Most XNA programmers are concerned about generating garbage. More specifically about allocating GC-managed memory (GC stands for “garbage collector” and is both the name of the class that provides access to the garbage collector and an acronym for the garbage collector (as a concept) itself). Two of the major target platforms for XNA (Windows Phone 7 and Xbox 360) use variants of the .NET Compact Framework. On both variants, the GC runs under various circumstances (Windows Phone 7 and Xbox 360). Of concern to XNA programmers is the fact that it runs automatically after a fixed amount of GC-managed memory has been allocated (currently 1MB on both systems). Many beginning XNA programmers are unaware of what constitutes GC-managed memory, though. So here’s a quick overview.
In .NET, there are two different “types” of types: value types and reference types. Only reference types are managed by the garbage collector. Value types are not managed by the garbage collector and are instead managed in other ways that are implementation dependent. For purposes of XNA programming, the important point is that they are not managed by the GC and thus do not, by themselves, increment that internal 1 MB allocation counter. (n.b. Structs are value types. If you have a struct that has a reference type as a member, then that reference type, when instantiated, will still be allocated in the GC-managed memory and will thus count against the 1 MB allocation counter. Putting it in a struct doesn’t change the fact that it gets allocated on the GC heap, but the struct itself is created outside of the GC’s purview).
Both value types and reference types use the keyword ‘new’ to allocate a new instance of them. Sometimes this keyword is hidden by a method which creates new instances for you, e.g. XmlReader.Create. But the important thing to determine is whether or not you are dealing with a value types or a reference type. If it’s a value type, you can use the ‘new’ keyword to allocate new instances of that type without incrementing the GC allocation counter (except as above where it’s a struct with a reference type in it that is allocated by the constructor, but there are no .NET Framework or XNA Framework value types that do this so it would have to be a struct you created or that was in some third-party library you were using for that to even become an issue).
The following is a list of most all of value types you are likely to use in a generic XNA game:
So there you have it. That’s not quite a complete list, mind you. For example:
- There are various structs in the .NET framework you might make use of.
- I left out everything from the Microsoft.Xna.Framework.Graphics.PackedVector namespace, since everything in there ventures into the realm of advanced XNA programming anyway (n.b. every single instantiable thing in that namespace is a struct and thus a value type; there are also two interfaces but interfaces cannot be instantiated at all and thus don’t figure in to this discussion).
- There are so many enums you’re likely to use (PlayerIndex, SpriteSortMode, SpriteEffects, SurfaceFormat, etc.) that including them would’ve flooded the list and reduced its utility. So I went with “any enum” and trust that you can figure out what the enums are (and it’s rare to use ‘new’ with an enum anyway).
- That list also doesn’t include any of the pre-defined static instances of some of the classes (e.g. BlendState.AlphaBlend, BlendState.Opaque, etc.) which are already allocated such that using them doesn’t cause any new allocations and therefore doesn’t increase that 1 MB counter.
- That list also has a few misleading things. VertexElement, VertexPositionColor, and all the other vertex types are structs. But you’re only likely to ever use them as an array (for use with VertexBuffer or DynamicVertexBuffer), and all arrays are reference types (even arrays of value types such as VertexPositionColor[ ] or int[ ]). *
So that’s it for now. The note below may be a bit confusing (it deals with how the GC works and how arrays are managed in .NET). If so, you can probably safely ignore it for now but feel free to ask any questions regardless.
* Arrays of value types (where the value type doesn’t contain any reference type members) are much faster for the GC to examine than arrays of reference types, so there is a definite benefit to using arrays of value types where it makes sense. But creating arrays of value types does cause the GC’s allocation counter to increase. Indeed, allocating a large array of a value type is one of the quickest ways to increment the allocation counter since a .NET array is a sequential block of memory. An array of reference types is just a sequential block of references (typically 4 bytes each) while an array of value types is a sequential block of instances of that type. So for an array of Vector3s it would be 12 bytes each since each float is 4 bytes and there are 3 in a Vector3; for an array of VertexPositionNormalTexture structs it would typically be 32 bytes each since it has two Vector3s and a Vector2. (Note that there are a few additional bytes taken up in the creation of an array, typically 12 but sometimes 16 or possibly even more, which depend on the implementation details of the array type on the particular platform the code is running on).