Memory Ownership and Smart Pointers

Thread Safety of Unique Pointers

Is it safe to use unique pointers in multithreaded applications?

Abstract art representing computer programming

Using std::unique_ptr in multithreaded applications is generally safe, but with some important caveats. Let's break this down:

Thread Safety of the Pointer Itself

The std::unique_ptr itself is not thread-safe. This means that if you have multiple threads trying to modify the same unique_ptr (e.g., resetting it, moving it, or destroying it), you need to provide your own synchronization mechanisms, such as mutexes.

#include <memory>
#include <mutex>

std::unique_ptr<Character> GlobalCharacter;
std::mutex CharacterMutex;

void UpdateCharacter() {
  std::lock_guard<std::mutex> Lock{CharacterMutex};
  GlobalCharacter = std::make_unique<Character>("Aragorn");

Thread Safety of the Pointed-to Object

The thread safety of the object that the unique_ptr points to depends on the object itself, not on the unique_ptr. If multiple threads are accessing the pointed-to object concurrently, you need to ensure that the object itself is thread-safe or provide appropriate synchronization.

#include <memory>
#include <mutex>

class ThreadSafeCharacter {
  mutable std::mutex Mtx;
  std::string Name;

  void SetName(const std::string& NewName) {
    std::lock_guard<std::mutex> Lock{Mtx};
    Name = NewName;

std::unique_ptr<ThreadSafeCharacter> GlobalCharacter;

Unique Ownership and Threading

The unique ownership model of std::unique_ptr can actually be beneficial in multithreaded scenarios. Since only one unique_ptr can own an object at a time, it can help prevent issues like multiple threads trying to delete the same object.

However, be cautious when transferring ownership between threads:

#include <memory>
#include <thread>

void ProcessCharacter(std::unique_ptr<Character> Char) {
  // Process the character

int main() {
  auto Frodo{std::make_unique<Character>("Frodo")};
  std::thread T{ProcessCharacter, std::move(Frodo)}; 
  // After this, Frodo is nullptr

In conclusion, while std::unique_ptr itself isn't inherently thread-safe, its unique ownership model can be valuable in multithreaded applications. Just remember to handle synchronization for the pointer itself and the pointed-to object when necessary.

Answers to questions are automatically generated and may not have been reviewed.

3D art showing a progammer setting up a development environment
Part of the course:

Intro to C++ Programming

Become a software engineer with C++. Starting from the basics, we guide you step by step along the way

Free, unlimited access

This course includes:

  • 57 Lessons
  • Over 200 Quiz Questions
  • 95% Positive Reviews
  • Regularly Updated
  • Help and FAQ
Free, Unlimited Access

Professional C++

Comprehensive course covering advanced concepts, and how to use them on large-scale projects.

Screenshot from Warhammer: Total War
Screenshot from Tomb Raider
Screenshot from Jedi: Fallen Order
Contact|Privacy Policy|Terms of Use
Copyright © 2024 - All Rights Reserved