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Trivial example

The first example is truly simple – the following Java code tries to allocate an array of 2M integers. When you compile it and launch with 12MB of Java heap space (java -Xmx12m OOM), it fails with the java.lang.OutOfMemoryError: Java heap space message. With 13MB Java heap space the program runs just fine.

class OOM {
  static final int SIZE=2*1024*1024;
  public static void main(String[] a) {
    int[] i = new int[SIZE];

Memory leak example

The second and a more realistic example is of a memory leak. In Java, when developers create and use new objects e.g. new Integer(5), they don’t have to allocate memory themselves – this is being taken care of by the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). During the life of the application the JVM periodically checks which objects in memory are still being used and which are not. Unused objects can be discarded and the memory reclaimed and reused again. This process is called Garbage Collection. The corresponding module in JVM taking care of the collection is called the Garbage Collector (GC).

Java’s automatic memory management relies on GC to periodically look for unused objects and remove them. Simplifying a bit we can say that a memory leak in Java is a situation where some objects are no longer used by the application but Garbage Collection fails to recognize it. As a result these unused objects remain in Java heap space indefinitely. This pileup will eventually trigger the java.lang.OutOfMemoryError: Java heap space error.

It is fairly easy to construct a Java program that satisfies the definition of a memory leak:

class KeylessEntry {
   static class Key {
      Integer id;
      Key(Integer id) {
         this.id = id;
      public int hashCode() {
         return id.hashCode();
   public static void main(String[] args) {
      Map m = new HashMap();
      while (true)
         for (int i = 0; i < 10000; i++)
            if (!m.containsKey(new Key(i)))
               m.put(new Key(i), "Number:" + i);

When you execute the above code above you might expect it to run forever without any problems, assuming that the naive caching solution only expands the underlying Map to 10,000 elements, as beyond that all the keys will already be present in the HashMap. However, in reality the elements will keep being added as the Key class does not contain a proper equals() implementation next to its hashCode().

As a result, over time, with the leaking code constantly used, the “cached” results end up consuming a lot of Java heap space. And when the leaked memory fills all of the available memory in the heap region and Garbage Collection is not able to clean it, the java.lang.OutOfMemoryError:Java heap space is thrown.

The solution would be easy – add the implementation for the equals() method similar to the one below and you will be good to go. But before you manage to find the cause, you will definitely have lose some precious brain cells.

public boolean equals(Object o) {
   boolean response = false;
   if (o instanceof Key) {
      response = (((Key)o).id).equals(this.id);
   return response;