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IUnknown Basics

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4/8/2010

The methods in IUnknown enable an application to manage the component's reference count and query for interfaces on the component. For this to work properly with aggregated COM components, the IUnknown interface must be delegated to the outer component in the aggregation.

The reference count is an internal variable, incremented in the IUnknown::AddRef method and decremented in the IUnknown::Release method. The base classes manage the reference count and synchronize access to the reference count among multiple threads.

Querying for an interface is also straightforward. The caller passes two parameters: an interface identifier (IID), and the address of a pointer. If the component supports the requested interface, it sets the pointer to the interface, increments its own reference count, and returns S_OK. Otherwise, it sets the pointer to NULL and returns E_NOINTERFACE. The following example shows the general outline of the IUnknown::QueryInterface method. Component aggregation, described in the next section, introduces some additional complexity.

if (IID == IID_IUnknown)
    set pointer to (IUnknown *)this
    AddRef
    return S_OK

else if (IID == IID_ISomeInterface)
    set pointer to (ISomeInterface *)this
    AddRef
    return S_OK

else if ... 

else
    set pointer to NULL
    return E_NOINTERFACE

The only difference between the QueryInterface method of one component and the QueryInterface method of another is the list of IIDs that each component tests. For every interface that the component supports, the component must test for the IID of that interface.

Component aggregation must be transparent to the caller. Therefore, the aggregate must expose a single IUnknown interface, with the aggregated component deferring to the outer component's implementation. Otherwise, the caller would see two different IUnknown interfaces in the same aggregate. If the component is not aggregated, it uses its own implementation.

To support this behavior, the component must add a level of indirection. A delegating IUnknown delegates the work to the appropriate place: to the outer component, if there is one, or to the component's internal version. A nondelegating IUnknown does the work, as described in the previous section.

The delegating version is public and keeps the name IUnknown. The nondelegating version is renamed INonDelegatingUnknown. This name is not part of the COM specification, because it is not a public interface.

When the client creates an instance of the component, it calls the IClassFactory::CreateInstance method. One parameter is a pointer to the aggregating component's IUnknown interface, or is NULL if the new instance is not aggregated. In its constructor method, the component uses this parameter to store a member variable that indicates which IUnknown interface to use, as shown in the following example.

CMyComponent::CMyComponent(IUnknown *pOuterUnknown)
{
    if (pOuterUnknown == NULL)
        m_pUnknown = (IUnknown *)(INonDelegatingUnknown *)this;
    else
        m_pUnknown = pOuterUnknown;

    [ ... more constructor code ... ]
}

Each method in the delegating IUnknown calls its nondelegating counterpart, as shown in the following example.

HRESULT QueryInterface(REFIID iid, void **ppv) 
{
    return m_pUnknown->QueryInterface(iid, ppv);
}

By the nature of delegation, the delegating methods look identical in every component. Only the nondelegating versions change.

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