Allocating Memory

In C++ we can allocate memory using new and then explicitly free it up with delete. But this can be dangerous – a very frequent bug is forgetting to free up memory that you manually allocated.

Instead, we’d like to be able to have the memory freed automatically for us when the object managing it goes out of scope. This is where a unique pointer comes into play.

std::unique_ptr is a smart pointer that manages another object and cleans up after it when the unique_ptr goes out of scope.

In particular, make_unique is used to create an object and wrap it in std::unique_ptr.

Here’s how we can allocate memory for an array of doubles and wrap it in a unique_ptr (we also compare to the old C++ way here):

Listing 74 unique_pointer.cpp
#include <iostream>
#include <memory>

int main() {

    const int size(10);
    // new way to allocate

    auto data = std::make_unique<double []>(size);

    for (int i = 0; i < size; ++i) {
        data.get()[i] = 1.0;

    // old C++ way

    double* data_old = new double [size];

    for (int i = 0; i < size; ++i) {
        data_old[i] = 1.0;

    delete[] data_old;

Why would we want to do this? Compared to std::array, this allows us to specify the size at runtime, instead of compile time. Compared to std::vector, there is no additional overhead to allow the array to grow, since its size is fixed once it is created.

try it…

Test this example with valgrind to see if any memory is not freed. Remove the delete and try again. Notice that the unique_ptr version was freed when it went out of scope.