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Memory Management with the Interop Marshaler

The interop marshaler always attempts to free memory allocated by unmanaged code. This behavior complies with COM memory management rules, but differs from the rules that govern native C++.

Confusion can arise if you anticipate native C++ behavior (no memory freeing) when using platform invoke, which automatically frees memory for pointers. For example, calling the following unmanaged method from a C++ DLL does not automatically free any memory.

BSTR MethodOne (BSTR b) {
     return b;

However, if you define the method as a platform invoke prototype, replace each BSTR type with a String type, and call MethodOne, the common language runtime attempts to free b twice. You can change the marshaling behavior by using IntPtr types rather than String types.

The runtime always uses the CoTaskMemFree method to free memory. If the memory you are working with was not allocated with the CoTaskMemAlloc method, you must use an IntPtr and free the memory manually using the appropriate method. Similarly, you can avoid automatic memory freeing in situations where memory should never be freed, such as when using the GetCommandLine function from Kernel32.dll, which returns a pointer to kernel memory. For details on manually freeing memory, see the Buffers Sample.