This document describes the design of the memory objects.

GstMemory objects are usually added to GstBuffer objects and contain the multimedia data passed around in the pipeline.

struct GstMemory {
  GstMiniObject   mini_object;

  GstAllocator   *allocator;

  GstMemory      *parent;
  gsize           maxsize;
  gsize           align;
  gsize           offset;
  gsize           size;


  • It must be possible to have different memory allocators
  • It must be possible to efficiently share memory objects, copy, span and trim.

Memory layout

A GstMemory has a pointer to a memory region of maxsize. The accessible part of this managed region is defined by an offset relative to the start of the region and a size. This means that the managed region can be larger than what is visible to the user of the GstMemory API.

GstMemory  ->*----------------------------------------------------*
                 offset            size

The current properties of the accessible memory can be retrieved with:

gsize gst_memory_get_sizes (GstMemory *mem, gsize *offset, gsize *maxsize);

The offset and size can be changed with:

void  gst_memory_resize (GstMemory *mem, gssize offset, gsize size);


GstMemory objects are created by allocators. Allocators are a subclass of GstObject and can be subclassed to make custom allocators.

struct _GstAllocator {
  GstObject                 object;

  const gchar               *mem_type;

  GstMemoryMapFunction       mem_map;
  GstMemoryUnmapFunction     mem_unmap;
  GstMemoryCopyFunction      mem_copy;
  GstMemoryShareFunction     mem_share;
  GstMemoryIsSpanFunction    mem_is_span;

  GstMemoryMapFullFunction   mem_map_full;
  GstMemoryUnmapFullFunction mem_unmap_full;

The allocator class has 2 virtual methods. One to create a GstMemory, another to free it.

struct _GstAllocatorClass {
  GstObjectClass object_class;

  GstMemory *  (*alloc)      (GstAllocator *allocator, gsize size,
                              GstAllocationParams *params);
  void         (*free)       (GstAllocator *allocator, GstMemory *memory);

Allocators are refcounted. It is also possible to register the allocator to the GStreamer system. This way, the allocator can be retrieved by name.

After an allocator is created, new GstMemory can be created with

GstMemory * gst_allocator_alloc (const GstAllocator * allocator,
                                 gsize size, GstAllocationParams *params);

GstAllocationParams contain extra info such as flags, alignment, prefix and padding.

The GstMemory object is a refcounted object that must be freed with gst_memory_unref().

The GstMemory keeps a ref to the allocator that allocated it. Inside the allocator are the most common GstMemory operations listed. Custom GstAllocator implementations must implement the various operations on the memory they allocate.

It is also possible to create a new GstMemory object that wraps existing memory with:

GstMemory * gst_memory_new_wrapped  (GstMemoryFlags flags,
                                     gpointer data, gsize maxsize,
                                     gsize offset, gsize size,
                                     gpointer user_data,
                                     GDestroyNotify notify);


GstMemory extends from GstMiniObject and therefore uses its lifecycle management (See miniobject).

Data Access

Access to the memory region is always controlled with a map() and unmap() method call. This allows the implementation to monitor the access patterns or set up the required memory mappings when needed.

The access of the memory object is controlled with the locking mechanism on GstMiniObject (See miniobject).

Mapping a memory region requires the caller to specify the access method: READ and/or WRITE. Mapping a memory region will first try to get a lock on the memory in the requested access mode. This means that the map operation can fail when WRITE access is requested on a non-writable memory object (it has an exclusive counter > 1, the memory is already locked in an incompatible access mode or the memory is marked readonly).

After the data has been accessed in the object, the unmap() call must be performed, which will unlock the memory again.

It is allowed to recursively map multiple times with the same or narrower access modes. For each of the map() calls, a corresponding unmap() call needs to be made. WRITE-only memory cannot be mapped in READ mode and READ-only memory cannot be mapped in WRITE mode.

The memory pointer returned from the map() call is guaranteed to remain valid in the requested mapping mode until the corresponding unmap() call is performed on the pointer.

When multiple map() operations are nested and return the same pointer, the pointer is valid until the last unmap() call is done.

When the final reference on a memory object is dropped, all outstanding mappings should have been unmapped.

Resizing a GstMemory does not influence any current mappings in any way.


A GstMemory copy can be made with the gst_memory_copy() call. Normally, allocators will implement a custom version of this function to make a copy of the same kind of memory as the original one. This is what the fallback version of the copy function does, albeit slower than what a custom implementation could do.

The copy operation is only required to copy the visible range of the memory block.


A memory region can be shared between GstMemory objects with the gst_memory_share() operation.

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