Things you Need To Know About Memory Management In Java | Classifications and Working

Memory management in Java

Memory Management in Java refers to allocating and deallocating memory to java objects which reside in areas called Stack and Heap. Java has an automatic memory management system known as Garbage Collector. This article presents you with some concepts of Java Memory management, working of Garbage Collector and JVM.

What is Memory Management In Java?

Memory management in Java is the process of allocating working memory space to new objects and properly removing unreferenced objects to create space for those new object allocations. Generally, developers don’t have to deal with memory handling in java directly because the Garbage Collector has the duty of memory allocation handling and it runs automatically.

Why Learn Java Memory Management?

As we already know java itself manages the memory and no special intervention of programmers is needed. Garbage Collector has the role of clearing the objects that are no longer used by the application from the working memory (RAM).

Then why do programmers need to learn about automatic memory management in java? Though it is said to be automatic, the Garbage Collector doesn’t guarantee everything. Most probably you will end up with memory leaks or other consequences that cannot be managed by Java Virtual Machine (JVM) when you are not aware of Java memory management.

As a programmer, you have to know which objects are eligible for automatic garbage collection and which are not. Therefore it’s important to learn memory management to write efficient and high-performance based programs with very little chance of crashing.

Classification or Types of Java Memory Management

For any programming language, working memory is a vital resource. So it’s crucial to have a better understanding of its management.

The major concepts in Java Memory Management:
1)  JVM Memory structure
2) Working of Garbage Collector.

Let us discuss them in more detail.

1) Java Virtual Machine (JVM) Memory Structure

The JVM memory model explains the interaction of threads in the Java programming language through memory. Together with single-threaded code execution, it also provides brief interpretations of the Java programming language. JVM memory structure has different areas where the objects of the programs reside.

JVM Memory Is Divided Into Multiple Parts:

Memory Management in Java- JVM Memory

Method Area

Method area is a logical part of the heap area that is created at the time of Virtual Machine startup. The method area is allocated for method data, class structures, constructor field data as well as for interfaces and special methods in a class.

Depending on system configuration, the Method area can be fixed or dynamic required by the computation. It need not be contagious. Even if garbage collection is compulsory in heap, the Method area may or may not be garbage collected though it is a logical part of the heap area.

Heap Area

Memory Management in Java- JVM Memory Structure

Heap Memory: Heap area is a shared runtime data area that can be allocated to real objects of all class instances and arrays. Depending on the configuration of the system, the size of the heap can be dynamic or fixed. It is initiated during the Java Virtual Machine Startup. Heap Memory allocated to the objects is reclaimed by the Garbage Collector in java.

By default, the maximum size of the heap is 64 Mb. When you use a keyword, an object is allocated memory in a heap but its memory is stored in the stack.

There is always only one Heap for a running Java Virtual Machine process. When the heap is filled the garbage collector clears the objects.

VM options to configure heap size :
To set the maximum Java heap size: -Xmx
To set the initial Java heap size: -Xms
To create object of scanner class: Scanner sc = new Scanner(;

Non-Heap memory: JVM’s non-heap Memory stores per-class structures like runtime constant pool, code for methods, field and method data, interned strings, and codes for constructors. It is also created at the time of Virtual Machine. Similar to the heap, the maximum default Non-Heap memory is also 64 Mb.

VM option to configure the maximum size –XX:MaxPermSize

Other Memory: It is used to store the JVM code, JVM internal structure, data, and loaded profiler agent code, etc.

Also read: Java Bufferpool in Memory Space

JVM Stack area

A Stack is created simultaneously with the creation of a thread. Stack is used to store method-specific values that are short-lived and are referenced to other objects in heap. The stack memory need not be contagious. Its size can either be fixed or dynamic and can be chosen independently when it is created. The variables stored in the stack have certain visibility, called scope.

what is Stack Frame?

Stack frame is the data structure of thread’s data. The thread data represents the state of thread in the current method.

  • Stack frame stores partial results and data also perform dynamic linking.
  • Each frame contains its own Local Variable Array (LVA), Frame Data (FD), and Operand Stack (OS).
  • The sizes of LVA, FD and OS are determined at the compile time
  • In a thread of control, only one thread is active at a time i.e current frame. This frame is called current frame and the class of method is called current class.
  • In case the method invokes another method or the method is completed, the frame stops the current method.
    Frame can only be referenced by the thread that created it.

Program Counter (PC) Registers

Every JVM thread that is created has an associated PC register. The value of the program counter is undefined in the native method while the non-native method has a Program Counter that stores the address of the JVM instructions currently being executed. It also stores the native pointer or a return address.

Native Method Stack

Native Method stack is also known as C stack. Native method stacks are written in other programming languages, not java. The Java Native Interface (JNI) calls the native stack. This type of memory is allocated to the thread when it is created.

Similar to other types it can be fixed or dynamic. Native stack performance depends on the Operating System.

2) Working of a Garbage Collector

When a program runs in java, objects are allocated memory in the heap. Garbage Collector tries to keep as much free working memory space as possible. Heap is the only part of the java memory where Garbage Collection is possible. The Heap area is also known as Garbage Collectable heap because it is the only segment of the Java memory structure where Garbage Collection is possible.

What does Java Garbage Collection?

