This document describes the design of the GstMiniObject base class.

The GstMiniObject abstract base class is used to construct lightweight, refcounted and boxed types that are frequently created and destroyed.


  • Be lightweight
  • Refcounted
  • I must be possible to control access to the object, ie. when the object is readable and writable.
  • Subclasses must be able to use their own allocator for the memory.


Users of the GstMiniObject infrastructure will need to define a structure that includes the GstMiniObject structure as the first field.

struct {
  GstMiniObject mini_object;

  /* my fields */
} MyObject

The subclass should then implement a constructor method where it allocates the memory for its structure and initializes the miniobject structure with gst_mini_object_init(). Copy and Free functions are provided to the gst_mini_object_init() function.

MyObject *
  MyObject *res = g_slice_new (MyObject);

  gst_mini_object_init (GST_MINI_OBJECT_CAST (res), 0,
        (GstMiniObjectCopyFunction) _my_object_copy,
        (GstMiniObjectDisposeFunction) NULL,
        (GstMiniObjectFreeFunction) _my_object_free);

    /* other init */

  return res;

The Free function is responsible for freeing the allocated memory for the structure.

static void
_my_object_free (MyObject *obj)
  /* other cleanup */

  g_slice_free (MyObject, obj);


GstMiniObject is refcounted. When a GstMiniObject is first created, it has a refcount of 1.

Each variable holding a reference to a GstMiniObject is responsible for updating the refcount. This includes incrementing the refcount with gst_mini_object_ref() when a reference is kept to a miniobject or gst_mini_object_unref() when a reference is released.

When the refcount reaches 0, and thus no objects hold a reference to the miniobject anymore, we can free the miniobject.

When freeing the miniobject, first the GstMiniObjectDisposeFunction is called. This function is allowed to revive the object again by incrementing the refcount, in which case it should return FALSE from the dispose function. The dispose function is used by GstBuffer to revive the buffer back into the GstBufferPool when needed.

When the dispose function returns TRUE, the GstMiniObjectFreeFunction will be called and the miniobject will be freed.


A miniobject can be copied with gst_mini_object_copy(). This function will call the custom copy function that was provided when registering the new GstMiniObject subclass.

The copy function should try to preserve as much info from the original object as possible.

The new copy should be writable.

Access management

GstMiniObject can be shared between multiple threads. It is important that when a thread writes to a GstMiniObject that the other threads don’t not see the changes.

To avoid exposing changes from one thread to another thread, the miniobjects are managed in a Copy-On-Write way. A copy is only made when it is known that the object is shared between multiple objects or threads.

There are 2 methods implemented for controlling access to the miniobject.

  • A first method relies on the refcount of the object to control writability. Objects using this method have the LOCKABLE flag unset.

  • A second method relies on a separate counter for controlling the access to the object. Objects using this method have the LOCKABLE flag set. You can check if an object is writable with gst_mini_object_is_writable() and you can make any miniobject writable with gst_mini_object_make_writable(). This will create a writable copy when the object was not writable.

non-LOCKABLE GstMiniObjects

These GstMiniObjects have the LOCKABLE flag unset. They use the refcount value to control writability of the object.

When the refcount of the miniobject is > 1, the objects it referenced by at least 2 objects and is thus considered unwritable. A copy must be made before a modification to the object can be done.

Using the refcount to control writability is problematic for many language bindings that can keep additional references to the objects. This method is mainly for historical reasons until all users of the miniobjects are converted to use the LOCKABLE flag.

LOCKABLE GstMiniObjects

These GstMiniObjects have the LOCKABLE flag set. They use a separate counter for controlling writability and access to the object.

It consists of 2 components:

exclusive counter

Each object that wants to keep a reference to a GstMiniObject and doesn't want to see the changes from other owners of the same GstMiniObject needs to lock the GstMiniObject in EXCLUSIVE mode, which will increase the exclusive counter.

The exclusive counter counts the amount of objects that share this GstMiniObject. The counter is initially 0, meaning that the object is not shared with any object.

When a reference to a GstMiniObject release, both the ref count and the exclusive counter will be decreased with gst_mini_object_unref() and gst_mini_object_unlock() respectively.


All read and write access must be performed between a gst_mini_object_lock() and gst_mini_object_unlock() pair with the requested access method.

A gst_mini_object_lock() can fail when a WRITE lock is requested and the exclusive counter is > 1. Indeed a GstMiniObject object with an exclusive counter > 1 is locked EXCLUSIVELY by at least 2 objects and is therefore not writable.

Once the GstMiniObject is locked with a certain access mode, it can be recursively locked with the same or narrower access mode. For example, first locking the GstMiniObject in READWRITE mode allows you to recusively lock the GstMiniObject in READWRITE, READ and WRITE mode. Memory locked in READ mode cannot be locked recursively in WRITE or READWRITE mode.

Note that multiple threads can READ-lock the GstMiniObject concurrently but cannot lock the object in WRITE mode because the exclusive counter must be > 1.

All calls to gst_mini_object_lock() need to be paired with one gst_mini_object_unlock() call with the same access mode. When the last refcount of the object is removed, there should be no more outstanding locks.

Note that a shared counter of both 0 and 1 leaves the GstMiniObject writable. The reason is to make it easy to create and pass ownership of the GstMiniObject to another object while keeping it writable. When the GstMiniObject is created with a shared count of 0, it is writable. When the GstMiniObject is then added to another object, the shared count is incremented to 1 and the GstMiniObject remains writable. The 0 share counter has a similar purpose as the floating reference in GObject.

Weak references

GstMiniObject has support for weak references. A callback will be called when the object is freed for all registered weak references.


Extra data can be associated with a GstMiniObject by using the QData API.

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