VTK/Tutorials/SmartPointers: Difference between revisions

From KitwarePublic
< VTK‎ | Tutorials
Jump to navigationJump to search
(No difference)

Revision as of 14:29, 1 January 2010


The idea behind smart pointers is reference counting. If the object goes out of scope and it is not being used anywhere else, it will be deleted automatically. Pretty 'smart', eh?


Creating an Object with a Smart Pointer

One way to create a VTK object is <source lang="cpp"> vtkObject* MyObject = vtkObject::New(); </source>

This method, however, can (and likely will) lead to memory management issues at some point or another. You must manually delete the object <source lang="cpp"> MyObject->Delete(); </source>

or you will have a memory leak. VTK's solution to this ever-annoying problem is the smart pointer. To use it, you must

<source lang="cpp">

  1. include <vtkSmartPointer.h>


Then you can create an object as follows: <source lang="cpp"> vtkSmartPointer<vtkObject> MyObject = vtkSmartPointer<vtkObject>::New(); </source>

Getting an Object with a Smart Pointer

When not allocating memory for an object, you can still use smart pointers. Take this simple example: <source lang="cpp"> vtkSmartPointer<vtkXMLPolyDataReader> Reader = vtkSmartPointer<vtkXMLPolyDataReader>::New(); vtkPolyData* pd = Reader->GetOutput(); </source> vs <source lang="cpp"> vtkSmartPointer<vtkPolyData> pd = Reader->GetOutput(); </source>

In the first case, when the reader object goes out of scope, the data is deleted. In the second case, by using a smart pointer we have incremented the data's reference count by 1, so the data will not be deleted until the reader AND the polydata object go out of scope.

Returning a Smart Pointer

If you define a function like this: <source lang="cpp"> vtkSmartPointer<vtkPolyData> MyFunction() {

 vtkSmartPointer<vtkPolyData> MyObject = vtkSmartPointer<vtkPolyData>::New();
 return MyObject;

} </source>

And call the function using: <source lang="cpp"> vtkSmartPointer<vtkPolyData> MyPolydata = MyFunction(); </source>

This is different from: <source lang="cpp"> vtkPolyData* MyFunction() {

 vtkSmartPointer<vtkPolyData> MyObject = vtkSmartPointer<vtkPolyData>::New();
 return MyObject;


vtkPolyData* MyPolydata = MyFunction(); </source>

(Why? Is this different?)

Putting an Existing Object into a Smart Pointer

Using Smart Pointers as Class Member Variables

You should NOT (why?) use smart pointers for VTK class member variables.


  • If you create an object and then change where it is pointing, the reference count will be incorrect. e.g.

<source lang="cpp"> vtkSmartPointer<vtkPolyData> Polydata = vtkSmartPointer<vtkPolyData>::New(); Polydata = Reader->GetOutput(); </source> In this case, memory is allocated for Polydata, but then we change Polydata to point to the output of Reader rather than the memory we just allocated. Instead, we should have done simply: <source lang="cpp"> vtkPolyData* Polydata = Reader->GetOutput(); </source>

It was not necessary to use a smart pointer because we did not actually create any new objects.


Here is an example of equivalent operations with and without smart pointers:


<source lang="cpp">

  1. include <vtkFloatArray.h>
  2. include <vtkSmartPointer.h>

void WithSmartPointers(); void WithoutSmartPointers();

int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {

 return 0;


void WithSmartPointers() {

 vtkSmartPointer<vtkFloatArray> Distances = vtkSmartPointer<vtkFloatArray>::New();


void WithoutSmartPointers() {

 vtkFloatArray* Distances = vtkFloatArray::New();




<source lang="text"> cmake_minimum_required(VERSION 2.6)



ADD_EXECUTABLE(SmartPointers SmartPointers.cpp) TARGET_LINK_LIBRARIES(SmartPointers vtkHybrid)