Memory Management


To avoid passing around raw data pointers with varying and non-obvious lifetime rules, Arrow provides a generic abstraction called arrow::Buffer. A Buffer encapsulates a pointer and data size, and generally also ties its lifetime to that of an underlying provider (in other words, a Buffer should always point to valid memory till its destruction). Buffers are untyped: they simply denote a physical memory area regardless of its intended meaning or interpretation.

Buffers may be allocated by Arrow itself , or by third-party routines. For example, it is possible to pass the data of a Python bytestring as a Arrow buffer, keeping the Python object alive as necessary.

In addition, buffers come in various flavours: mutable or not, resizable or not. Generally, you will hold a mutable buffer when building up a piece of data, then it will be frozen as an immutable container such as an array.


Some buffers may point to non-CPU memory, such as GPU-backed memory provided by a CUDA context. If you’re writing a GPU-aware application, you will need to be careful not to interpret a GPU memory pointer as a CPU-reachable pointer, or vice-versa.

Accessing Buffer Memory

Buffers provide fast access to the underlying memory using the size() and data() accessors (or mutable_data() for writable access to a mutable buffer).


It is possible to make zero-copy slices of buffers, to obtain a buffer referring to some contiguous subset of the underlying data. This is done by calling the arrow::SliceBuffer() and arrow::SliceMutableBuffer() functions.

Allocating a Buffer

You can allocate a buffer yourself by calling one of the arrow::AllocateBuffer() or arrow::AllocateResizableBuffer() overloads:

std::shared_ptr<arrow::Buffer> buffer;

if (!arrow::AllocateBuffer(4096, &buffer).ok()) {
   // ... handle allocation error
uint8_t* buffer_data = buffer->mutable_data();
memcpy(buffer_data, "hello world", 11);

Allocating a buffer this way ensures it is 64-bytes aligned and padded as recommended by the Arrow memory specification.

Building a Buffer

You can also allocate and build a Buffer incrementally, using the arrow::BufferBuilder API:

BufferBuilder builder;
builder.Append("hello ", 6);
builder.Append("world", 5);

std::shared_ptr<arrow::Buffer> buffer;
if (!builder.Finish(&buffer).ok()) {
   // ... handle buffer allocation error

Memory Pools

When allocating a Buffer using the Arrow C++ API, the buffer’s underlying memory is allocated by a arrow::MemoryPool instance. Usually this will be the process-wide default memory pool, but many Arrow APIs allow you to pass another MemoryPool instance for their internal allocations.

Memory pools are used for large long-lived data such as array buffers. Other data, such as small C++ objects and temporary workspaces, usually goes through the regular C++ allocators.

Default Memory Pool

Depending on how Arrow was compiled, the default memory pool may use the standard C malloc allocator, or a jemalloc heap.

STL Integration

If you wish to use a Arrow memory pool to allocate the data of STL containers, you can do so using the arrow::stl_allocator wrapper.

Conversely, you can also use a STL allocator to allocate Arrow memory, using the arrow::STLMemoryPool class. However, this may be less performant, as STL allocators don’t provide a resizing operation.