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The lifetime of a declared element is the period of time during which it is available for use. Variables are the only elements that have lifetime; for this purpose, the compiler treats procedure arguments and function returns as special cases of variables. The lifetime of a variable represents the period of time during which it can hold a value. Its value can change over its lifetime, but it always holds some value.

Different Lifetimes

A variable declared at module level typically exists for the entire time your application is running. A nonshared variable declared in a class or structure exists as a separate copy for each instance of the class or structure in which it is declared; each such variable has the same lifetime as its instance. However, a Shared variable has only a single lifetime, which lasts for the entire time your application is running.

Local variables declared with Dim exist only while the procedure in which they are declared is executing. This applies also to that procedure's arguments and to any function return. However, if that procedure calls other procedures, the local variables retain their values while the called procedures are running.

Beginning of Lifetime

A local variable's lifetime begins when execution enters the procedure in which it is declared. Every local variable is initialized to the default value for its data type as soon as the procedure begins execution. Numeric variables (including Byte and Char) are initialized to zero, Date variables to midnight of January 1 of the year 1, Boolean variables to False, and reference type variables (including strings, arrays, and Object) to Nothing.

Each member of a structure variable is initialized as if it were a separate variable. Similarly, each element of an array variable is initialized individually.

If a variable is declared with an initializer, the specified value is assigned to the variable when its declaration statement is executed, as shown in the following example:

Dim X As Double = 18.973   ' X had previously been initialized to 0.

Variables declared within a block inside a procedure are initialized to their default values on entry to the procedure. These initializations take effect whether or not the block is ever executed.

End of Lifetime

When a procedure terminates, the values of its local variables are not preserved, and the memory used by the local elements is reclaimed. The next time the procedure is executed, all its local elements are created afresh and the local variables are initialized.

When an instance of a class or structure terminates, its nonshared variables lose their values. Each new instance of the class or structure creates all its nonshared elements and initializes the nonshared variables. Shared elements are preserved until your application stops running.

Extension of Lifetime

If a local variable is declared with the Static keyword, its lifetime is longer than the execution time of the procedure in which it is declared. If the procedure is inside a module, the static variable survives as long as your application continues running.

If a static variable is declared in a procedure inside a class, the variable's lifetime depends on whether the procedure is shared. If the procedure is declared with the Shared keyword, the variable's lifetime continues until your application terminates. If the procedure is nonshared, its static variables are instance members of the class, and their lifetimes are the same as that of the class instance.

In the following example, the RunningTotal function calculates a running total by adding a new value to the total of previous values stored in the static variable ApplesSold:

Function RunningTotal(ByVal Num As Integer) As Integer 
   Static ApplesSold As Integer 
   ApplesSold = ApplesSold + Num 
   Return ApplesSold  ' ApplesSold keeps its current value. 
End Function 

If ApplesSold had been declared without using Static, the previous accumulated values would not be preserved across calls to the function, and the function would simply return the same value with which it was called.

You can produce the same lifetime by declaring ApplesSold at module level. If you change the scope of a variable this way, however, the procedure no longer has exclusive access to it. Because other procedures can access the variable and change its value, the running total would be unreliable and the code could be more difficult to maintain.

See Also

Static Variable Initialization | Declared Element Names | Declared Element Reference | Characteristics of Visual Basic Declared Elements | Scope | Accessibility | Variables | Variable Declaration | Dim Statement | Shared | Static | Nothing