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auto_ptr is a class template available in the C++ Standard Library (declared in the <memory> header file) that provides some basic RAII features for C++ raw pointers.

The auto_ptr template class describes an object that stores a pointer to a single allocated object of type Type* that ensures that the object to which it points gets destroyed automatically when control leaves a scope.[1]

The shared_ptr template class defined in C++11, and available in the Boost library, can be used as an alternative to auto_ptr for collections with ownership semantics.[2]

The current C++ standard, C++11, made auto_ptr deprecated, replacing it with the unique_ptr class template.[3][4]


The auto_ptr class is declared in ISO/IEC 14882, section 20.4.5 as:

namespace std {
    template <class Y> struct auto_ptr_ref {};
    template <class X>
    class auto_ptr {
        typedef X element_type;
        // construct/copy/destroy:
        explicit           auto_ptr(X* p =0) throw();
                           auto_ptr(auto_ptr&) throw();
        template <class Y> auto_ptr(auto_ptr<Y>&) throw();
        auto_ptr&                      operator=(auto_ptr&) throw();
        template <class Y> auto_ptr&   operator=(auto_ptr<Y>&) throw();
        auto_ptr&                      operator=(auto_ptr_ref<X>) throw();
        ~auto_ptr() throw();
        // members:
        X&     operator*() const throw();
        X*     operator->() const throw();
        X*     get() const throw();
        X*     release() throw();
        void   reset(X* p =0) throw();
        // conversions:
                                    auto_ptr(auto_ptr_ref<X>) throw();
        template <class Y> operator auto_ptr_ref<Y>() throw();
        template <class Y> operator auto_ptr<Y>() throw();


The auto_ptr has semantics of strict ownership, meaning that the auto_ptr instance is the sole entity responsible for the object's lifetime. If an auto_ptr is copied, the source loses the reference. For example:

#include <iostream>
#include <memory>
using namespace std;
int main(int argc, char **argv)
    int *i = new int;
    auto_ptr<int> x(i);
    auto_ptr<int> y;
    y = x;
    cout << x.get() << endl; // Print NULL
    cout << y.get() << endl; // Print non-NULL address i
    return 0;

This code will print a NULL address for the first auto_ptr object and some non-NULL address for the second, showing that the source object lost the reference during the assignment (=). The raw pointer i in the example should not be deleted, as it will be deleted by the auto_ptr that owns the reference. In fact, new int could be passed directly into x, eliminating the need for i.

Notice that the object pointed by an auto_ptr is destroyed using operator delete; this means that you should only use auto_ptr for pointers obtained with operator new. This excludes pointers returned by malloc/calloc/realloc, and pointers to arrays (because arrays are allocated by operator new[] and must be deallocated by operator delete[]).

Because of its copy semantics, auto_ptr may not be used in STL containers that may perform element copies in their operations.

However, an auto_ptr containing an STL container may be used to prevent further modification of the container.

#include <iostream>
#include <vector>
#include <memory> 
#include <map>
using namespace std;
typedef int ContainedType;
int main() {
    auto_ptr<vector<ContainedType> > open_vec(new vector<ContainedType>);
    // Transfers control, but now the vector cannot be changed:
    auto_ptr<const vector<ContainedType> > closed_vec(open_vec); 
    // closed_vec->push_back(8); // Can no longer modify 
    // Safe during the lifetime of the autoptr:
    map<string, const ContainedType *> nmap;
    nmap["First"]  = & closed_vec->at(0);
    nmap["Second"] = & closed_vec->at(1);
    nmap["Third"]  = & closed_vec->at(2);
    for (map<string, const ContainedType *>::iterator it = nmap.begin(); it != nmap.end(); ++it) {
        cout << it->first << " -> " << *(it->second) << std::endl;
    return 0;

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "auto_ptr Class". Microsoft. Retrieved 2006-09-27. 
  2. ^ "Collecting Shared Objects". Dr. Dobb's. 2004-07-01. Retrieved 2006-09-27. 
  3. ^ "Working Draft, Standard for Programming Language C++ N3242". 28 February 2011. p. 1233. Retrieved 2013-02-17. 
  4. ^ Kalev, Danny. "Using unique_ptr, Part I". informIT. Retrieved 30 September 2010. 

External links[edit]