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Death of a value

As soon as a value/object is no longer used, Mojo destroys it. Mojo does not wait until the end of a code block—or even until the end of an expression—to destroy an unused value. It destroys values using an “as soon as possible” (ASAP) destruction policy that runs after every sub-expression. Even within an expression like a+b+c+d, Mojo destroys the intermediate values as soon as they're no longer needed.

Mojo uses static compiler analysis to find the point where a value is last used. Then, Mojo immediately ends the value's lifetime and calls the __del__() destructor to perform any necessary cleanup for the type.

For example, notice when the __del__() destructor is called for each instance of MyPet:

@value
struct MyPet:
var name: String
var age: Int

fn __del__(owned self):
print("Destruct", self.name)

fn pets():
var a = MyPet("Loki", 4)
var b = MyPet("Sylvie", 2)
print(a.name)
# a.__del__() runs here for "Loki"

a = MyPet("Charlie", 8)
# a.__del__() runs immediately because "Charlie" is never used

print(b.name)
# b.__del__() runs here

pets()
Loki Destruct Loki Destruct Charlie Sylvie Destruct Sylvie

Notice that each initialization of a value is matched with a call to the destructor, and a is actually destroyed multiple times—once for each time it receives a new value.

Also notice that this __del__() implementation doesn't actually do anything. Most structs don't require a custom destructor, and Mojo automatically adds a no-op destructor if you don't define one.

Default destruction behavior

You may be wondering how Mojo can destroy a type without a custom destructor, or why a no-op destructor is useful. If a type is simply a collection of fields, like the MyPet example, Mojo only needs to destroy the fields: MyPet doesn't dynamically allocate memory or use any long-lived resources (like file handles). There's no special action to take when a MyPet value is destroyed.

Looking at the individual fields, MyPet includes an Int and a String. The Int is what Mojo calls a trivial type. It's a statically-sized bundle of bits. Mojo knows exactly how big it is, so those bits can be reused to store something else.

The String value is a little more complicated. Mojo strings are mutable. The String object has an internal buffer—a List field, which holds the characters that make up the string. A List stores its contents in dynamically allocated memory on the heap, so the string can grow or shrink. The string itself doesn't have any special destructor logic, but when Mojo destroys a string, it calls the destructor for the List field, which de-allocates the memory.

Since String and Int don't require any custom destructor logic, they both have no-op destructors: literally, __del__() methods that don't do anything. This may seem pointless, but it means that Mojo can call the destructor on any value when its lifetime ends. This makes it easier to write generic containers and algorithms.

Benefits of ASAP destruction

Similar to other languages, Mojo follows the principle that objects/values acquire resources in a constructor (__init__()) and release resources in a destructor (__del__()). However, Mojo's ASAP destruction has some advantages over scope-based destruction (such as the C++ RAII pattern, which waits until the end of the code scope to destroy values):

  • Destroying values immediately at last-use composes nicely with the "move" optimization, which transforms a "copy+del" pair into a "move" operation.

  • Destroying values at end-of-scope in C++ is problematic for some common patterns like tail recursion, because the destructor call happens after the tail call. This can be a significant performance and memory problem for certain functional programming patterns, which is not a problem in Mojo, because the destructor call always happens before the tail call.

Additionally, Mojo's ASAP destruction works great within Python-style def functions. That's because Python doesn’t really provide scopes beyond a function scope, so the Python garbage collector cleans up resources more often than a scope-based destruction policy would. However, Mojo does not use a garbage collector, so the ASAP destruction policy provides destruction guarantees that are even more fine-grained than in Python.

The Mojo destruction policy is more similar to how Rust and Swift work, because they both have strong value ownership tracking and provide memory safety. One difference is that Rust and Swift require the use of a dynamic "drop flag"—they maintain hidden shadow variables to keep track of the state of your values to provide safety. These are often optimized away, but the Mojo approach eliminates this overhead entirely, making the generated code faster and avoiding ambiguity.

Destructor

Mojo calls a value's destructor (__del__() method) when the value's lifetime ends (typically the point at which the value is last used). As we mentioned earlier, Mojo provides a default, no-op destructor for all types, so in most cases you don't need to define the __del__() method.

You should define the __del__() method to perform any kind of cleanup the type requires. Usually, that includes freeing memory for any fields where you dynamically allocated memory (for example, via Pointer or DTypePointer) and closing any long-lived resources such as file handles.

However, any struct that is just a simple collection of other types does not need to implement the destructor.

For example, consider this simple struct:

struct MyPet:
var name: String
var age: Int

fn __init__(inout self, name: String, age: Int):
self.name = name
self.age = age

There's no need to define the __del__() destructor for this, because it's a simple collection of other types (String and Int), and it doesn't dynamically allocate memory.

Whereas, the following struct must define the __del__() method to free the memory allocated for its Pointer:

struct HeapArray:
var data: Pointer[Int]
var size: Int

fn __init__(inout self, size: Int, val: Int):
self.size = size
self.data = Pointer[Int].alloc(self.size)
for i in range(self.size):
self.data.store(i, val)

fn __del__(owned self):
self.data.free()

Note that a pointer doesn't own any values in the memory it points to, so when a pointer is destroyed, Mojo doesn't call the destructors on those values.

So in the HeapArray example above, calling free() on the pointer releases the memory, but doesn't call the destructors on the stored Int values. That's OK in the this case, because trivial types like Int have no-op destructors. However, in the general case—if you're storing values that might have functional destructors—it's not enough to call free() on the pointer. You should also ensure that Mojo completely destroys all the allocated types through their destructors.

The following example updates the previous __del__() method to ensure destructors are called on array elements. It does this by assigning each of the stored values in turn to the _ "discard" pattern. Assigning a value to the _ discard variable tells the compiler that this is the last use of that value, so it can be destroyed immediately.

struct HeapArray:
var data: Pointer[Int]
var size: Int

fn __del__(owned self):
for i in range(self.size):
_ = __get_address_as_owned_value((self.data + i).address)
self.data.free()
note

You can't just call the destructor explicitly. Because __del__() takes self as an owned value, and owned arguments are copied by default, foo._del__() actually creates and destroys a copy of foo. When Mojo destroys a value, however, it passes in the original value as self, not a copy.

If self.data was an instance of AnyPointer, you'd need to use slightly different code:

fn __del__(owned self):
for i in range(self.size):
_ = (self.data + i).take_value()
self.data.free()

It's important to notice that the __del__() method is an "extra" cleanup event, and your implementation does not override any default destruction behaviors. For example, Mojo still destroys all the fields in MyPet even if you implement __del__() to do nothing:

struct MyPet:
var name: String
var age: Int

fn __init__(inout self, name: String, age: Int):
self.name = name
self.age = age

fn __del__(owned self):
# Mojo destroys all the fields when they're last used
pass

However, the self value inside the __del__() destructor is still whole (so all fields are still usable) until the destructor returns, as we'll discuss more in the following section.

Field lifetimes

In addition to tracking the lifetime of all objects in a program, Mojo also tracks each field of a structure independently. That is, Mojo keeps track of whether a "whole object" is fully or partially initialized/destroyed, and it destroys each field independently with its ASAP destruction policy.

For example, consider this code that changes the value of a field:

@value
struct MyPet:
var name: String
var age: Int

fn use_two_strings():
var pet = MyPet("Po", 8)
print(pet.name)
# pet.name.__del__() runs here, because this instance is
# no longer used; it's replaced below

pet.name = String("Lola") # Overwrite pet.name
print(pet.name)
# pet.__del__() runs here

The pet.name field is destroyed after the first print(), because Mojo knows that it will be overwritten below. You can also see this behavior when using the transfer operator:

fn consume(owned arg: String):
pass

fn use(arg: MyPet):
print(arg.name)

fn consume_and_use():
var pet = MyPet("Selma", 5)
consume(pet.name^)
# pet.name.__moveinit__() runs here, which destroys pet.name
# Now pet is only partially initialized

# use(pet) # This fails because pet.name is uninitialized

pet.name = String("Jasper") # All together now
use(pet) # This is ok
# pet.__del__() runs here (and only if the object is whole)

Notice that the code transfers ownership of the name field to consume(). For a period of time after that, the name field is uninitialized. Then name is reinitialized before it is passed to the use() function. If you try calling use() before name is re-initialized, Mojo rejects the code with an uninitialized field error.

Also, if you don't re-initialize the name by the end of the pet lifetime, the compiler complains because it's unable to destroy a partially initialized object.

Mojo's policy here is powerful and intentionally straight-forward: fields can be temporarily transferred, but the "whole object" must be constructed with the aggregate type’s initializer and destroyed with the aggregate destructor. This means it's impossible to create an object by initializing only its fields, and it's likewise impossible to destroy an object by destroying only its fields.

Field lifetimes during destruct and move

The consuming-move constructor and destructor face an interesting situation with field lifetimes, because, unlike other lifecycle methods, they both take an instance of their own type as an owned argument, which is about to be destroyed. You don't really need to worry about this detail when implementing these methods, but it might help you better understand field lifetimes.

Just to recap, the move constructor and destructor method signatures look like this:

struct TwoStrings:
fn __moveinit__(inout self, owned existing: Self):
# Initializes a new `self` by consuming the contents of `existing`
fn __del__(owned self):
# Destroys all resources in `self`
note

There are two kinds of "self" here: capitalized Self is an alias for the current type name (used as a type specifier for the existing argument), whereas lowercase self is the argument name for the implicitly-passed reference to the current instance (also called "this" in other languages, and also implicitly a Self type).

Both of these methods face an interesting but obscure problem: they both must dismantle the existing/self value that's owned. That is, __moveinit__() implicitly destroys sub-elements of existing in order to transfer ownership to a new instance (read more about the move constructor), while __del__() implements the deletion logic for its self. As such, they both need to own and transform elements of the owned value, and they definitely don’t want the original owned value's destructor to also run—that could result in a double-free error, and in the case of the __del__() method, it would become an infinite loop.

To solve this problem, Mojo handles these two methods specially by assuming that their whole values are destroyed upon reaching any return from the method. This means that the whole object may be used as usual, up until the field values are transferred or the method returns.

For example, the following code works as you would expect (within the destructor, we can still pass ownership of a field value to another function, and there's no infinite loop to destroy self):

fn consume(owned str: String):
print('Consumed', str)

struct TwoStrings:
var str1: String
var str2: String

fn __init__(inout self, one: String):
self.str1 = one
self.str2 = String("bar")

fn __moveinit__(inout self, owned existing: Self):
self.str1 = existing.str1
self.str2 = existing.str2

fn __del__(owned self):
self.dump() # Self is still whole here
# Mojo calls self.str2.__del__() since str2 isn't used anymore

consume(self.str1^)
# self.str1 has been transferred so it is also destroyed now;
# `self.__del__()` is not called (avoiding an infinite loop).

fn dump(inout self):
print('str1:', self.str1)
print('str2:', self.str2)

fn use_two_strings():
var two_strings = TwoStrings("foo")

Explicit lifetimes

So far, we've described how Mojo destroys a value at the point it's last used, and this works great in almost all situations. However, there are very rare situations in which Mojo simply cannot predict this correctly and will destroy a value that is still referenced through some other means.

For instance, perhaps you're building a type with a field that carries a pointer to another field. The Mojo compiler won't be able to reason about the pointer, so it might destroy a field (obj1) when that field technically no longer used, even though another field (obj2) still holds a pointer to part of it. So, you might need to keep obj1 alive until you can execute some special logic in the destructor or move initializer.

You can force Mojo to keep a value alive up to a certain point by assigning the value to the _ discard pattern at the point where it's okay to destroy it. For example:

fn __del__(owned self):
self.dump() # Self is still whole here

consume(self.obj2^)
_ = self.obj1
# Mojo keeps `obj1` alive until here, after its "last use"

In this case, if consume() refers to some value in obj1 somehow, this ensures that Mojo does not destroy obj1 until after the call to consume(), because assignment to the discard variable _ is actually the last use.

For other situations, you can also scope the lifetime of a value using the Python-style with statement. That is, for any value defined at the entrance to a with statement, Mojo will keep that value alive until the end of the with statement. For example:

with open("my_file.txt", "r") as file:
print(file.read())

# Other stuff happens here (whether using `file` or not)...
foo()
# `file` is alive up to the end of the `with` statement.

# `file` is destroyed when the statement ends.
bar()