Reference Counting

Bonobo component reference counting, version 0.1 by Michael Meeks <> and Mike Fleming <>

Bonobo Objects

A bonobo object is a glib object that implements an CORBA interface, it also contains a pointer to the BonoboAggregateObject that it is part of. A bonobo object has two reference counts; the first is a GObject reference count on the object. This should be 1 at all times except pre-finalization. The main reference count for the aggregate is stored in the

typedef struct {
	int   ref_count;
	GList *objs;
} BonoboAggregateObject;

structure. Also in this structure is a list of all the objects implementing other interfaces in this aggregate. Clearly an object is always in its own aggregate hence:

g_assert (g_list_find (object->priv->ao->objs, object) == object);

Is always true. The object->priv->ao dereference is merely a nice way of encapsulating this information inside bonobo-object.c and ensuring that it can't be fiddled with elsewhere.

Ref counting

The only ref count to manipulate is that on the aggregate obejct, this is done via the bonobo_object_ref / unref pair, it is also done remotely via the Bonobo_Object_ref / unref CORBA stubs. There is no 'destroy' method, if you want this method you are probably confused about how GObject deals with allocation.

Some people try to use g_object_ref / unref on BonoboObjects; sadly this will cause very serious grief. This if you g_object_unref a bonobo object, then that object will be destroyed without consulting the aggregate ref-count, and without sorting out the aggregate. The net effect of this is that the aggregate is left including a finalized object. This is a very bad move indeed.

Reference leaks

Catching reference leaks is evily difficult. The first approach is to set environment variable BONOBO_DEBUG_FLAGS to a colon separated list of a subset of {object, running, aggregate, lifecycle, refs}. This will enable debugging output in certain parts of libbonobo. The output will be written to stdout or, alternatively, if you set BONOBO_DEBUG_DIR to a directory path, to a file named bonobo-debug-<pid> in that directory. This combined with a call to bonobo_shutdown () before exiting your program should provide a dump of all object references floating in your code.

Another good way of catching leaks---having guessed which object is not getting freed---is to fire up container and component in gdb, break in eg. bonobo_embeddable_new and insert a hardware watch point on the ref count [ see also Debugging ]:

(gdb) p &((BonoboObject *)embeddable)->priv->ao->ref_count
$N = (int *) 0x80808102
(gdb) watch *0x80808102
(gdb) cont

This will result in gdb giving you control each time the ref count is changed. At this point halt the other end of the CORBA link and start logging traces at both ends. By the time the program exits you should have worked out where the reference went astray.

Ref Counting Conventions

And now for the important stuff:

Bonobo Ref Counting

The Bonobo ref count convention is as follows. (Mild rewording; same meaning as before)

  1. A function returning an object, either as the return value or by-reference, must always add a reference before returning. (Alternately: the callee must create a reference to the returned object that the caller owns)

  2. A function that accepts a bonobo object as an in/out parameter must unreference the originally passed object once if the function wishes to change the value of the in/out parameter. (The function must ref() new objects returned via this in/out in accordance with [1])

  3. An object passed into a function needs only be ref()'d if the ifunction wishes to retain a reference to the object beyond the scope of the function call.

In addition, there's a consensus that interface designers should be advised against designing methods with in/out parameters. In/out parameters can obscure the lifetime of the passed argument to casual code observers, and thus may cause hidden side-effects.

CORBA Ref-counting

Since the ORB also maintains reference counts per interface handle, should you be returning a reference to an object it is imperative to

Bonobo_Unknown_ref (corba_object, ev);
return CORBA_Object_duplicate (corba_object, ev);

To assist with this there are two functions:

Bonobo_Unknown bonobo_object_dup_ref       (Bonobo_Unknown     object,
                                            CORBA_Environment *ev);
void           bonobo_object_release_unref (Bonobo_Unknown     object,
                                            CORBA_Environment *ev);

So to return an Unknown from a impl you can simply:

return bonobo_object_dup_ref (corba_object, ev);


there is a caveat with this approach which is this:

If you construct a BonoboObject in an impl_ whose reference you wish to hand back to the caller then the situation is slightly different. In this case you have an object with the following:

Bonobo_Unknown: ref 1

BonoboObject: ref 1

You want to hand a CORBA reference to this object to the client, without incrementing the BonoboObject reference. To do this you must do:

return CORBA_Object_duplicate (BONOBO_OBJREF (myobject));

The mirror of this is that if you want to hand a ref to an impl you will need to CORBA_Object_duplicate the value before inserting it into a BonoboObjectClient.

Ref counting and one-way methods

While the ORB has built in support for correct referencing on 1 way methods, the Bonobo reference count does not; hence if you wish to hand a bonobo reference to several listeners you need to do something like:

ref = Bonobo_Unknown_ref (BONOBO_OBJREF (obj), ev);
Bonobo_Sample_executeOnewayMethod (foo, ref, ev);

And at the other end in executeOnewayMethod the reference needs to be released.