What is meant by Resource Acquisition is Initialization (RAII)?

It’s a really terrible name for an incredibly powerful concept, and perhaps one of the number 1 things that C++ developers miss when they switch to other languages. There has been a bit of a movement to try to rename this concept as Scope-Bound Resource Management, though it doesn’t seem to have caught on just yet.

When we say ‘Resource’ we don’t just mean memory – it could be file handles, network sockets, database handles, GDI objects… In short, things that we have a finite supply of and so we need to be able to control their usage. The ‘Scope-bound’ aspect means that the lifetime of the object is bound to the scope of a variable, so when the variable goes out of scope then the destructor will release the resource. A very useful property of this is that it makes for greater exception-safety. For instance, compare this:

RawResourceHandle* handle=createNewResource();
handle->performInvalidOperation();  // Oops, throws exception
deleteResource(handle); // oh dear, never gets called so the resource leaks

With the RAII one

class ManagedResourceHandle {
   ManagedResourceHandle(RawResourceHandle* rawHandle_) : rawHandle(rawHandle_) {};
   ~ManagedResourceHandle() {delete rawHandle; }
   ... // omitted operator*, etc
   RawResourceHandle* rawHandle;

ManagedResourceHandle handle(createNewResource());

In this latter case, when the exception is thrown and the stack is unwound, the local variables are destroyed which ensures that our resource is cleaned up and doesn’t leak.

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