pw::IntrusivePtr is a smart shared pointer that relies on the pointed-at object to do the reference counting. Its API is based on std::shared_ptr but requires the pointed-at class to provide AddRef() and ReleaseRef() methods to do the reference counting. The easiest way to do that is to subclass pw::RefCounted. Doing this will provide atomic reference counting and a Ptr type alias for the IntrusivePtr<T>.

IntrusivePtr doesn’t provide any weak pointer ability.

IntrusivePtr with a RefCounted-based class always guarantees atomic operations on the reference counter, whereas std::shared_ptr falls back to a non-atomic control block when threading support is not enabled due to a design fault in the STL implementation.

Similar to std::shared_ptr, IntrusivePtr doesn’t provide any thread-safety guarantees for the pointed-at object or for the pointer object itself. I.e. assigning and reading the same IntrusivePtr from multiple threads without external lock is not allowed.

class MyClass : public RefCounted<MyClass> {
// ...

// Empty pointer, equals to nullptr.
// MyClass::Ptr is the same as IntrusivePtr<MyClass>.
MyClass::Ptr empty_ptr = IntrusivePtr<MyClass>();

// Wrapping an externally created pointer.
MyClass raw_ptr = new MyClass();
MyClass::Ptr ptr_1 = MyClass::Ptr(raw_ptr);
// raw_ptr shouldn't be used after this line if ptr_1 can go out of scope.

// Using MakeRefCounted() helper.
auto ptr_2 = MakeRefCounted<MyClass>(/* ... */);

IntrusivePtr can be passed as an argument by either const reference or value. Const reference is more preferable because it does not cause unnecessary copies (which results in atomic operations on the ref count). Passing by value is used when this IntrusivePtr is immediately stored (e.g. constructor that stores IntrusivePtr in the object field). In this case passing by value and move is more explicit in terms of intentions. It is also the behavior that clang-tidy checks suggest.

IntrusivePtr should almost always be returned by value. The only case when it can be returned by const reference is the trivial getter for the object field. When returning locally created IntrusivePtr or a pointer that was casted to the base class it MUST be returned by value.


pw::Recyclable is a mixin that can be used with supported smart pointers like pw::IntrusivePtr to specify a custom memory cleanup routine instead of delete. The cleanup routine is specified as a method with the signature void pw_recycle(). For example:

class Foo : public pw::Recyclable<Foo>, public pw::IntrusivePtr<Foo> {
  // public implementation here
  friend class pw::Recyclable<Foo>;
  void pw_recycle() {
    if (should_recycle())) {
    } else {
      delete this;

Recyclable can be used to avoid heap allocation when using smart pointers, as the recycle routine can return memory to a memory pool.