Deterministic Finalization with IDisposable and the Using Statement


The problem with finalizers on their own is that they don’t support deterministic finalization (the ability to know when a finalizer will run). Rather, finalizers serve the important role of being a backup mechanism for cleaning up resources if a developer using a class neglects to call the requisite cleanup code explicitly.

For example, consider the TemporaryFileStream, which includes not only a finalizer but also a Close() method. This class uses a file resource that could potentially consume a significant amount of disk space. The developer using TemporaryFileStream can explicitly call Close() to restore the disk space.

Providing a method for deterministic finalization is important because it eliminates a dependency on the indeterminate timing behavior of the finalizer. Even if the developer fails to call Close() explicitly, the finalizer will take care of the call. In such a case, the finalizer will run later than if it was called explicitly—but it will be called eventually.

Because of the importance of deterministic finalization, the base class library includes a specific interface for the pattern and C# integrates the pattern into the language. The IDisposable interface defines the details of the pattern with a single method called Dispose(), which developers call on a resource class to “dispose” of the consumed resources. Listing 9.21 demonstrates the IDisposable interface and some code for calling it.

From Program.Search(), there is an explicit call to Dispose() after using the TemporaryFileStream. Dispose() is the method responsible for cleaning up the resources (in this case, a file) that are not related to memory and, therefore, subject to cleanup implicitly by the garbage collector. Nevertheless, the execution here contains a hole that would prevent execution of Dispose()—namely, the chance that an exception will occur between the time when TemporaryFileStream is instantiated and the time when Dispose() is called. If this happens, Dispose() will not be invoked and the resource cleanup will have to rely on the finalizer. To avoid this problem, callers need to implement a try/finally block. Instead of requiring programmers to code such a block explicitly, C# provides a using statement expressly for the purpose (Listing 9.22).


The resultant CIL code is identical to the code that would be created if the programmer specified an explicit try/finally block, where fileStream.Dispose() is called in the finally block. The using statement, however, provides a syntax shortcut for the try/finally block.

Within a using statement, you can instantiate more than one variable by separating each variable from the others with a comma. The key considerations are that all variables must be of the same type and that they implement IDisposable. To enforce the use of the same type, the data type is specified only once rather than before each variable declaration.

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