Should I use shared_ptr or unique_ptr

I’ve been making some objects using the pimpl idiom, but I’m not sure whether to used shared_ptr or unique_ptr.

Definitely unique_ptr or scoped_ptr.

Pimpl is not a pattern, but an idiom, which deals with compile-time dependency and binary compatibility. It should not affect the semantics of the objects, especially with regard to its copying behavior.

You may use whatever kind of smart pointer you want under the hood, but those 2 guarantee that you won’t accidentally share the implementation between two distinct objects, as they require a conscious decision about the implementation of the copy constructor and assignment operator.

However, these objects in a way really aren’t being copied, as changes affect all copies, so I was wondering that perhaps using shared_ptr and allowing copies is some sort of anti-pattern or bad thing.

It is not an anti-pattern, in fact, it is a pattern: Aliasing. You already use it, in C++, with bare pointers and references. shared_ptr offer an extra measure of “safety” to avoid dead references, at the cost of extra complexity and new issues (beware of cycles which create memory leaks).

Unrelated to Pimpl

I understand unique_ptr is more efficient, but this isn’t so much of an issue for me, as these objects are relatively heavyweight anyway so the cost of shared_ptr over unique_ptr is relatively minor.

If you can factor out some state, you may want to take a look at the Flyweight pattern.

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