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Technical Perspective: The Cleanest Garbage Collection

Garbage collection, the quirky name used for automatic storage management, might well be called memory recycling if it were invented today. Indeed, it has a venerable history, nearly as long as that of computing itself, extending back to early LISP implementations, with papers appearing from 1960 onward. GC, as it is affectionately known, also developed a reputation for being slow and requiring a lot more memory than explicitly managed memory. If that was not enough, most GC algorithms would wait for the designated memory to fill, then stop the program, collect, and restart the program, introducing pauses into the primary computation.

Proponents of GC have persuasive software engineering arguments on their side: automatic storage reclamation simplifies programming and reduces errors, thus increasing programmer productivity. Ultimately, increasing computer speed and memory capacity made GC a reasonable choice for a much wider range of systems. Java brought it into the mainstream, where it has been quite successful. We have even reached the point where C++, originally posted with signs reading "No GC here!", now offers optional support for it.


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