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Runtime Callable Wrapper

The common language runtime exposes COM objects through a proxy called the runtime callable wrapper (RCW). Although the RCW appears to be an ordinary object to .NET clients, its primary function is to marshal calls between a .NET client and a COM object.

The runtime creates exactly one RCW for each COM object, regardless of the number of references that exist on that object. The runtime maintains a single RCW per process for each object. If you create an RCW in one application domain or apartment, and then pass a reference to another application domain or apartment, a proxy to the first object will be used. As the following illustration shows, any number of managed clients can hold a reference to the COM objects that expose INew and INewer interfaces.

Accessing COM objects through the runtime callable wrapper

RCW

Using metadata derived from a type library, the runtime creates both the COM object being called and a wrapper for that object. Each RCW maintains a cache of interface pointers on the COM object it wraps and releases its reference on the COM object when the RCW is no longer needed. The runtime performs garbage collection on the RCW.

Among other activities, the RCW marshals data between managed and unmanaged code, on behalf of the wrapped object. Specifically, the RCW provides marshaling for method arguments and method return values whenever the client and server have different representations of the data passed between them.

The standard wrapper enforces built-in marshaling rules. For example, when a .NET client passes a String type as part of an argument to an unmanaged object, the wrapper converts the string to a BSTR type. Should the COM object return a BSTR to its managed caller, the caller receives a String. Both the client and the server send and receive data that is familiar to them. Other types require no conversion. For instance, a standard wrapper will always pass a 4-byte integer between managed and unmanaged code without converting the type.

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