java.lang.OutOfMemoryError: Resolving Memory Management Issues

The java.lang.OutOfMemoryError is a runtime exception in Java that occurs when the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) exhausts all available memory and is unable to allocate more memory to fulfill the memory requirements of an application. This error indicates that the application has run out of heap space and is unable to create new objects or allocate memory for existing objects.

OutOfMemoryError is a critical exception that can severely impact the performance and stability of a Java application. It often indicates underlying memory management issues that need to be addressed to ensure the proper functioning of the application.

Effective memory management ensures that resources are utilized optimally and that Java applications can run smoothly without encountering memory-related issues. In the upcoming sections, we will explore various techniques and best practices to resolve memory management issues and handle the OutOfMemoryError exception effectively.

Understanding Memory Management

Java’s memory model and the JVM’s memory allocation play a crucial role in managing memory within Java applications. Understanding these concepts is essential for effective memory management.

In Java, the memory model is based on the concept of a Java Virtual Machine (JVM). The JVM is responsible for executing Java bytecode and managing the underlying system resources, including memory allocation.

When a Java program is executed, the JVM divides memory into several regions, each serving a specific purpose. These regions collectively form the Java heap, where objects are allocated and deallocated during program execution.

Explanation of the Java Heap and Its Components

The Java heap is the runtime data area in which objects are allocated and reside during the execution of a Java program. It consists of three main components: the Young Generation, the Old Generation, and the Permanent Generation (or Metaspace in Java 8 and later versions).

  1. Young Generation: The Young Generation is where new objects are initially allocated. It is further divided into two areas: Eden Space and Survivor Spaces (usually two spaces called S0 and S1). Objects that survive multiple garbage collection cycles in the Young Generation are promoted to the Old Generation.
  2. Old Generation: The Old Generation, also known as the Tenured Generation, is the area where long-lived objects reside. Objects that are no longer needed in the Young Generation or that have survived multiple garbage collection cycles are moved to the Old Generation. Garbage collection in the Old Generation is less frequent compared to the Young Generation.
  3. Permanent Generation/Metaspace: In older versions of Java (up to Java 7), the Permanent Generation was used to store metadata about classes, interned strings, and other JVM-related data. However, starting from Java 8, the Permanent Generation has been replaced by Metaspace. Metaspace is a native memory area that dynamically manages class metadata and reduces the limitations of the fixed-sized Permanent Generation.

Role of Garbage Collection in Memory Management

Garbage collection is an automatic process performed by the JVM to reclaim memory occupied by objects that are no longer in use. It plays a vital role in memory management by identifying and freeing up memory that is no longer referenced by active objects.

The garbage collector scans the heap, starting from the roots (such as thread stacks, static variables, and JNI references) and traverses the object graph to determine which objects are reachable. Objects that are not reachable from the roots are considered eligible for garbage collection.

During garbage collection, different algorithms are employed to perform the collection process efficiently. Common garbage collection algorithms include Mark and Sweep, Copying, and Generational garbage collection.

Garbage collection in the Young Generation (known as minor collection) primarily focuses on reclaiming short-lived objects. Garbage collection in the Old Generation (known as major collection) targets long-lived objects that have survived multiple minor collections.

To illustrate the memory management components, let’s consider a simple Java class:

public class MemoryManagementExample {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        // Objects are allocated in the Young Generation
        String str1 = new String("Hello");
        String str2 = new String("World");

        // Objects are promoted to the Old Generation
        for (int i = 0; i < 10000; i++) {
            String longLivedObject = new String("Long-lived Object");

        // Rest of the code...

In the code example above, two String objects (str1 and str2) are allocated in the Young Generation. However, the longLivedObject is created within a loop, which causes it to be promoted to the Old Generation since it survives multiple garbage collection cycles.

Understanding the memory model, the Java heap components, and the role of garbage collection is crucial for managing memory effectively in Java applications. It enables developers to optimize memory usage, minimize unnecessary allocations, and ensure the efficient utilization of resources.

