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I'm trying to complete the puzzle.

__strong is the default for all Objective-C retainable object pointers like NSObject, NSString, etc.. It's a strong reference. ARC balances it with a -release at the end of the scope.

__unsafe_unretained equals the old way. It's used for a weak pointer without retaining the retainable object.

__weak is like __unsafe_unretained except that it's an auto-zeroing weak reference meaning that the pointer will be set to nil as soon as the referenced object is deallocated. This eliminates the danger of dangling pointers and EXC_BAD_ACCESS errors.

But what exactly is __autoreleasing good for? I'm having a hard time finding practical examples on when I need to use this qualifier. I believe it's only for functions and methods which expect a pointer-pointer such as:

- (BOOL)save:(NSError**);


NSError *error = nil;
[database save:&error];

which under ARC has to be declared this way:

- (BOOL)save:(NSError* __autoreleasing *);

But this is too vague and I'd like to fully understand why. The code snippets I find place the __autoreleasing inbetween the two stars, which looks weird to me. The type is NSError** (a pointer-pointer to NSError), so why place __autoreleasing inbetween the stars and not simply in front of NSError**?

Also, there might be other situations in which I must rely on __autoreleasing.

You're right. As the official documentation explains:

__autoreleasing to denote arguments that are passed by reference (id *) and are autoreleased on return.

All of this is very well explained in the ARC transition guide.

In your NSError example, the declaration means __strong, implicitly:

NSError * e = nil;

Will be transformed to:

NSError * __strong error = nil;

When you call your save method:

- ( BOOL )save: ( NSError * __autoreleasing * );

The compiler will then have to create a temporary variable, set at __autoreleasing. So:

NSError * error = nil;
[ database save: &error ];

Will be transformed to:

NSError * __strong error = nil;
NSError * __autoreleasing tmpError = error;
[ database save: &tmpError ];
error = tmpError;

You may avoid this by declaring the error object as __autoreleasing, directly.

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