Retain Counts of io_object_t Objects in IOKit.framework

Q: I think I'm leaking io_object_t objects in my user space I/O Kit code. I used the function IOObjectGetRetainCount to find the retain count of those objects, but the values I get back are larger than I expected. Why is this?

A: There are actually two separate retain counts involved here. The first is the retain count of the underlying kernel object represented by the io_object_t. The function IOObjectGetRetainCount returns this retain count by calling through to the kernel.

The second is the retain count of the io_object_t itself. An io_object_t is a wrapper around a Mach port used to communicate between user space and the kernel, and Mach ports have their own retain count. This also applies to the other types derived from io_object_t: io_service_t, io_connect_t, io_iterator_t, io_registry_entry_t, and io_enumerator_t. (These types are defined in IOKit/IOTypes.h.)

IOObjectRetain and IOObjectRelease operate on the retain count of the io_object_t Mach port itself. This can be verified by looking at IOKitLib.c in the IOKitUser project in Darwin.

So, the correct way to get the retain count of an io_object_t is to use the Mach function mach_port_get_refs as shown in the snippet in Listing 1.

Listing 1: Getting the retain count of an io_object_t.

#include <IOKit/IOKitLib.h>
#include <mach/mach_port.h>

kern_return_t   kr;
unsigned int    result;
io_object_t     theObject;
io_name_t       className;

kr = IOObjectGetClass(theObject, className);

if (KERN_SUCCESS == kr) {
    kern_return_t  kr2;

    kr2 = mach_port_get_refs(mach_task_self(),

    printf("io_object_t: 0x%08x, Class: %s, Retain Count: %d, Result=0x%08x\n",
           theObject, className, result, kr2);

If you get the famous 0x10000003 (MACH_SEND_INVALID_DEST) return code back from an IOKit.framework function, that's referring to a stale io_object_t, not the underlying kernel object. For more information on I/O Kit error codes, please refer to Making sense of IOKit error codes.

Document Revision History

Date Notes
2008-09-24 Minor editorial changes.
2002-09-04 Distinguishes between the retain counts of an I/O Kit kernel object and its io_object_t user space proxy.

Posted: 2008-09-24

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