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What is important here is to determine the appropriate ownership policy for your Device object, i. Is it going to be the instance of the Settings object alone? Will the Device object have to be destroyed automatically when the Settings object gets destroyed, or should it outlive that object?
In the first case, std:: Under this assumption, getDevice should return a simple observing pointer observing pointers are pointers which do not keep the pointed object alive.
The simplest kind of observing pointer is a raw pointer: You may be wondering why I am using raw pointers here, when everybody keeps telling that raw pointers are bad, unsafe, and dangerous.
Actually, that is a precious warning, but it is important to put it in the correct context: When used purely as a means to achieve reference semantics and pass around non-owning, observing pointers, there is nothing intrinsically dangerous in raw pointers, except maybe for the fact that one should take care not to dereference a dangling pointer.
As it emerged in the comments, in this particular case where the ownership is unique and the owned object is always guaranteed to be present i. While this is true, I decided to return a raw pointer here because I meant this to be a short answer that one could generalize to the case where device could be nullptr, and to show that raw pointers are OK as long as one does not use them for manual memory management.
This could be the case, for instance, if the destruction of the Settings object should not imply the destruction of the pointed Device object as well. This is something that only you as a designer of your program can tell; from the example you provide, it is hard for me to tell whether this is the case or not.
To help you figure it out, you may ask yourself whether there are any other objects apart from Settings that are entitled to keep the Device object alive as long as they hold a pointer to it, instead of being just passive observers.
If that is indeed the case, then you need a shared ownership policy, which is what std::Top Hat is education software built for professors and teaching faculty. Make your classroom come to life with the best active learning platform.
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