C++ features deterministic order of calling destructors up the call stack until the exception is handled somewhere.

To my knowledge, neither Java nor (object oriented) Python provide this. In those languages, how is the following situation handled idiomatically:

  • run the program for some time, allocating resources (memory, sockets, files) in the constructors (we’re doing OOP, right?)
  • throw in some function/method
  • handle the exception some levels up the call stack
  • continue normal operation fully recovering from the error?

We’ve lost the handles to those resources. They are effective leaked now, no?



Both of the programming languages you mention (as well as many other programming languages) provide Automatic Memory Management. What this means is that the programming language is responsible for allocating and de-allocating memory, managing free memory, and so on.

So, that solves the problem for the first kind of resource you mentioned: memory. Before you run out of memory, the programming language will de-allocate some unreachable objects (assuming there are any), thus freeing memory again.

For other kinds of resources, there are essentially three different strategies which are employed, and in fact, many programming languages employ at least two of them.

The first strategy is library-based and relies on a programming language feature typically called finalizers or destructors. Finalizers are a piece of code that gets executed when an object is de-allocated. Usually, programming languages with automatic memory management will not allow you to call the OS kernel directly; rather, there will be some sort of proxy object which wraps and represents resources, such as IO objects representing file descriptors, Socket objects representing network sockets, and so on.

The library developers will make sure that any object representing a resource will have a finalizer which releases that resource. Therefore, whenever an object representing a resource gets de-allocated, the corresponding resource gets released.

The main problem with this strategy is that most programming languages with automatic memory management do not make any guarantees about when memory will be de-allocated or even if it will be de-allocated at all. Usually, it is more efficient to “waste” a bit of memory and batch the de-allocation operations together at a point where the system is otherwise idle. Therefore, on a system with a lot of memory but only a small number of file descriptors, for example, it would be possible that you run out of file descriptors before you run out of memory (which would trigger a de-allocation which would trigger execution of the finalizers which would then release file descriptors). For that reason, this strategy is typically only employed as a fallback and one of the two other strategies below is also used.

However, there are some programming languages where memory is guaranteed to be de-allocated as soon as it is no longer used, e.g. Swift.

The second strategy is also library-based, and is to provide helper methods that make it easy to write code that correctly handles the situation described in your question. Typically, these helper methods require programming language support for first-class subroutines and higher-order subroutines, i.e. subroutines that can be passed as arguments and subroutines that can take subroutines as arguments. For example, in Ruby, there is the IO::open method, whose implementation looks a little bit like this (massively simplified):

class IO
  def self.open(file_descriptor)
    file = new(file_descriptor)

    yield file # call the supplied block with `file` as argument
  ensure       # regardless of whether or not an exception was raised
    file.close # close the file descriptor

And you would use it like this:

IO.open(some_file_descriptor) do |f|

Regardless of whether the IO::open method was exited because the block completed normally or because something in the block raised an exception, the ensure part of the method will be executed and thus the file descriptor will be closed.

You could do the same in Python or in Java:

class IO {
  public static void open(int fileDescriptor, Consumer<IO> action) {
    try {
      var file = new IO(fileDescriptor);
    } finally {

And you would use it like this:

  f -> {

However, the Python and Java designers decided not to include such helper methods in the standard library.

The third strategy is to add specialized language features that essentially do the same as the above. Python has the with statement which works together with the Context Manager protocol, Java has the try-with-resources statement which works together with the AutoCloseable interface, and C# has the using statement which works together with the IDisposable interface and the IAsyncDisposable interface.

Using these looks a bit like this:

with File.open("hello.txt") as f:

Both of these latter strategies have the problem that there is nothing which forces the programmer to use the feature. For example, in Ruby, there is a second overload of IO::open which does not take a block but instead returns an IO object wrapping an open file descriptor. There is nothing stopping me from never calling close on that object. If and when it gets automatically de-allocated, its finalizer will release the file descriptor, but until then, the file descriptor is effectively leaked.

However, that is no different in C++: If I write my own File class and don’t call close in the destructor, there’s nothing in the language which stops me.

A completely different approach can be taken in programming languages with a powerful and expressive type system. In such languages, it is possible to express the lifetime rules of resources inside the type system and thus ensure that code which can leak resources gets rejected by the type checker. I believe Idris employs this strategy, for example.

In some languages, there is a separate Effect System aside from the type system. This can also be used to manage resources.

Last but not least, there are languages like Smalltalk and Common Lisp, where exceptions are resumable, i.e. they do not unwind the stack in the first place. You can fix the problem and continue at the place where the exception occurred.



In garbage collected languages (whether mark-and-sweep style like the JVM or reference counted like Python), there are generally two types of resource:

  • Managed resources, which are handled directly by the runtime. This will include the vast majority of memory allocations.
  • Unmanaged resources, which are not handled directly by the runtime. Things like file handles and sockets typically fall into this category.

Managed resources will be automatically reclaimed by the runtime “at some point”. Unmanaged resources will be leaked if the program is written in a naive fashion, but each language has a pattern which ensures the unmanaged resources will not be leaked, for example the try with resources pattern in Java, the with statement in Python or the using statement in C#.



Answering only of Java here, though other languages often have equivalents.

First, I’d note that Java doesn’t really have destructors… while it does support a finalize() method that kind of functions as one, it’s not a particularly reliable mechanism (it will be called by the garbage collector at some point), and tends to be discouraged.

As to usual practice – if we’re just talking about memory allocation, you simply don’t do anything… that’s what the garbage collector is for, cleaning up objects that are no longer accessible. All you need to do is to make sure you’re not accidentally leaking by having long-lived objects holding references to short-lived ones (and there are a few ways to screw that up).

For resources like file handles and the like, the historic convention is that they had a close() method, which should be manually called from a try-finally block. In Java 7, they introduced the “try-with-resources” syntax which basically means that if a compatible type (i.e. one implementing AutoCloseable) is assigned as part of the syntax of a try block, it will automatically have the close() method called when it goes out of scope. Something like:

try (Connection conn = createConnection()) {

…which is more or less equivalent to:

Connection conn = createConnection();
try {
} finally {



In Java, the finally clause of a try statement is invoked as the stack unwinds, allowing the programmer to explicitly release resources that require this. For instance, early Java code to write to a file looks like this:

  FileWriter writer = new FileWriter(path, encoding);
  try {
  } finally {
    writer.close(); // <-- runs before the stack unwinds, regardless of whether the write was successful or not

This however had two weaknesses:

  1. People could forget to invoke close(), or forget to do so in finally.
  2. If close() itself threw an exception, that exception was delivered to the caller, rather than the exception from the try block.

To fight these bugs, static analyzers for Java (such as findbugs) would recognize incorrect release of well known resources, and emit warnings.

Still, this situation was not ideal and fell short of the robustness of RAII, so Java 7 saw the language extended with a try-with-resources statement, an AutoClosable interface to be implemented by resources needing release, and support for suppressed exceptions (i.e. if both the try and the finally fail, the exception from the try would be delivered to the caller, with the exception from the finally attached). In modern Java, the file write would look like this:

try (var writer = new FileWriter(path, encoding)) {
} // runtime will invoke writer.close() when leaving this block

Modern Java compilers warn if an AutoClosable resource is not closed reliably.

So basically, Java has always provided a hook for taking action when the stack unwinds, and nowadays supports RAII by means of dedicated syntax construct.

PS: Of course, these constructs are only necessary when dealing with resources that need explicit release (such a file handles). Mere memory is managed automatically, and doesn’t need this.


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