Common Causes of OutOfMemoryError

This section will explore three common causes of OutOfMemoryError: memory leaks, excessive memory usage, and insufficient heap size. We’ll delve into each cause, providing detailed explanations, code examples, and strategies to address these issues.

By gaining insights into these causes, you’ll be better equipped to identify and resolve memory-related problems in your Java applications.

Memory leaks: Identifying objects that are not properly released

Memory leaks occur when objects are no longer needed by an application but are still referenced and therefore not released for garbage collection. Over time, these unreleased objects consume memory and can lead to an OutOfMemoryError. Identifying and resolving memory leaks is crucial for maintaining the stability and performance of Java applications.

To identify memory leaks, you can follow these steps:

  1. Use Memory Profilers: Memory profilers like VisualVM, Eclipse Memory Analyzer, or YourKit Java Profiler can help identify memory leaks in your application. These profilers provide insights into memory consumption and object retention.
  2. Analyze Heap Dumps: Heap dumps capture the state of the Java heap at a given moment. Analyzing heap dumps can reveal objects that are still retained in memory but should have been released. Tools like Eclipse Memory Analyzer can assist in analyzing heap dumps.
  3. Look for Unused Objects: Check for objects that are no longer reachable or used by your application. Objects that are not needed anymore should be explicitly released or allowed to be garbage collected.

Consider the following code example that demonstrates a memory leak:

public class MemoryLeakExample {
    private static List<Object> objects = new ArrayList<>();

    public static void main(String[] args) {
        while (true) {
            objects.add(new Object());

In this example, a static ArrayList called objects is continuously populated with new Object instances. Since the list is static, the objects will never be released, leading to a memory leak. To fix this, you need to ensure that unnecessary objects are removed or allow them to be garbage collected when no longer needed.

Excessive memory usage: Dealing with large datasets or improper data structures

Excessive memory usage can occur when dealing with large datasets or when using improper data structures that consume more memory than necessary. To mitigate excessive memory usage, consider the following approaches:

  1. Optimize Data Structures: Evaluate the data structures used in your application and choose the most appropriate ones based on the specific requirements. For example, if you need to store a large number of elements and perform frequent lookups, consider using a HashMap instead of a LinkedList to improve efficiency.
  2. Use Streaming and Batch Processing: When processing large datasets, it’s advisable to use streaming and batch processing techniques. Streaming allows you to process data in smaller chunks, reducing the memory footprint. Java 8 introduced the Stream API, which facilitates streaming operations on collections.
  3. Implement Paging or Pagination: Instead of loading an entire dataset into memory, consider implementing paging or pagination techniques. These techniques retrieve data in smaller portions, reducing memory consumption.

Consider the following code example that demonstrates excessive memory usage:

public class ExcessiveMemoryUsageExample {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        List<Integer> numbers = new ArrayList<>();

        for (int i = 0; i < Integer.MAX_VALUE; i++) {

        // Perform operations on the list
        // ...

In this example, the code attempts to add integers from 0 to Integer.MAX_VALUE into an ArrayList. However, this will consume a significant amount of memory, eventually leading to an OutOfMemoryError. To handle large datasets more efficiently, consider using streaming or batching techniques, or process the data in smaller chunks.

Insufficient heap size: Adjusting heap settings to accommodate application requirements

Sometimes, an OutOfMemoryError occurs due to insufficient heap size allocated to the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). By default, the JVM assigns a limited amount of memory to the heap. Adjusting the heap size can help accommodate the memory requirements of your application. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Set Initial and Maximum Heap Size: Use the -Xms and -Xmx flags to specify the initial and maximum heap size, respectively, when launching your Java application. For example, to set the initial heap size to 512 MB and the maximum heap size to 2 GB, use -Xms512m -Xmx2g.
  2. Analyze Memory Usage: Monitor your application’s memory usage using profilers or monitoring tools. Identify the peak memory usage and set the maximum heap size accordingly.
  3. Use Appropriate Garbage Collector: Choose the appropriate garbage collector algorithm based on your application’s requirements. Different garbage collectors have different memory characteristics and behaviors.

By adjusting the heap size, you can ensure that your application has enough memory to operate without encountering OutOfMemoryError due to insufficient heap space.

