javaguy javaguy - 3 years ago 56
Java Question

Can there be memory leak in Java

I get this question asked many times. What is a good way to answer?

EDIT : Thanks everyone for all the answers.

Answer Source

Can there be memory leak in Java?

The answer is that it depends on what kind of memory leak you are talking about.

Classic C / C++ memory leaks occur when an application neglects to free or dispose an object when they are done with it, and it leaks. Cyclic references are a sub-case of this where the application has difficulty knowing when to free / dispose, and neglects to do it as a result. Related problems are where the application uses an object after it has been freed, or attempts to free it twice. (You could call the latter problems memory leaks, or just bugs. Either way ... )

Java and other (fully1) managed languages mostly don't suffer from these problems because the GC takes care of freeing objects that are no longer reachable. (Certainly, dangling pointer and double-free problems don't exist, and cycles are not problematic as the are for C / C++ "smart pointers".)

But in some cases GC in Java will miss objects that (from the perspective of the programmer) should be garbage collected. This happens when the GC cannot figure out that an object cannot be reached:

  • The logic / state of the program might be such that the execution paths that would use some variable cannot occur. The developer can see this as obvious, but the GC cannot be sure, and errs on the side of caution (as it is required to).
  • The programmer could be wrong about it, and the GC is avoiding what might otherwise result in a dangling reference.

(Note that the causes of memory leaks in Java can be simple, or quite subtle; see @jonathan.cone's answer for some subtle ones. The last one potentially involves external resources that you shouldn't rely on the GC to deal with anyway.)

Either way, you can have a situation where unwanted objects cannot be garbage collected, and hang around tying up memory ... a memory leak.


1 - I'm alluding to a couple of things. Some managed languages allow you to write unmanaged code where you can create classic storage leaks. Some other managed languages (or more precisely language implementations) use reference counting rather than proper garbage collecting. A reference count-based storage manager needs something (i.e. the application) to break cycles ... or else storage leaks will ensue.

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