C++ FAQ Celebrating Twenty-One Years of the C++ FAQ!!!
(Click here for a personal note from Marshall Cline.)
Section 16:
16.1 Does delete p delete the pointer p, or the pointed-to-data *p?
16.2 Is it safe to delete the same pointer twice?
16.3 Can I free() pointers allocated with new? Can I delete pointers allocated with malloc()?
16.4 Benefits of new over malloc()?
16.5 Can I use realloc() on pointers allocated via new?
16.6 Checking for NULL after p = new Fred()?
16.7 How can I convince my (older) compiler to automatically check new to see if it returns NULL?
16.8 Checking for NULL before delete p?
16.9 What are the two steps that happen when I say delete p?
16.10 Does p = new Fred() leak memory if the ctor throws an exception?
16.11 How do I allocate / unallocate an array of things?
16.12 What if I forget the [] when deleteing an array allocated via new T[n]?
16.13 Can I drop the [] when deleteing an array of some built-in type (char, int, etc)?
16.14 After p = new Fred[n], how does the compiler know there are n objects to be destructed during delete[] p?
16.15 Is it legal (and moral) for a member function to say delete this?
16.16 How do I allocate multidimensional arrays using new?
16.17 How to simplify the Matrix code from the previous FAQ?
16.18 How to make the Matrix class generic?
16.19 What's another way to build a Matrix template?
16.20 Does C++ have arrays whose length can be specified at run-time?
16.21 Allocating all objects via new, not local/global/static?
16.22 How do I do simple reference counting?
16.23 How do I provide reference counting with copy-on-write semantics?
16.24 How do I provide reference counting with copy-on-write semantics for a hierarchy of classes?
16.25 Preventing people from subverting the reference counting mechanism?
16.26 Can I use a garbage collector in C++?
16.27 What are the two kinds of garbage collectors for C++?
16.28 Where can I get more info on garbage collectors for C++?
[16.2] Is it safe to delete the same pointer twice?

No! (Assuming you didn't get that pointer back from new in between.)

For example, the following is a disaster:

class Foo { ... };

void yourCode()
  Foo* p = new Foo();
  delete p;
  delete p;   disaster!
That second delete p line might do some really bad things to you. It might, depending on the phase of the moon, corrupt your heap, crash your program, make arbitrary and bizarre changes to objects that are already out there on the heap, etc. Unfortunately these symptoms can appear and disappear randomly. According to Murphy's law, you'll be hit the hardest at the worst possible moment (when the customer is looking, when a high-value transaction is trying to post, etc.).

Note: some runtime systems will protect you from certain very simple cases of double delete. Depending on the details, you might be okay if you happen to be running on one of those systems and if no one ever deploys your code on another system that handles things differently and if you are deleting something that doesn't have a destructor and if you don't do anything significant between the two deletes and if no one ever changes your code to do something significant between the two deletes and if your thread scheduler (over which you likely have no control!) doesn't happen to swap threads between the two deletes and if, and if, and if. So back to Murphy: since it can go wrong, it will, and it will go wrong at the worst possible moment.

Do NOT email me saying you tested it and it doesn't crash. Get a clue. A non-crash doesn't prove the absence of a bug; it merely fails to prove the presence of a bug.

Trust me: double-delete is bad, bad, bad. Just say no.