It comes as a surprise to many beginning Cocoa coders that the programmer has an important role to play in the explicit management of memory. What’s more, managing memory incorrectly is probably the most frequent cause of crashes — or, inversely, of memory leakage, whereby your app’s use of memory increases relentlessly until, in the worst-case scenario, there’s no memory left.
The reason why memory must be managed at all is that object references are pointers. As I explained in Chapter 1, the pointers themselves are simple C values (basically they are just integers) and are managed automatically, whereas what an object pointer points to is a hunk of memory that must explicitly be set aside when the object is brought into existence and that must explicitly be freed up when the object goes out of existence. We already know how the memory is set aside — that is what
alloc does. But how is this memory to be freed up, and when should it happen?
At the very least, an object should certainly go out of existence when no other objects exist that have a pointer to it. An object without a pointer to it is useless; it is occupying memory, but no other object has, or can ever get, a reference to it. This is a memory leak. Many computer languages solve this problem through a policy called garbage collection. Simply put, the language prevents memory leaks by periodically sweeping through a central list of all objects and destroying those to which no pointer exists. In recent ...