Immediate closing of iterators

Brendan Eich brendan at
Fri Dec 22 13:51:46 PST 2006

On Dec 22, 2006, at 1:23 AM, Chris Hansen wrote:

> I thought the guarantee was that an unreachable generator will
> eventually be closed.  If you're using a conservative GC you may not
> be able to discover whether or not an object is dead and hence may
> keep dead objects alive indefinitely.

This is a "quality of implementation" issue, about which the spec  
will not dictate.

Conservative GC in runtimes I'm familiar with works pretty well,  
trading reduced risk of humans failing to manage the root set  
correctly against risk of false positive.  Such codebases use  
classifying allocators pervasively, putting images and other non- 
pointer data in unscanned allocations.  The hard cases are the thread  
stacks managed by good old C and C++, where the GC has no type  
information.  False positives are possible here, and they can cause  
bloat, but it's bounded by the last-in-first-out discipline.  If your  
event loop has a float on the stack that aliases a pointer into the  
heap, though, ....

> With a generational GC you may
> keep objects alive long after they're dead but at least you can, if
> you want, determine with certainty whether or not an object is dead.
> If you had a policy that caused a full collection to be run of all
> generations with some regularity (and the spec could mandate that) a
> generational GC could offer (what I thought was) the guarantee.

The spec is not going to mandate that; it's not the guarantee we're  
looking for.

> If, on the hand, the guarantee is that a generator will be closed
> before its space is reclaimed then using a conservative GC is still
> fine because the guarantee doesn't deal with generators that are not
> discovered to be garbage.  But then is that a guarantee that is really
> useful to anyone?

Good question.  We thought so, more on formal grounds to-do with try/ 
finally, than on practical grounds that don't hold up as soon as you  
hypothesize code failing to call close on a generator and expecting  
timely GC to call it.  Anyone else care to weigh in?


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