To RAII or Not to RAII?—Jonathan Boccara

Good question.

To RAII or Not to RAII?

by Jonathan Boccara

From the article:

RAII is a central concept in C++, that consists in relying on the compiler to call destructors automatically in certain cases. Putting appropriate code in such destructors then relieves us from calling that code – the compiler does it for us.

RAII is an idiomatic technique of C++, but can we use RAII for everything? Is it a good idea to shift every possible piece of code to the destructor of some class, to leave the work to the compiler and make calling code as light as can be?

Since this question comes down to asking if the proverbial hammer is a tool fit for every single task, the answer to that question is probably the proverbial No.

But then, in which cases would RAII improve the design of a piece of code?

In this article we’ll see a case where RAII is adapted, then a case where RAII is NOT adapted. And after that we’ll see a case open to discussion. We’ll then conclude with how to use levels of abstractions to make the decision to RAII or not to RAII...

Quick Q: Direct initialization with empty initializer list

Quick A: If there is an initializer list contructor, it will choose it.

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Direct initialization with empty initializer list

When an argument is an initializer list ([dcl.init.list]), it is not an expression and special rules apply for converting it to a parameter type.

If the parameter type is std::initializer_list or “array of X” and all the elements of the initializer list can be implicitly converted to X, the implicit conversion sequence is the worst conversion necessary to convert an element of the list to X. This conversion can be a user-defined conversion even in the context of a call to an initializer-list constructor.

Otherwise, if the parameter is a non-aggregate class X and overload resolution per [over.match.list] chooses a single best constructor of X to perform the initialization of an object of type X from the argument initializer list, the implicit conversion sequence is a user-defined conversion sequence. If multiple constructors are viable but none is better than the others, the implicit conversion sequence is the ambiguous conversion sequence. User-defined conversions are allowed for conversion of the initializer list elements to the constructor parameter types except as noted in [].

Quick Q: Uses of destructor = delete;

Quick A: If you have an object which should never, ever be deleted or stored on the stack (automatic storage), or stored as part of another object, =delete will prevent all of these.

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Uses of destructor = delete;

struct Handle {

struct Data {
  std::array<char,1024> buffer;

struct Bundle: Handle {
  Data data;

using bundle_storage = std::aligned_storage_t<sizeof(Bundle), alignof(Bundle)>;

std::size_t bundle_count = 0;
std::array< bundle_storage, 1000 > global_bundles;

Handle* get_bundle() {
  return new ((void*)global_bundles[bundle_count++]) Bundle();
void return_bundle( Handle* h ) {
  Assert( h == (void*)global_bundles[bundle_count-1] );
char get_char( Handle const* h, std::size_t i ) {
  return static_cast<Bundle*>(h).data[i];
void set_char( Handle const* h, std::size_t i, char c ) {
  static_cast<Bundle*>(h).data[i] = c;

Here we have opaque Handles which may not be declared on the stack nor dynamically allocated. We have a system to get them from a known array.

I believe nothing above is undefined behavior; failing to destroy a Bundle is acceptable, as is creating a new one in its place.

And the interface doesn't have to expose how Bundle works. Just an opaque Handle.

Now this technique can be useful if other parts of the code need to know that all Handles are in that specific buffer, or their lifetime is tracked in specific ways. Possibly this could also be handled with private constructors and friend factory functions.