A memory leak occurs when a computer application acquires computer memory but fails to release it back to the operating system when the memory is no longer needed. Memory leaks diminish system performance by reducing the available pool of memory accessible to the operating system and other applications.
In most instances, memory leaks are irritating and lower system performance but do not cause system failure or other serious consequences. In almost all instances, users can reclaim the leaked memory by terminating the offending application. In other instances, however, such as a memory leak in a critical embedded system, the leak can slowly degrade system performance until the system experiences catastrophic failure.
Memory leaks are the principle contributor to software aging–the degradation of software performance over a window of usage.
- By Jason Fitzpatrick on 03/11/13