MATLAB Answers


Does mxDestroyArray() recursively de-allocate elements of structs and cells?

Asked by Szabolcs
on 16 Feb 2013

The question is in the title. Is is about the C matrix library interface.

To explain in more detail, suppose that I create a 1 by 1 cell using mxCreateCellArray(), then create a numeric matrix using mxCreateNumericArray() and set it as the only element of the cell. Now will calling mxDestroyArray() on the cell destroy the numeric array as well, in one go? Or do I need to call it separately for the elements of the cell, then just the cell? I am hoping for the latter, as this is more reasonable for complex manipulations.

The documentation is ambiguous on this point.


Jan Simon
on 17 Feb 2013

@Syabolcs: Thanks for mentioning the cross-posting. This is a good example for others. +1

You can omit the memset(), because the memory is initialized already.


1 Answer

Answer by Jan Simon
on 17 Feb 2013
Edited by Jan Simon
on 17 Feb 2013
 Accepted answer

Yes, mxDestroyArray() recursively de-allocates elements of structs and cells. Otherwise you could observe a memory leak.


The documentation of mxDestroyArray explains clearly (e.g. in R2009a):

mxDestroyArray not only deallocates the memory occupied by the mxArray's characteristics fields [...], but also deallocates all the mxArray's associated data arrays, such as [...], fields of structure arrays, and cells of cell arrays.

And a small C-mex test function (call it test_mxDestroy.c and compile it):

#include "mex.h"
void mexFunction(int nlhs, mxArray *plhs[], int nrhs, const mxArray *prhs[])
  mxArray *C;
  C = mxCreateCellMatrix(1, 1);
  mxSetCell(C, 0, mxCreateDoubleMatrix(1, 1000000, mxREAL));

If the contents of the created cell is not freed implicitly, 8MB memory would be leaked in each call. Now inspect the operating systems memory manager while running:

for k = 1:1e6, test_mxDestroy; end

You will see, that the memory is not exhausted.

As James has explained already, your example does not crash accidentally only. When you try to use mat after mxDestroyArray(cell), you will encounter a crash soon. ATTENTION: Crashing the Matlab session can destroy data. So keep care, and even better keep a backup.


Thanks for the link Jan. Anyway, I have the answer now and sorry about the confusion ... I also posted a short answer and a link back here to StackOverflow.

@Jan: Technical side note ... for a normal return from a mex routine, shared data copies of the plhs[] variables are what are actually returned, not the plhs[] variables themselves. Then everything on the garbage collection list is destroyed, including the plhs[] variables which are in fact on the garbage collection list (except for persistent variables such as prhs[] or using mexMakeArrayPersistent). For an error return, the only difference is that shared data copies of the plhs[] variables are not made, only the garbage collection (including the plhs[] variables) takes place.

Jan Simon
on 17 Feb 2013

Thanks, James, to explain this detail, which is surprising for me.

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