Core Java

Distinguishing Heap, Thread, and Core Dumps

A dump refers to information retrieved from a storage medium and saved for subsequent analysis. The Java Virtual Machine (JVM) plays a crucial role in memory management within Java, and in the event of errors, a dump file can be obtained from the JVM to facilitate error diagnosis. Let us delve deeper to understand Java Heap, Thread and Core Dumps along with their differences.

1. Understanding Heap Dumps in Java

In Java programming, a heap dump is a snapshot of the Java Virtual Machine’s (JVM) memory at a specific point in time. It captures information about the objects and their relationships stored in the heap memory, allowing developers to analyze memory-related issues, such as memory leaks or inefficient memory usage.

As Java applications run, they dynamically allocate and deallocate memory to manage objects. However, memory-related issues can arise, leading to increased memory consumption or even application crashes. Heap dumps provide valuable insights into the state of the heap, aiding developers in identifying and resolving memory-related problems.

1.1 How to Generate a Heap Dump?

Heap dumps can be generated in various ways, including manually triggering them or automatically when specific events, such as an OutOfMemoryError, occur. One common method is to use the Java VisualVM tool, which is included with the Java Development Kit (JDK).

Here’s an example of generating a heap dump programmatically in Java:

package com.javacodegeeks;


public class HeapDumpExample {

    public static void main(String[] args) {
        // Get the HotSpotDiagnosticMXBean
        HotSpotDiagnosticMXBean bean = ManagementFactory.getPlatformMXBean(

        // Specify the file path for the heap dump
        String dumpFilePath = "/path/to/heapdump.hprof";

        try {
            // Trigger the heap dump
            bean.dumpHeap(dumpFilePath, true);
            System.out.println("Heap dump generated successfully at: " + dumpFilePath);
        } catch (Exception e) {

In this example, we use the HotSpotDiagnosticMXBean to programmatically trigger a heap dump and save it to a specified file path. The dumpHeap method takes the file path and a boolean parameter indicating whether to include the live objects in the dump.

1.2 Analyzing Heap Dumps

Once a heap dump is generated, it can be analyzed using various tools, such as Eclipse Memory Analyzer (MAT) or VisualVM. These tools allow developers to explore memory usage, identify memory leaks, and understand the relationships between objects.

2. Understanding Thread Dumps in Java

In Java programming, a thread dump is a snapshot of the current state of all threads running in a Java Virtual Machine (JVM). It provides information about the status and execution stack of each thread, offering insights into the application’s concurrency and potential issues.

Multithreading is a fundamental aspect of many Java applications. Understanding the state of threads during runtime is crucial for diagnosing performance problems, deadlocks, and other concurrency-related issues. Thread dumps help developers identify bottlenecks, deadlocks, and areas of contention in their applications.

2.1 How to Generate a Thread Dump?

Thread dumps can be obtained using various methods, and one common way is to send a signal to the JVM. For example, you can use the jstack command-line tool that comes with the Java Development Kit (JDK) to generate a thread dump.

Here’s an example of generating a thread dump using jstack:

jstack <pid> > thread_dump.txt

Replace <pid> with the process ID of the Java process. This command instructs the JVM to print thread information to the specified file.

2.2 Example Thread Dumps

Below is a simplified example of a thread dump:

"main" #1 prio=5 os_prio=0 tid=0x00007f8040012800 nid=0x1 waiting on condition [0x00007f804778d000]
   java.lang.Thread.State: TIMED_WAITING (sleeping)
        at java.lang.Thread.sleep(Native Method)
        at ThreadDumpExample.main(

"Thread-1" #2 prio=5 os_prio=0 tid=0x00007f8040014000 nid=0x2 waiting on condition [0x00007f804768c000]
   java.lang.Thread.State: WAITING (parking)
        at sun.misc.Unsafe.park(Native Method)
        - parking to wait for  <0x0000000712345678> (a java.util.concurrent.locks.LockSupport$2)

    ... (more threads)

The example illustrates a thread dump containing information about two threads: the “main” thread and “Thread-1.” Each thread entry includes details such as thread ID, priority, native thread ID, and its current state. In this case, the “main” thread is in a TIMED_WAITING state, while “Thread-1” is in a WAITING state.

2.3 Analyzing Thread Dumps

Tools like VisualVM, Eclipse MAT, or online thread dump analyzers can help developers analyze thread dumps effectively. Understanding thread states, detecting deadlocks, and identifying thread contention are key aspects of thread dump analysis.

3. Understanding Core Dumps in Java

In Java programming, a core dump refers to a file containing a snapshot of the memory at the time of a program crash. It is a crucial diagnostic tool for investigating unexpected application failures, as it provides information about the state of the program’s memory, including variable values, call stacks, and the point of failure.

When a Java application encounters a fatal error or crashes unexpectedly, a core dump can help developers analyze the root cause of the issue. It is particularly valuable for debugging complex problems, memory-related errors, or issues that are challenging to reproduce.

3.1 How to Generate a Core Dump?

Core dumps are often automatically generated when a Java application experiences a crash. However, configuring the JVM to create core dumps can be done by setting specific environment variables.

Here’s an example of how to enable core dumps in a Unix/Linux environment:

export JAVA_HOME=/path/to/your/java/home
export JVM_OPTS="-XX:+HeapDumpOnOutOfMemoryError -XX:HeapDumpPath=/path/to/dump/folder"
export JAVA_OPTS="$JAVA_OPTS -XX:+CoreDumpOnOutOfMemoryError -XX:CoreDumpDirectory=/path/to/dump/folder"

$JAVA_HOME/bin/java $JVM_OPTS $JAVA_OPTS -jar your-application.jar

In this example, the -XX:+CoreDumpOnOutOfMemoryError option instructs the JVM to generate a core dump when an OutOfMemoryError occurs. The -XX:CoreDumpDirectory option specifies the directory where the core dump file will be saved. Do note that the core dump file would contain binary data representing the memory layout of the crashed Java process and are not human-readable.

3.2 Analyzing Core Dumps

Analyzing core dumps requires tools and expertise. The contents of the core dump file can be inspected using debugging tools like GDB (GNU Debugger) or specific tools provided by the JVM vendor. Developers can examine the stack trace, variable values, and memory contents to identify the cause of the crash.

4. Dump Types Comparison

FeatureCore DumpThread DumpHeap Dump
DefinitionA file capturing a snapshot of the entire memory when an application crashes.A snapshot of the current state of all threads in a Java application.A snapshot of the Java Virtual Machine’s heap memory, showcasing objects and their relationships.
PurposeDiagnose and debug application crashes and unexpected terminations.Identify thread-related issues such as deadlocks, contention, or unexpected behavior.Analyze memory-related problems like leaks, inefficient memory usage, or OutOfMemoryErrors.
GenerationAutomatically generated on application crash or manually triggered.Manually triggered using tools like jstack or automatically in response to specific events.Manually triggered using tools like jmap or automatically on specific events like OutOfMemoryError.
File FormatBinary file capturing the memory layout of the crashed process.Text representation of the state of all threads, including their call stacks.A binary file representing the contents of the Java heap memory.
Analysis ToolsGDB or JVM-specific debugging tools.VisualVM, Eclipse MAT, or other thread dump analyzers.VisualVM, