Home > Articles > Programming > General Programming/Other Languages

Memory Management in the Cocoa Touch Framework

This chapter introduces memory management basics for iOS programming.
This chapter is from the book

Understanding memory management in the Cocoa Touch framework is a major roadblock for newcomers. Unlike Objective-C on the Mac, Objective-C on iOS has no garbage collector. Thus, it is your responsibility to clean up after yourself.

Memory Management Basics

This book assumes you are coming from a C background, so the words "pointer," "allocate," and "deallocate" shouldn't scare you. If your memory is a little fuzzy, here's a review.

An iOS device has a limited amount of random access memory. Random access memory (RAM) is much faster to write to and read from than a hard drive, so when an application is executing, all of the memory it consumes is taken from RAM. When an operating system like iOS launches your application, it reserves a heaping pile of the system's unused RAM for your application. Notso-coincidentally, the memory reserved for your application is called the heap. The heap is your application's playground; it can do whatever it wants with it, and it won't affect the rest of the OS or any other application.

When your application creates an instance of a class, it goes to the giant heap of memory it was given and takes a little scoop. As your application runs, you create objects and start using more and more of the heap. Most objects are not permanently necessary, and when an object is no longer needed, the memory it was consuming should be returned to the heap. Then that memory can be reused for an object you create later.

This dynamic use, return, and reuse of memory requires proper management. Two major problems occur when memory is not managed properly:

premature deallocation

A chunk of memory is returned to the heap before a part of the program is finished using it.

memory leak

A chunk of memory is no longer needed by any part of a program, but it is not freed up to be used for something else.

Managing memory in C

In the C programming language, you explicitly ask the heap for a certain number of bytes. This is called allocation, and it is the first stage of the heap life cycle shown in Figure 3.1. To allocate memory, you use a function like malloc. If you want 100 bytes from the heap, you do something like this:

void function(void)
    char *buffer = malloc(100);
Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1 Heap allocation life cycle

You then have 100 bytes with which you can perform a task like writing a string to these bytes and then printing that string (which requires reading from those bytes). The location of the first of the 100 bytes is stored in the pointer buffer. You use this pointer to access the 100 bytes (Figure 3.1).

When you don't need those bytes anymore, you give them back to the heap by using the free function. This is called deallocation.

void function(void)
    char *buffer = malloc(100);

    // Do something with buffer


Calling free returns the 100 bytes (starting at the address stored in buffer) to the heap. If another malloc function is executed, any of these 100 bytes is fair game to be returned. Those bytes could be divvied up into smaller sections, or they could become part of a larger allocation. Because you don't know what will become of those bytes when they are returned to the heap, it isn't safe to access them through the buffer pointer anymore.

Managing memory with objects

Even though at the base level an object is also a certain number of bytes allocated from the heap, you never explicitly call malloc or free with objects.

Every class knows how many bytes of memory it needs to allocate for an instance. When you create an instance of a class by sending it the alloc message, the correct number of bytes is allocated from the heap. Like with malloc, you are returned a pointer to this memory. However, when using Objective-C, we think in terms of objects rather than raw memory. While our pointer still points to a spot in memory, we don't need to know the details of that memory; we just know we have an object.

Of course, once you allocate memory, you need a way to return it. Every object implements the method dealloc. When an object receives this message, it returns its memory to the heap.

So, malloc is replaced with the class method alloc, and the function free is replaced with the instance method dealloc. However, you never explicitly send a dealloc message to an object; an object is responsible for sending dealloc to itself. That begs the question: if an object is in charge of destroying itself, how does it know when it is safe and right to do so? This is where reference counting comes into play.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020