Remember to monitor your application’s memory usage and adjust the heap size accordingly to strike a balance between memory consumption and overall performance.

How is a Memory Leak Created in Java?

A memory leak refers to a situation where objects are allocated in memory but are no longer needed by the application, yet they are not properly released. Over time, this can lead to a gradual accumulation of unused objects, consuming valuable memory resources. Memory leaks can have severe implications on application performance and stability, causing increased memory usage, reduced responsiveness, and even unexpected crashes or OutOfMemoryError occurrences.

To better understand memory leaks, it’s important to recognize common scenarios that can lead to their occurrence:

  1. Holding onto object references unnecessarily: In this scenario, objects are retained in memory longer than necessary, preventing them from being garbage-collected. This often happens when developers hold references to objects even when they are no longer needed. For example:
    public class MemoryLeakExample {
        private List<Object> objectList = new ArrayList<>();
        public void addObject(Object obj) {
        // Other methods...

    Here, if objects are added to the objectList but never removed, the list will continue to grow, occupying memory even when the objects are no longer required.

  2. Incorrect use of static collections and caches: When using static collections or caches to store objects, it’s crucial to ensure proper management and removal of objects when they are no longer needed. Failing to do so can lead to memory leaks, as objects held in static collections persist throughout the application’s lifecycle. For instance:
    public class Cache {
        private static Map<String, Object> cache = new HashMap<>();
        public static void addToCache(String key, Object value) {
            cache.put(key, value);
        // Other methods...

    If objects are added to the cache but never removed, they will continue to occupy memory indefinitely.

  3. Mishandling of thread-local objects: In multi-threaded applications, thread-local objects are used to store data specific to each thread. However, if these objects are not properly cleaned up after their use, it can result in memory leaks. One common mistake is forgetting to clear or remove thread-local variables at the end of a thread’s execution. Consider the following example:
    public class ThreadLocalExample {
        private static ThreadLocal<String> threadLocal = new ThreadLocal<>();
        public static void setThreadLocalValue(String value) {
        // Other methods...

    If the threadLocal variable is not cleared or removed once the thread finishes its execution, the value associated with that thread may remain in memory, causing a memory leak.

Demonstrating Memory Leak with Code Examples

Let’s create a simple memory leak scenario and analyze its impact on memory consumption and application behavior:

public class MemoryLeakDemo {
    private List<Object> objectList = new ArrayList<>();
    public void addObject(Object obj) {
    // Other methods...

public class Main {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        MemoryLeakDemo demo = new MemoryLeakDemo();
        for (int i = 0; i < 10000; i++) {
            demo.addObject(new Object());

In this example, we have a MemoryLeakDemo class that maintains an objectList where objects are added but never removed. The Main class creates an instance of MemoryLeakDemo and adds 10,000 objects to it.

By running the code and monitoring the memory usage, you will notice a gradual increase in memory consumption over time. The objects added to the objectList are retained in memory even though they are no longer needed, resulting in a memory leak.

To resolve the memory leak, we need to modify the MemoryLeakDemo class to remove objects when they are no longer required. One possible solution is to introduce a method to clear the objectList as follows:

public class MemoryLeakDemo {
    private List<Object> objectList = new ArrayList<>();
    public void addObject(Object obj) {
    public void clearObjectList() {
    // Other methods...

By calling the clearObjectList() method after the objects are no longer needed, we ensure that the objectList is emptied and unnecessary objects are released from memory, preventing the memory leak.

This demonstrates a basic memory leak scenario, its impact on memory consumption, and how to analyze and resolve such issues. Remember to apply proper object management techniques and ensure timely removal of objects that are no longer needed to prevent memory leaks in your Java applications.

