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3.3 Reference counting

Every object in a “time” class has its own, distinct, lifetime, which is controlled by the object’s reference count. Reference counting follows the usual practice. Contexts which take a share of the “ownership” of an object increase the reference count by 1. When a context relinquishes its share of the ownership of an object, it decreases the reference count by 1.

Each class of time object has a “ref” and an “unref” method, to be used by those contexts which need to explicitly increment and decrement the reference count. For example, the “ref” method for the grammar class is marpa_g_ref() and the “unref” method for the grammar class is marpa_g_unref().

Time objects do not have explicit destructors. When the reference count of a time object reaches 0, that time object is destroyed.

Much of the necessary reference counting is performed automatically. The context calling the constructor of a time object does not need to explicitly increase the reference count, because Libmarpa time objects are always created with a reference count of 1.

Child objects “own” their parents, and when a child object is successfully created, the reference count of its parent object is automatically incremented to reflect this. When a child object is destroyed, it automatically decrements the reference count of its parent.

In a typical application, a calling context needs only to remember to “unref” each time object that it creates, once it is finished with that time object. All other reference decrements and increments are taken care of automatically. The typical application never needs to explicitly call one of the “ref” methods.

More complex applications may find it convenient to have one or more contexts share ownership of objects created in another context. These more complex situations are the only cases in which the “ref” methods will be needed.

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