Java Platform, Standard Edition Troubleshooting Guide
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3.4 Diagnose Leaks in Java Language Code

Diagnosing leaks in Java language code can be difficult. Usually, it requires very detailed knowledge of the application. In addition, the process is often iterative and lengthy. This section provides information about the tools you can use to diagnose memory leaks in Java language code.


Besides the tools mentioned in this section, a large number of third-party memory debugger tools are available. The Eclipse Memory Analyzer Tool (MAT), YourKit ( are two examples of commercial tools with memory debugging capabilities. There are many others, and no specific product is recommended.

The following are two utilities used to diagnose leaks in Java language code.

  1. The NetBeans Profiler: The NetBeans Profiler can locate memory leaks very quickly. Commercial memory leak debugging tools may take a long time to locate a leak in a large application. The NetBeans Profiler, however, uses the pattern of memory allocations and reclamations that such objects typically demonstrate. This process includes also the lack of memory reclamations. The profiler can check where these objects were allocated, which often is sufficient to identify the root cause of the leak.

    For more details, see NetBeans Profiler.

  2. The jhat utility: The jhat utility is useful when debugging unintentional object retention (or memory leaks). It provides a way to browse an object dump, view all reachable objects in the heap, and understand which references are keeping an object alive.

    To use jhat you must obtain one or more heap dumps of the running application, and the dumps must be in binary format. After the dump file is created, it can be used as input to jhat. See The jhat Utility.

The following sections describe the other ways to diagnose leaks in Java language code.

3.4.1 Create a Heap Dump

A heap dump provides detailed information about the allocation of heap memory. There are several ways to create a heap dump:

3.4.2 Obtain a Heap Histogram

You can try to quickly narrow down a memory leak by examining the heap histogram. It can be obtained in several ways:

3.4.3 Monitor the Objects Pending Finalization

When the OutOfMemoryError exception is thrown with the "Java heap space" detail message, the cause can be excessive use of finalizers. To diagnose this, you have several options for monitoring the number of objects that are pending finalization:

  • The JConsole management tool can be used to monitor the number of objects that are pending finalization. This tool reports the pending finalization count in the memory statistics on the Summary tab pane. The count is approximate, but it can be used to characterize an application and understand if it relies a lot on finalization.

  • On Oracle Solaris and Linux operating systems, the jmap utility can be used with the -finalizerinfo option to print information about objects awaiting finalization.

  • An application can report the approximate number of objects pending finalization using the getObjectPendingFinalizationCount method of the class. Links to the API documentation and example code can be found in Custom Diagnostic Tools. The example code can easily be extended to include the reporting of the pending finalization count.

See Finalization and Weak, Soft, and Phantom References in Java Platform, Standard Edition HotSpot Virtual Machine Garbage Collection Tuning Guide for information about detecting and migrating from finalization.

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