. Leaked means that no one is referencing this buffer but it wasn’t returned to the pool.

What I would really like is that when running in debug mode, leaking a buffer would stop the entire application and tell me:

  • That a buffer was leaked.
  • What was the stack trace that allocated that buffer.

A solution will be posted tomorrow.

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Paul Stovell

Inside your implementation, have a List <tuple<weakreference,>

. In TakeBuffer, wrap the list you return in a weak reference, and store the stack trace. In ReturnBuffer, remove it from the list. Have a timer (or another trigger) and periodically go through the list. If any of the WeakReferences have a null target, the buffer has been leaked.

Paul Stovell

That was a List<Tuple<WeakReference, StackTrace>> - you need a better blog engine :)

Nathan Evans

Standard IDisposable pattern (with finalizer hook) and some #IF DEBUG conditional blocks.

The only uncertainty would be relying upon a GC to occur in order for the finalizer to be run. But your tests can simulate that.

Nathan Evans

Forgot to say, the StackTrace can be captured in the constructor (wrapped in #IF DEBUG of course) and stored in a private field. Then when the finalizer is called, maybe use Environment.FailFast to print a nice message with that stack trace info.

Ayende Rahien


We are writing one right now.

Ayende Rahien


That makes it a pretty complex system, and you are doing a lot that you probably shouldn't.

There is also the issue of concurrent updates of timer & buffer takes/ returns.


Paul if I remember correctly you'd still be tied to the GC.

According to the docs using a ConditionalWeakTable and maybe another list with the keys would be better.

Nathan Evans

Something like this is what I had in mind:


Obviously you'd use using {} blocks, where appropriate, when dealing with the IBufferContext's.

Ayende Rahien

This means that you now have to track IBufferContext, rather than just byte[]

There are better ways to do this.

Nathan Evans

In that case, I look forward to seeing the solution.

Duarte Nunes

Maybe you could have a ConditionalWeakTable<byte[], T>, where T is a type that defines a finalizer and has a StackTrace. If you throw an exception on the finalizer thread, the process dies. When a buffer is returned to the pool, you remove it from the table.

Ayende Rahien


Nice, and similar to how I decided to do this.

Alex Simkin


Could you please explain the solution. BufferPoolWithLeakDetection throws when system tries to garbage collect MemoryLeakException because buffer was already garbage collected. But if buffer was already garbage collected, where is the memory leak? No, it wasn't returned to the pool, but that's not what was asked.

Alex Simkin

Oh, sorry, didn't read carefully enough. That's exactly what was asked.

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