Managing Thread References

This article contains information about the management of thread references using functions from the Shell lightweight utility functions.

Situations arise when a parent thread must be kept active for the lifetime of a child thread. For instance, if a Component Object Model (COM) object is created on the parent thread and marshaled to the child thread, that parent thread cannot terminate before the child thread. To accomplish this, the Shell provides these functions.

Use these functions in your parent thread as outlined here.

  1. Declare an application-defined thread procedure following the form of the ThreadProc function.
    DWORD WINAPI ThreadProc(LPVOID lpParameter);
  2. In your ThreadProc, call SHCreateThreadRef to create a reference to the thread. This provides a pointer to an instance of IUnknown. This IUnknown uses the value pointed to by pcRef to maintain a reference count. As long as this count is greater than 0, the thread remains active.
  3. Using that pointer to IUnknown, call SHSetThreadRef in your ThreadProc. This sets the reference so that subsequent calls to SHGetThreadRef have something to retrieve.
  4. If your ThreadProc creates another thread, that thread's ThreadProc can call SHGetThreadRef with the pointer to IUnknown obtained by SHCreateThreadRef. This increments the reference count pointed to by the pcRef parameter in SHCreateThreadRef.
  5. Create the thread. This is usually done by calling SHCreateThread, passing a pointer to your ThreadProc in the pfnThreadProc parameter. Also pass the CTF_THREAD_REF flag in the dwFlags parameter. The thread is active as long as ThreadProc is executing.
  6. When a child thread is created, pass the CTF_REF_COUNTED flag in the dwFlags parameter in the call to its SHCreateThread.
  7. As child threads complete and are released, the value pointed to by the parent thread's pcRef decreases. Once all child threads are complete, the original ThreadProc can complete and release the final thread reference, dropping the reference count to 0. At that point, the reference to the original thread opened by SHCreateThread is released and the thread completed.

Another related function is SHReleaseThreadRef. This function is called by the ThreadProc if the thread has been created using SHCreateThread with the CTF_THREAD_REF flag. However, the ThreadProc is not required to do so implicitly. Calling IUnknown::Release on the pointer to IUnknown obtained through SHCreateThreadRef is all that needs to be done.