Analyzing OutOfMemoryError Scenarios

When encountering an OutOfMemoryError in Java, it’s crucial to understand the specific error message and its implications. Different error messages indicate distinct causes and help guide the troubleshooting process. Here are some common OutOfMemoryError error messages and their meanings:

  1. java.lang.OutOfMemoryError: Java heap space: This error occurs when the Java heap is exhausted, meaning there is not enough memory available for object allocations. It suggests that the application’s memory usage exceeds the allocated heap space. The potential causes could include inefficient memory usage, large datasets, or insufficient heap size.
  2. java.lang.OutOfMemoryError: Metaspace (or PermGen, prior to Java 8): This error indicates that the Metaspace (or PermGen) memory is full. Metaspace stores class metadata, such as class definitions and methods. Common causes include excessive class loading, dynamic proxy generation, or excessive use of annotations.
  3. java.lang.OutOfMemoryError: GC overhead limit exceeded: This error occurs when the garbage collector spends an excessive amount of time trying to reclaim a small amount of memory. It suggests that the application is spending an unreasonably high percentage of its time on garbage collection. Potential causes include memory leaks, improper garbage collector settings, or an insufficient heap size.
  4. java.lang.OutOfMemoryError: Requested array size exceeds VM limit: This error arises when attempting to create an array that is larger than the maximum allowed size by the JVM. It indicates that the requested array size exceeds the limit imposed by the virtual machine.

Understanding these error messages is the first step in identifying the root cause of an OutOfMemoryError. By recognizing the specific error, developers can focus their efforts on investigating the corresponding memory-related issues.

Analyzing Heap Dumps and Using Profilers to Identify Memory-Related Issues

Heap dumps and profiling tools are invaluable resources for diagnosing memory-related issues leading to OutOfMemoryError occurrences. A heap dump is a snapshot of the JVM’s heap memory at a specific moment, providing insights into the objects and their memory allocations. Profilers, on the other hand, collect runtime information, including memory usage, object creation, and garbage collection behavior.

  1. Analyzing Heap Dumps: To obtain a heap dump when an OutOfMemoryError occurs, you can enable heap dump creation on error by adding the following JVM option:
    -XX:+HeapDumpOnOutOfMemoryError -XX:HeapDumpPath=/path/to/dump/file.hprof

    Once a heap dump is generated, you can analyze it using various tools like Eclipse Memory Analyzer (MAT) or VisualVM.

    Heap dumps help identify memory leaks, examine object references, and determine which objects are consuming excessive memory. They provide a detailed view of the heap, enabling you to pinpoint problematic areas in your application.

  2. Using Profilers: Profiling tools like VisualVM, Java Mission Control, or YourKit can assist in understanding memory usage patterns, object creation rates, and garbage collection behavior. These tools provide real-time data about memory allocations, allowing you to identify memory-consuming code sections.Profilers often offer features like object allocation profiling, heap analysis, and memory leak detection. They help in detecting inefficient memory usage, excessive object creation, and potential memory leaks.

By leveraging heap dumps and profiling tools, developers gain valuable insights into memory-related issues causing OutOfMemoryError. These diagnostic techniques assist in identifying the root causes and optimizing memory usage, leading to more stable and efficient Java applications.

Best Practices for Memory Management

To maintain efficient memory management in your Java applications, it is essential to regularly monitor and profile memory usage. By doing so, you can identify memory leaks, understand memory consumption patterns, and optimize memory utilization. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Use Java Management Extensions (JMX): Java provides JMX for monitoring and managing applications. You can use JMX to expose memory-related data through MBeans (Managed Beans) and access it using JMX clients like JConsole or VisualVM.
    public class MemoryMonitor {
        public static void main(String[] args) throws Exception {
            MemoryMXBean memoryMXBean = ManagementFactory.getMemoryMXBean();
            MemoryUsage heapMemoryUsage = memoryMXBean.getHeapMemoryUsage();
            System.out.println("Initial Heap Memory: " + heapMemoryUsage.getInit() / (1024 * 1024) + " MB");
            System.out.println("Used Heap Memory: " + heapMemoryUsage.getUsed() / (1024 * 1024) + " MB");
            System.out.println("Max Heap Memory: " + heapMemoryUsage.getMax() / (1024 * 1024) + " MB");
            System.out.println("Committed Heap Memory: " + heapMemoryUsage.getCommitted() / (1024 * 1024) + " MB");
  2. Utilize Memory Profilers: Memory profilers like VisualVM, YourKit, or Java Flight Recorder (JFR) can help you analyze memory usage, find memory leaks, and understand object retention.

