Implementing the IUnknown Interface

Applies to: Outlook 2013 | Outlook 2016

The methods of the IUnknown interface, implemented in every MAPI object, support interobject communication and object management.

IUnknown has three methods: IUnknown::AddRef, IUnknown::QueryInterface, and IUnknown::Release. QueryInterface enables one object to determine whether another object supports a particular interface. With QueryInterface, two objects with no prior knowledge of each other's functionality can interact. If the object that implements QueryInterface does support the interface in question, it returns a pointer to the implementation of the interface. If the object does not support the requested interface, it returns the MAPI_E_INTERFACE_NOT_SUPPORTED value.

When QueryInterface returns a requested interface pointer, it must also increase the new object's reference count. An object's reference count is a numeric value used to manage the object's lifespan. When the reference count is greater than 1, the object's memory cannot be freed because it is actively being used. It is only when the reference count drops to 0 that the object can be released safely.

The other two IUnknown methods, AddRef and Release, manage the reference count. AddRef increments the reference count, while Release decrements it. All methods or API functions that return interface pointers, such as QueryInterface, must call AddRef to increment the reference count. All implementations of methods that receive interface pointers must call Release to decrement the count when the pointer is no longer needed. Release checks for an existing reference count, freeing the memory associated with the interface only if the count is 0.


Because AddRef and Release are not required to return accurate values, callers of these methods must not use the return values to determine whether an object is still valid or has been destroyed.

See also

Implementing MAPI Objects