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^ (Handle to Object on Managed Heap)

Declares a handle to an object on the managed heap.

A handle to an object on the managed heap points to the "whole" object, and not to a member of the object.

See gcnew for information on how to create an object on the managed heap.

In Visual C++ 2002 and Visual C++ 2003, __gc * was used to declare an object on the managed heap. The ^ replaces __gc * in the new syntax.

The common language runtime maintains a separate heap on which it implements a precise, asynchronous, compacting garbage collection scheme. To work correctly, it must track all storage locations that can point into this heap at runtime. ^ provides a handle through which the garbage collector can track a reference to an object on the managed heap, thereby being able to update it whenever that object is moved.

Because native C++ pointers (*) and references (&) cannot be tracked precisely, a handle-to object declarator is used.

Member selection through a handle (^) uses the pointer-to-member operator (->).

For more information, see How to: Declare Handles in Native Types.

This sample shows how to create an instance of reference type on the managed heap. This sample also shows that you can initialize one handle with another, resulting in two references to same object on managed, garbage-collected heap. Notice that assigning nullptr to one handle does not mark the object for garbage collection.

// mcppv2_handle.cpp
// compile with: /clr
ref class MyClass {
   MyClass() : i(){}
   int i;
   void Test() {

int main() {
   MyClass ^ p_MyClass = gcnew MyClass;

   MyClass ^ p_MyClass2;
   p_MyClass2 = p_MyClass;

   p_MyClass = nullptr;

The following sample shows how to declare a handle to an object on the managed heap, where the type of object is a boxed value type. The sample also shows how to get the value type from the boxed object.

// mcppv2_handle_2.cpp
// compile with: /clr
using namespace System;

void Test(Object^ o) {
   Int32^ i = dynamic_cast<Int32^>(o);

      Console::WriteLine("Not a boxed int");

int main() {
   String^ str = "test";

   int n = 100;
Not a boxed int

This sample shows that the common C++ idiom of using a void* pointer to point to an arbitrary object is replaced by Object^, which can hold a handle to any reference class. It also shows that all types, such as arrays and delegates, can be converted to an object handle.

// mcppv2_handle_3.cpp
// compile with: /clr
using namespace System;
using namespace System::Collections;
public delegate void MyDel();
ref class MyClass {
   void Test() {}

void Test(Object ^ x) {
   Console::WriteLine("Type is {0}", x->GetType());

int main() {
   // handle to Object can hold any ref type
   Object ^ h_MyClass = gcnew MyClass;

   ArrayList ^ arr = gcnew ArrayList();
   arr->Add(gcnew MyClass);

   h_MyClass = dynamic_cast<MyClass ^>(arr[0]);

   Int32 ^ bi = 1;

   MyClass ^ h_MyClass2 = gcnew MyClass;

   MyDel^ DelInst = gcnew MyDel(h_MyClass2, &MyClass::Test);
Type is System.Collections.ArrayList
Type is System.Int32
Type is MyDel

This sample shows that a handle can be dereferenced and that a member can be accessed via a dereferenced handle.

// mcppv2_handle_4.cpp
// compile with: /clr
using namespace System;
value struct DataCollection {
   int Size;
   array<String^>^ x;

   DataCollection(int i) : Size(i) {
      x = gcnew array<String^>(Size);
      for (int i = 0 ; i < Size ; i++)
         x[i] = i.ToString();

   void f(int Item) {
      if (Item >= Size)
         System::Console::WriteLine("Cannot access array element {0}, size is {1}", Item, Size);
         System::Console::WriteLine("Array value: {0}", x[Item]);

void f(DataCollection y, int Item) {

int main() {
   DataCollection ^ a = gcnew DataCollection(10);
   f(*a, 7);   // dereference a handle, return handle's object
   (*a).f(11);   // access member via dereferenced handle
Array value: 7
Cannot access array element 11, size is 10

This sample shows that a native reference (&) can’t bind to an int member of a managed type, .as the int may be stored in the garbage collected heap, and native references don’t track object movement in the managed heap. The fix is to use a local variable, or to change & to %, making it a tracking reference.

// mcppv2_handle_5.cpp
// compile with: /clr
ref struct A {
   void Test(unsigned int &){}
   void Test2(unsigned int %){}
   unsigned int i;

int main() {
   A a;
   a.i = 9;
   a.Test(a.i);   // C2664
   a.Test2(a.i);   // OK

   unsigned int j = 0;
   a.Test(j);   // OK

Compiler option: /clr