Classes: Object Disposal

Modern programming languages allow resources to be allocated at runtime, under programmer control. However, in the case where explicit action must be taken to free such resources, different languages have different approaches. Some languages use a destructor for cleanup, while others use a finalizer, which is called by a garbage collector, sometime, maybe! Hack uses a dispose approach, which is tied to object scope.

In the following example, we define and use type TextFile to encapsulate a text file. When we are done with such a file, we need to make sure that output buffers are flushed, among other things. Let us call these tasks object cleanup. (The example is skeletal; it has only the minimal machinery needed to demonstrate object disposal.)

<?hh // strict

namespace Hack\UserDocumentation\Classes\ObjectDisposal\Examples\TextFile;

class TextFile implements \IDisposable {
  private ?int $fileHandle = null;
  private bool $openFlag = false;
  private string $fileName;
  private string $openMode;

  public function __construct(string $fileName, string $openMode) {
    $this->fileHandle = 55;  // open file somehow and store handle
    $this->openFlag = true;  // file is open
    $this->fileName = $fileName;
    $this->openMode = $openMode;

  public function close(): void {
    if ($this->openFlag === false) {

    // ... somehow close the file
    $this->fileHandle = null;
    $this->openFlag = false;

    echo "Closed file $this->fileName\n";

  public function __toString(): string {
    'fileName: ' . $this->fileName
    . ', openMode: ' . $this->openMode
    . ', fileHandle: '
    . (($this->fileHandle === null) ? "null" : $this->fileHandle)
    . ', openFlag: ' . (($this->openFlag) ? "True" : "False");

  public function __dispose(): void {
     echo "Inside __dispose\n";

  public static function open_TextFile(string $fileName, string $openMode): TextFile {
    return new TextFile($fileName, $openMode);

  public function is_same_TextFile(<<__AcceptDisposable>> TextFile $t): bool {
    return $this->fileHandle === $t->fileHandle;

  // other methods, such as read and write

function main(): void {
  using ($f1 = new TextFile("file1.txt", "rw")) {
//  echo "\$f1 is >" . $f1 . "<\n";  // usage not permitted
    echo "\$f1 is >" . $f1->__toString() . "<\n";
    // work with the file
    $f1->close();  // close explicitly
    $f1->close();  // try to close again
  } // dispose called here

  using ($f2 = new TextFile("file2.txt", "rw")) {
    echo "\$f2 is >" . $f2->__toString() . "<\n";
    // work with the file
    // no explicit close
  } // dispose called here

  using ($f3 = TextFile::open_TextFile("file3.txt", "rw")) {
    echo "\$f3 is >" . $f3->__toString() . "<\n";
    // work with the file
     // no explicit close
  }  // dispose called here

  using $f4 = TextFile::open_TextFile("file4.txt", "rw");
  echo "\$f4 is >" . $f4->__toString() . "<\n";
  using $f5 = new TextFile("file5.txt", "rw");
  echo "\$f5 is >" . $f5->__toString() . "<\n";
    // work with both files
    // no explicit close
}   // dispose called here for both $f4 and $f5
$f1 is >fileName: file1.txt, openMode: rw, fileHandle: 55, openFlag: True<
Closed file file1.txt
Inside __dispose
$f2 is >fileName: file2.txt, openMode: rw, fileHandle: 55, openFlag: True<
Inside __dispose
Closed file file2.txt
$f3 is >fileName: file3.txt, openMode: rw, fileHandle: 55, openFlag: True<
Inside __dispose
Closed file file3.txt
$f4 is >fileName: file4.txt, openMode: rw, fileHandle: 55, openFlag: True<
$f5 is >fileName: file5.txt, openMode: rw, fileHandle: 55, openFlag: True<
Inside __dispose
Closed file file5.txt
Inside __dispose
Closed file file4.txt

A class for which we wish to provide cleanup must implement the interface IDisposable, which requires that class to define a public method called __dispose, with the signature as shown.

As expected, the constructor initializes the new object's state. (Note that because the physical-file open details have been omitted, each instance gets the hard-coded handle value of 55 rather than a unique value.)

Method close provides a way to do cleanup under programmer control, presuming the programmer remembers to do that! H owever, we provide a mechanism via the openFlag property to be sure we're not trying to cleanup more than once.

Let's look at the using block at the start of function main. The expression controlling that construct must have a type that implements the interface IDisposable, and the scope of the local variable $f1 is the using block. Note the commented-out trace statement at the start of the block. Under the hood, we're trying to pass a copy of a TextFile to echo, but echo doesn't know anything about TextFile's object cleanup, so that is rejected. We can, however, call a method on that object, which is why __toString is called explicitly in the statement following. (Later, we'll show how to allow copying of objects needing cleanup.)

When we are done with the file, we call close, which performs the necessary cleanup. Then if/when we call close again, no new work is done. Finally, at the end of the using block, $f1 goes out of scope and the runtime calls $f1->__dispose, which, in our case, simply calls close.

The second using block is much like the first except it doesn't call close. Of course, the implicit call to __dispose does that, and the cleanup is performed then.

Rather than calling the constructor to create a new instance, the third using block calls what is known as a factory method, open_TextFile. The challenge here is that method is returning an object with associated resources, and the consumer of that object must be ready to handle that object's cleanup or pass it on to someone who can. To allow such a method call, we must declare that it is okay to return an object subject to cleanup; we do with by marking the method with the attribute <<__ReturnDisposable>>, as shown.

Note that once we've marked a class as implementing IDisposable, we can only instantiate that class in a using clause's controlling expression or in an appropriately annotated factory method.

Thus far, we've processed one file at a time, but what if we wish to work with multiple text files at the same time? The fourth and fifth using clauses involving $f4 and $f5 show how. Instead of having an associated block to limit the scope, these statements end in a semicolon. As such, their local variables go out of scope at the end of their parent block, in this case, at the end of main, at which time, __dispose is called for each of them. Note carefully though, that the order in which these two calls are made is unspecified.

Earlier, we discussed the problem of making copies of objects needing cleanup. Consider the method is_same_TextFile, which is called on one TextFile and is explicitly passed a second TextFile. By marking the parameter with the attribute <<__AcceptDisposable>>, we promise that we've taken care of cleanup elsewhere. That is, when the copy goes out of scope, __dispose must not be called.

If classes in a class hierarchy need cleanup, it is the responsibility of the dispose method at each level to call the dispose in its base class explicitly.

For objects of a class type to be used in an asynchronous context, that type must implement interface IAsyncDisposable instead, which requires a public method called __disposeAsync to be defined with the following signature:

public async function __disposeAsync(): Awaitable<void>;

Now, related using clauses must be preceded by await.