2.10 • Garbage Collection

Lua performs automatic memory management. This means that you have to worry neither about allocating memory for new objects nor about freeing it when the objects are no longer needed. Lua manages memory automatically by running a garbage collector from time to time to collect all dead objects (that is, objects that are no longer accessible from Lua). All memory used by Lua is subject to automatic management: tables, userdata, functions, threads, strings, etc.

Lua implements an incremental mark-and-sweep collector. It uses two numbers to control its garbage-collection cycles: the garbage-collector pause and the garbage-collector step multiplier. Both use percentage points as units (so that a value of 100 means an internal value of 1).

The garbage-collector pause controls how long the collector waits before starting a new cycle. Larger values make the collector less aggressive. Values smaller than 100 mean the collector will not wait to start a new cycle. A value of 200 means that the collector waits for the total memory in use to double before starting a new cycle.

The step multiplier controls the relative speed of the collector relative to memory allocation. Larger values make the collector more aggressive but also increase the size of each incremental step. Values smaller than 100 make the collector too slow and can result in the collector never finishing a cycle. The default, 200, means that the collector runs at "twice" the speed of memory allocation.

You can change these numbers by calling lua_gc in C or collectgarbage in Lua. With these functions you can also control the collector directly (e.g., stop and restart it).

2.10.1 - Garbage-Collection Metamethods

Using the C API, you can set garbage-collector metamethods for userdata (see §2.8). These metamethods are also called finalizers. Finalizers allow you to coordinate Lua's garbage collection with external resource management (such as closing files, network or database connections, or freeing your own memory).

Garbage userdata with a field __gc in their metatables are not collected immediately by the garbage collector. Instead, Lua puts them in a list. After the collection, Lua does the equivalent of the following function for each userdata in that list:

     function gc_event (udata)
       local h = metatable(udata).__gc
       if h then

At the end of each garbage-collection cycle, the finalizers for userdata are called in reverse order of their creation, among those collected in that cycle. That is, the first finalizer to be called is the one associated with the userdata created last in the program. The userdata itself is freed only in the next garbage-collection cycle.

2.10.2 - Weak Tables

A weak table is a table whose elements are weak references. A weak reference is ignored by the garbage collector. In other words, if the only references to an object are weak references, then the garbage collector will collect this object.

A weak table can have weak keys, weak values, or both. A table with weak keys allows the collection of its keys, but prevents the collection of its values. A table with both weak keys and weak values allows the collection of both keys and values. In any case, if either the key or the value is collected, the whole pair is removed from the table. The weakness of a table is controlled by the __mode field of its metatable. If the __mode field is a string containing the character 'k', the keys in the table are weak. If __mode contains 'v', the values in the table are weak.

After you use a table as a metatable, you should not change the value of its __mode field. Otherwise, the weak behavior of the tables controlled by this metatable is undefined.

Garbage Collection

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