C++ – shared_ptr: what’s it used for


I make a lot of use of boost::scoped_ptr in my code and it is great but I'm currently working with software that uses shared_ptr all over the place and I'm wondering if I'm missing something.

AFAIK a shared_ptr is only useful if different threads are going to be accessing the same data and you don't know what order the threads are going to finish (with the shared_ptr ensuring that the object exists until the last thread has finished with it).

Are there other use cases?

Best Solution

Threads are irrelevant here. What's relevant is whether it's easy to specify a point at which the object is no longer of use.

Suppose several different objects want to use the same object. It might be a pack of data, or for input/output, or some geometric object, or whatever. You want the shared object to be deleted after all of the using objects are deleted, and not a clock cycle before. Rather than figure out which owning object is going to have the longest lifespan (and that can change if you change the program, or perhaps through user interaction), you can use a shared_ptr to force this behavior.

It doesn't matter whether the using objects are in the same or different threads. Objects can have unpredictable lifetimes even if they're all in the same thread.