Garbage Collector is controlled by Java Virtual Machine (JVM), JVM chooses when to run the garbage collector. Garbage Collection is done whenever JVM detects the low availability of working memory resources.
JVM also considers our request to perform garbage collection. But it’s not always guaranteed that JVM will comply with our request.

What are the criteria for an object to be eligible for garbage collection?

There is a thread to run in the java program i.e main() method. Every Java program has more than one thread with its execution stack. An object is a garbage collectible if there exists no live thread to access it.

Also read “how to avoid java memory leaks”

Garbage Collection Process

  • Java Virtual Machine controls the garbage collection process. It triggers the GC to reduce the burden of programmers by allocation and deallocation of working memory.
  • Garbage Collection pauses other processes or strings. You can overcome this problem by applying several garbage-collector-based algorithms to improve the performance of the program. This process is termed as Garbage Collector tuning.
  • Generational Garbage Collection can be another solution. Objects are grouped based on how many clock cycles they have survived (age). In this way, the work of the Garbage Collection is distributed.

Basic Ways of Garbage Collection Involve The Following.

1. Marking: The Garbage Collector identifies the objects present in the working memory which are no longer being used by the program.
2. Normal Deletion: Garbage Collector clears the objects that are not in use and reclaims the working memory space for other objects.
3. Deletion with compacting: To increase the performance of memory allocation to the objects of newer programs, all the survived objects are moved to be together after the Garbage Collection.

Garbage Collector Types

JVM chooses from the 3 types of Garbage Collectors based on the underlying hardware and does the allocation and deallocation. Programmers can also choose which garbage collector should be used.

The 3 types of garbage collectors are
1. Serial GC: It is a single-threaded collector, mostly used in small applications which use small amounts of data.
Specify the given command line to enable serial GC: -XX:+UseSerialGC

2. Parallel GC: Also known as throughput collector. It uses multiple threads for the garbage collection process.
You can enable parallel GC simply by specifying the given command line: -XX:+UseParallelGC
3. Mostly Concurrent GC: This type of Garbage Collector runs Concurrent to the application. However, it’s not 100% Concurrent but the pause time of the threads is kept as low as possible to optimize the GC Performance.

Two types of Mostly Concurrent GC are

1. Garbage First: It is a high throughput collector with a reasonable pause time.
Enabling command line: -XX:+UseG1GC

2. Concurrent Mark Sweep: This GC type is found unacceptable as of Java Development Kit 9. Here the application pause time is kept at a minimum.
Enable command line: -XX:+UseConcMarkSweepGC

The Mark and Sweep Model

Mark and Sweep garbage collection model is used to clear the objects of the whole heap. Mark and Sweep model consists of 2 phases, the mark phase, and the sweep phase.

In the mark phase all the objects that are reachable from root sources, Java threads are marked as alive. All the objects which are still in use are identified and the rest of the objects are considered garbage.

In the Sweep phase, the heap is traversed to find the memory gaps between the objects in use and are recorded in the free list. These gaps are then made available for new object allocations.

The JRockit JVM uses two improved versions of the Mark and Sweep model, they are mostly concurrent Mark and Sweep model and Parallel Mark and Sweep.

Parallel Mark and Sweep

Parallel Mark and Sweep is also known as parallel garbage collection. This model uses all the available CPUs to perform the garbage collection as quickly as possible. In this model, all the Java threads are paused during the entire period of garbage collection.

Mostly Concurrent Mark and Sweep
Mostly Concurrent Mark and Sweep is also known as concurrent garbage collection. This model allows the java thread to continue running even during the long garbage collection tasks. However, the thread has to stop a few times for synchronization.

Mostly Concurrent Mark phase:

1. Initial Marking: The root set of live objects is identified while the Java threads are paused.

2. Concurrent marking: The references from the rootset are followed to find and mark the other live objects. It’s done while the Java threads are running.

3. Precleaning: Any changes that occurred during the previous step are identified and any additional live objects are found and marked. It’s done while the Java threads are running.

4. Final marking: similar to precleaning, changes during precleaning are identified and any additional live objects are found and marked while the Java threads are paused.

Mostly Concurrent Sweep phase:

Sweeping one half of the heap: Java threads are allowed to allocate objects in the half of the heap that isn’t currently being swept. This is done while the Java threads are running

  •   A short pause is taken to switch halves

Sweeping the other half of the heap: Java threads are allowed to allocate the objects in the half of the heap that was swept first. This is done while the Java threads are running.

  • Again a short pause is taken for synchronizing and recording the statistics.

Dynamic and Static Garbage Collection Modes

The Dynamic Garbage Collection mode Automatically selects its garbage collection strategy to optimize the application throughput.
Programmers can choose between the Dynamic or static garbage collection modes.

Following are the available Dynamic modes.

Deterministic Mode: Optimizes the GC for very short and deterministic pause times.
Pause Time: Optimizes the GC for short and even pause times.
Throughput: It is the default Dynamic mode to optimize the GC for maximum application output.

Following are the major static strategies.

Singlepar: It is a single-generational parallel garbage collector, similar to parallel.
Singlecon: It is a single-generational mostly Concurrent garbage collector.
Genpar: It is a two-generational parallel garbage collector.
GenCon: It is a two-generational mostly Concurrent garbage collector.


Managing the heap ensures the smooth running of your application and eliminates the chances of out-of-memory errors and system crashes. A clear understanding of how the memory is managed helps you in writing optimized codes that are memory efficient.

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