Wes Gibbs github twitter linked in ruby5 archives
Objective-C block retain cycles

There are two parts to this issue. The first is whether to use self or a weak reference to self (weakSelf) within the block. The second is dealing with the possibility that weakSelf may become nil at any time.

self or weakSelf

For the first question, ask: what kind of reference does self have to the object that holds the block?

If the reference is strong, use a weak reference within the block. Otherwise, a strong reference can be used within the block.

Some considerations when answering this question:

  • If that object is defined as a property with a strong reference, then self will have a strong reference. Use a weak reference to self within the block.
  • If that object is declared locally, it has a strong reference until the method exits. If no other strong references to the object are created before the method exits, then use self within the block. Otherwise, use weakSelf.
  • If the block is a parameter to a class method, then use self within the block.

Is nil ok?

For the second question, ask: what happens within the block if the weakSelf reference is nil?

Sending a message to nil is ok in objective-c. This may or may not be ok for your particular code though. Also, passing nil parameters may cause problems. If the outcome of weakSelf being nil is not guaranteed to be safe, you will want to start the block by creating a strong reference to the object pointed to by weakSelf. Then check if that reference is not nil and use self to do your work. When the block exits, the strong reference will go away.

When in doubt

The safest way to proceed if it’s not clear whether a strong retain cycle is going to be created:

  • Create a weakSelf reference outside the block.
  • Start the block by creating a strong reference to weakSelf.
  • Use the strongSelf reference with a conditional that checks that it is not nil.
@implementation MyFirstViewController
  __weak typeof(self) weakSelf = self;
  MyOtherViewController *viewController = [[MyOtherViewController alloc] init...];
  viewController.doneBlock = ^{
    MyFirstViewController *strongSelf = weakSelf;
    if (strongSelf) {
      [strongSelf dismissViewController];

This is taken from Apple’s Transitioning to ARC Release Notes. (Search for strongMyController to find the example.)

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