Stress testing and load testing

Stress testing and load testing involve subjecting your application to high levels of concurrency, data volume, or workload. By simulating heavy usage, you can identify potential memory-related issues under stress conditions.

Using JUnit for Stress Testing: You can use JUnit to create stress tests that spawn multiple threads and simulate heavy load scenarios.

import org.junit.Test;

public class StressTest {
    private static final int THREAD_COUNT = 100;
    private static final int ITERATIONS_PER_THREAD = 100000;

    public void stressTest() throws InterruptedException {
        Thread[] threads = new Thread[THREAD_COUNT];
        for (int i = 0; i < THREAD_COUNT; i++) {
            threads[i] = new Thread(new StressTask());

        for (Thread thread : threads) {

    private static class StressTask implements Runnable {
        public void run() {
            for (int i = 0; i < ITERATIONS_PER_THREAD; i++) {
                // Perform stress testing operations

Continuous code review and refactoring

Frequent code review and refactoring play a vital role in maintaining efficient memory management. Look for potential memory leaks, unnecessary object creation, and opportunities for optimization during code reviews.

Analyze your codebase to find memory-intensive operations and optimize them to reduce memory consumption.

public class MemoryIntensiveOperation {
    public void processLargeData() {
        List<Integer> data = loadDataFromDatabase(); // Some memory-intensive operation
        // Process the data

    // Refactored version using pagination to reduce memory consumption
    public void processLargeDataRefactored() {
        int pageSize = 1000;
        int pageNumber = 0;
        List<Integer> data;
        do {
            data = loadDataFromDatabase(pageNumber, pageSize);
            // Process the data
        } while (!data.isEmpty());

    private List<Integer> loadDataFromDatabase(int pageNumber, int pageSize) {
        // Retrieve data from the database with pagination
        // ...

Keeping up with Java updates

Java regularly releases updates and improvements, including enhancements to memory management. Stay informed about these updates and make sure to upgrade your Java version to leverage the latest memory management features.

By following these best practices, you can ensure effective memory management, detect potential issues, optimize memory utilization, and keep your Java applications running smoothly. Remember, a proactive approach to memory management is crucial for robust and high-performing Java applications.


In conclusion, effective memory management is crucial for maintaining the performance and stability of Java applications. By understanding the causes of OutOfMemoryError and implementing the techniques outlined in this tutorial, you can proactively resolve memory management issues.

Remember to prioritize memory management throughout the development lifecycle to create robust and high-performing Java applications. And make sure to explore the Troubleshooting Java Applications page for additional solutions addressing similar Java errors.

Frequently asked questions

  • What is the difference between OutOfMemoryError and StackOverflowError?
    OutOfMemoryError occurs when the Java heap is exhausted, while StackOverflowError is thrown when the call stack exceeds its maximum limit.
  • How can I increase the heap size for my Java application?
    You can increase the heap size by setting the -Xmx flag when launching the JVM. For example, -Xmx2g sets the maximum heap size to 2 GB.
  • Are memory leaks always caused by explicit object references?
    No, memory leaks can also occur when objects are unintentionally held by static references, caches, or thread-local variables without proper release.
  • How often should I perform garbage collection tuning?
    Garbage collection tuning depends on the specific requirements and characteristics of your application. It is recommended to perform tuning periodically or when encountering memory-related issues.
  • Can I disable garbage collection in Java?
    No, you cannot disable garbage collection in Java. Garbage collection is an essential part of the Java runtime environment and ensures proper memory management.
  • Should I manually call the System.gc() method to trigger garbage collection?
    In general, it is not necessary to manually call System.gc(). The JVM is responsible for managing garbage collection automatically. Explicitly invoking System.gc() can have limited impact and may even degrade performance.
  • Is it possible to recover memory from a memory leak at runtime?
    No, once a memory leak occurs, the leaked memory cannot be directly recovered at runtime. Identifying and fixing the root cause of the memory leak is necessary to prevent further memory consumption.