2.5 IUnknown

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2.5 IUnknown

From looking at the type library, you can see that _Animal is derived from another interface called IDispatch . What is not apparent is that IDispatch is derived from yet another interface called IUnknown . Actually, all interfaces are ultimately derived from IUnknown . This means that all COM components share a dependable commonality .

The IUnknown interface contains three methods :

  • QueryInterface

  • AddRef

  • Release

2.5.1 QueryInterface

The purpose of QueryInterface is to allow clients to discover whether a component supports a given interface. It is also used to navigate between interfaces on a given component. Before returning the requested interface (if it exists), AddRef is called to give the object a reference count.

2.5.2 AddRef and Release

AddRef and Release are used for reference counting. All objects in memory have an associated reference count. Every time an object is created or copied , this count is incremented by one. Every time an object is released, the reference count is decremented by one. When the reference count is zero, the object can safely unload itself. As a VB programmer, you have seen this entire process many times in code fragments like the following, probably without ever realizing precisely what was happening behind the scenes:

 Dim Cow1 As Animal
'QueryInterface Animal for Cow interface and call AddRef.
'Cow1 now has a reference count of one.
Set Cow1 = New Cow

Dim Cow2 As Cow

'AddRef is called. Reference count is two.
Set Cow2 = Cow1

'Release Cow1. Reference count is one
Set Cow1 = Nothing

'Release Cow2. Reference count is 0 so component is unloaded.
Set Cow2 = Nothing 

The VB implementation of IUnknown resides in STDOLE2.TLB and looks like Example 2.5.

Example 2.5. IUnknown Interface Definition
interface IUnknown {
    HRESULT _stdcall QueryInterface(
                    [in] GUID* riid, 
                    [out] void** ppvObj);
    unsigned long _stdcall AddRef(  );
    unsigned long _stdcall Release(  );

Every method of IUnknown has the [restricted] attribute. This keeps you, the VB programmer, from calling any of these methods directly. You can try, though. Run the following code fragment:

 Dim x As IUnknown

When you declare the IUnknown variable, it will not be displayed in the Auto Quick Info drop-down. This is because the interface is marked with the [hidden] attribute. If you enter all the code in lowercase, VB will adjust the case for your entry. So we know that VB knows about this interface; it's just not talking. But you won't be able to compile this fragment, and if you try to run the code from the IDE, you will get a nasty message like the one shown in Figure 2.5. Fortunately, we can work around this limitation, but we'll discuss that later.

Figure 2.5. Calling IUnknown methods is not allowed

Refer to Example 2.3 for a moment. Find the first line of IDL inside the library block that is not a comment. It looks like this:


This line of IDL causes the Animals type library to contain all of the definitions found in stdole2.tlb . Incidentally, stdole2.tlb contains the definition of IUnknown (among other things) that is used by VB. If you are interested, you can use OLE View to examine this type library. The type library is called OLE Automation (Version 2.0).

only for RuBoard - do not distribute or recompile