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Stack Vs Heap Java

In Java, memory management is a vital process. It is managed by Java automatically. The JVM divides the memory into two parts: stack memory and heap memory. From the perspective of Java, both are important memory areas but both are used for different purposes. The major difference between Stack memory and heap memory is that the stack is used to store the order of method execution and local variables while the heap memory stores the objects and it uses dynamic memory allocation and deallocation. In this section, we will discuss the differences between stack and heap in detail.

Stack Vs Heap Java

Stack Memory

The stack memory is a physical space (in RAM) allocated to each thread at run time. It is created when a thread creates. Memory management in the stack follows LIFO (Last-In-First-Out) order because it is accessible globally. It stores the variables, references to objects, and partial results. Memory allocated to stack lives until the function returns. If there is no space for creating the new objects, it throws the java.lang.StackOverFlowError. The scope of the elements is limited to their threads. The JVM creates a separate stack for each thread.

Heap Memory

It is created when the JVM starts up and used by the application as long as the application runs. It stores objects and JRE classes. Whenever we create objects it occupies space in the heap memory while the reference of that object creates in the stack. It does not follow any order like the stack. It dynamically handles the memory blocks. It means, we need not to handle the memory manually. For managing the memory automatically, Java provides the garbage collector that deletes the objects which are no longer being used. Memory allocated to heap lives until any one event, either program terminated or memory free does not occur. The elements are globally accessible in the application. It is a common memory space shared with all the threads. If the heap space is full, it throws the java.lang.OutOfMemoryError. The heap memory is further divided into the following memory areas:

  • Young generation
  • Survivor space
  • Old generation
  • Permanent generation
  • Code Cache

The following image shows the allocation of stack memory and heap space.

Stack Vs Heap Java

Difference Between Stack and Heap Memory

The following table summarizes all the major differences between stack memory and heap space.

Parameter Stack Memory Heap Space
Application It stores items that have a very short life such as methods, variables, and reference variables of the objects. It stores objects and Java Runtime Environment (JRE) classes.
Ordering It follows the LIFO order. It does not follow any order because it is a dynamic memory allocation and does not have any fixed pattern for allocation and deallocation of memory blocks.
Flexibility It is not flexible because we cannot alter the allocated memory. It is flexible because we can alter the allocated memory.
Efficiency It has faster access, allocation, and deallocation. It has slower access, allocation, and deallocation.
Memory Size It is smaller in size. It is larger in size.
Java Options Used We can increase the stack size by using the JVM option -Xss. We can increase or decrease the heap memory size by using the -Xmx and -Xms JVM options.
Visibility or Scope The variables are visible only to the owner thread. It is visible to all threads.
Generation of Space When a thread is created, the operating system automatically allocates the stack. To create the heap space for the application, the language first calls the operating system at run time.
Distribution Separate stack is created for each object. It is shared among all the threads.
Exception Throws JVM throws the java.lang.StackOverFlowError if the stack size is greater than the limit. To avoid this error, increase the stack size. JVM throws the java.lang.OutOfMemoryError if the JVM is unable to create a new native method.
Allocation/ Deallocation It is done automatically by the compiler. It is done manually by the programmer.
Cost Its cost is less. Its cost is more in comparison to stack.
Implementation Its implementation is hard. Its implementation is easy.
Order of allocation Memory allocation is continuous. Memory allocated in random order.
Thread-Safety It is thread-safe because each thread has its own stack. It is not thread-safe, so properly synchronization of code is required.

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