Memory Mischief

A few days ago, as I was attempting to locate and fix Snapthread’s worst shipping bug ever, I encountered a side quest. I haven’t spent much time using Instruments for debugging, mostly because it rarely works for me. either the run terminates, or Instruments itself hangs or crashes. However, I had managed to start an Allocations/Leaks run, and was watching everything hum along nicely; that is, until I decided to tap on a project that Snapthread automatically generated for me. It contained a bunch of large still photos taken with my DSLR and each time one of them was composited for insertion into the final video, memory usage climbed until the app crashed.

I checked the allocations. Hundreds of persistent megabytes were in the VM:IOSurface category. Exploring further, the responsible callers were either “FigPhotoCreateImageSurface” or “CreateCachedSurface” and the stack traces were filled with methods prefaced by “CA”, “CI,” or “CG.” After perusing Stack Overflow, I wrongly assumed that the objects were being retained due to some internal caching that CIContext was doing. After all, I had wrapped my photo/video iteration in an autoreleasepool, and I was only using a single CIContext. The memory should have been dropping back down each time, right?

Here’s what happens when Snapthread creates a video out of a still photo:

  1. If the photo needs to be letterboxed, it is first run through a CIFilter that blurs it, converts it from a CIImage to a CGImage, and sets it as the content of a CALayer. The original photo is then added to its own layer and positioned over the top of the blurred layer.
  2. If the photo doesn’t need to be letterboxed, it’s simply set as the content of a CALayer.
  3. The layer from step 1 or 2 is then composited over a short blank video using AVVideoCompositionCoreAnimationTool.
  4. The AVVideoCompositionCoreAnimationTool is assigned to the AVMutableVideoComposition, which is then assigned to an AVExportSession.

Now allow me to let you in on a little secret: my code is terrible. Can you guess which object calls the code that I just described above? It should be some sort of model controller object, but nope. It’s the “StillPhoto” object itself. Currently, each video and still photo is responsible for providing its own final formatted version to the video compositor. Yeah, I know. I’ll fix it eventually. Continuing on…

After a few hours of trying to figure out how to purge that internal cache, I started to entertain the idea that maybe it was me retaining the objects somehow. I ran the allocations instrument a few more times and discovered a curious stack trace. It highlighted AVAssetExportSession’s “exportAsynchronously(completionHandler handler: @escaping () -> Void)” as retaining over 500MBs. Huh?

Then it hit me. I was storing a reference to the export session, in case it needed to be cancelled. Y’all. Let me say it again. I WAS STORING A REFERENCE TO THE GOSH DARN EXPORT SESSION WHICH STORED A REFERENCE TO THE FLIBBERTY FLANGIN’ ANIMATION TOOL WHICH STORED A REFERENCE TO A ZILLION MEGABYTES WORTH OF IMAGE DATA. And I never set it to nil after the session ended.

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Can I fire myself?

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