Last week I stirred the pot a bit, stating that we've been improperly using the VARIABLES scope, and it's hurting our applications. Variables placed within the VARIABLES scope do not appear to have proper Garbage Collection performed on them when we're done with them, except in the case of the scope's usage within a CFC or a custom tag. This brought up some interesting discussion, where Ray Camden, Mike Brunt, and others chimed in.

I, with very good success, have been using REQUEST where most people use the VARIABLES scope. Wait! Hold on! You have to let me finish first before you get bent. What I said was that, in the past, we placed variables into the VARIABLES scope within our base request templates, with no way of clearing those variables at the end of the request (if using Application.cfc). My thought is, if VARIABLES have no true (apparent) mechanism for release, in context of variables scoped this way in a base request, then they don't really belong in the VARIABLES scope, but rather in the REQUEST scope.

This was met with some push back. The first argument was that this breaks encapsulation. I want to begin my response here by saying the first obvious thing that comes to mind: ColdFusion is not OO! Sure, your ColdFusion application can be written in an OO fashion, but ultimately it doesn't have to be. There are even some who seem that think that maybe it shouldn't be. All of that being said, I agree with OO principles, and think that proper encapsulation is very important when developing your applications, especially in terms of portability and reuse. Just because the REQUEST scope can be used directly within your custom tags or CFC's doesn't mean that you should. I would never suggest referencing the REQUEST scope directly within a CFC, with the exception of Application.cfc itself.

So another argument was that the REQUEST scope should only be used "when (and only when) the variable must be accessible to all the elements composing the request...", going further to state that the REQUEST scope should be avoided if at all possible. Why? The rest of the argument once again comes back to encapsulation. My point is to use the REQUEST scope within the context of a request, paying attention to maintain encapsulation. Within that context, doesn't it make sense to use the REQUEST scope for variables that should only exist for the length of a request?

The ColdFusion Jedi piped in to correct me on my timeline of scope introductions to ColdFusion, and we had some back and forth over declaration of scope to clearing of scope. I contended that onApplicationEnd() cleared the APPLICATION scope, that onSessiondEnd() cleared the SESSION scope, and that onRequestEnd() cleared the REQUEST scope. Ray reminded me that Application.cfc was about application process, and that the server handled when to 'clear' variables 'under the hood.' My point back was that something has to tell the server when to de-reference these variables, and that I had always assumed that was triggered by the execution of these methods. Mike Brunt chimed in on this, saying that the application must de-reference the variables prior to the server knowing it can perform Garbage Collection on them (Side Note: he didn't come out and agree with all of my conclusions here, only seeming to agree with the logic applied.)

Possibly the largest argument overall relates to whether the apparent memory leak, when using the VARIABLES scope within a base request, is really a leak or just a byproduct? I've theorized that the intention of the VARIABLES scope was that it was to be used only within CFC's and custom tags, where it does appear to properly get de-referenced. I put out there that the only reason you were able to use VARIABLES within the base request was because custom tags were created from .cfm files as well, so there really isn't any way to restrict it's usage. Ray says that the VARIABLES scope was introduced to provide access (like StructKeyExists()) to the unscoped variables out there in the wild.I think our thoughts of 'best practice' usage should follow these lines: Using the REQUEST scope within the base request, while maintaining encapsulation.

Ultimately, I just don't know. Maybe there's still an Adobe engineer out there who goes back that far, and can remember exactly what's what and why. I do know that, after migrating several high traffic applications to these guidelines I did get a higher return on application performance. I've gotten notes from others, after reading the original post, who have done similar changes to their systems with the same improvements. What other pluses or minuses do you, dear reader, think of when considering this practice of variable scoping? Is it right? Is it wrong? Is it a sin? What do you say?

(You can follow the original comment thread by referencing the post linked below)