Understanding warning C4265: class has virtual functions, but destructor is not virtual, part 2

Raymond Chen


Last time, we learned about what warning C4265 (class has virtual functions, but destructor is not virtual) is trying to say. The fact that it warns you even in the absence of a suspicious delete means that you can get quite a lot of false positives.

struct Interface
    virtual void f() = 0;
    virtual void Destroy() = 0;

struct Implementation : Interface
    void f() override;
    void Destroy() override;

This triggers the warning because Implementation has a non-virtual destructor and virtual methods f and Destroy.

What the compiler doesn’t realize is that the Destroy method is how the object is destructed. And the Destroy method is virtual, so everything is just fine. It doesn’t realize this even if you make the ~Implementation() destructor protected or private.

This pattern is common when implementing COM interfaces, where Release acts as the virtual destructor-ish method.

struct Thing : public IThing
  // IUnknown
  HRESULT QueryInterface(REFIID riid, void** ppv) override;

  ULONG AddRef() override { return ++m_refCount; }

  ULONG Release() override
    auto refCount = --m_refCount;
    if (refCount == 0) delete this;
    return refCount;

  // IThing
  HRESULT DoTheThing() override;

  std::atomic_ulong m_refCount = 1;

This is pretty standard boilerplate for a COM object. The object’s destructor is private because you are expected to destruct the object by calling Release, rather than calling delete. But it also generates a spurious warning C4265.

You can make the warning go away by declaring Thing as final.

But there are cases where you have a class that is meant to be a base class, so you don’t want to mark it as final. If you’re using C++/WinRT, you get to choose whether your implementation classes are final or not, and maybe you don’t want them to be final, but you do need them to be COM objects, and when you do, warning C4265 will spuriously appear.

In WRL, an example of a non-final object with virtual methods is the FtmBase. This is a base class that implements IMarshal by forwarding all methods to the standard COM free-threade marshaler, thereby making your object free-threaded. (If you don’t know what this means, don’t worry. It’s not important to the main point of this article, though it’s a good thing to understand when you’re working with COM.)

The point of the FtmBase is to be a base class for other COM objects. And when you do that, it is the Release method that triggers the destruction. Since Release is a virtual method, the FtmBase::Release will go to the most-derived object, and that implementation will perform the delete on the most-derived object, and everything will be fine.

But the compiler doesn’t know that.

The compiler sees a class like FtmBase that has the potential for being used incorrectly. If somebody did, say,

class Weird : public FtmBase

void bad_idea()
  FtmBase* p = new Weird; // bad idea
  delete p; // even worse idea

they would stumble across the problem that warning C4265 is trying to tell you about.

But nobody should be writing code like that in the first place. WRL objects should be created with Make, and C++/WinRT objects should be created with make. In both cases, the object lifetimes are managed by IUnknown, which means that you Release the object when you’re done. The smart pointer classes in WRL and C++/WinRT take care of this for you (similarly to std::shared_ptr), so you rarely see an explicit call to Release.

In C++/WinRT, the implementation template classes use CRTP, and the Release methods cast the this pointer to the most-derived type (the first template type parameter) before deleting, thereby accomplishing the same result in a different way.

So yes, if you use WRL or C++/WinRT, or more generally COM, you will see false positives of warning C4265. That may be one reason why warning C4265 is off by default.


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  • Stuart Ballard
    Stuart Ballard

    I’ve a feeling this is probably obvious to people who are more versed in C++ and WINRT and such than I am, but could you explain why you wouldn’t solve this by just adding a no-op virtual destructor to FtmBase? It seems like that would be a pretty easy way to tell the compiler “I’ve considered this problem and it’s a non-issue for my class”…

    • Raymond Chen
      Raymond ChenMicrosoft employee

      It does cost a vtable slot, runtime execution, and loss of optimization due to vtable dispatch. One of the reasons for using CRTP is to avoid virtual method calls, so adding a virtual destructor sort of counters that goal.

  • Avatar
    word merchant

    Is there a scoped pragma to switch this warning off when you know it’s noise?
    (Apologies readers, I am too lazy to ‘Bing’ this).

  • Avatar
    Vincent Romano

    The compiler should be able to suppress this warning for classes with private destructors. A class with a base class having a private destructor can never be instantiated, as it would be ill-formed for its destructor to call that of the base class. Therefore, it can effectively be treated as implicitly final.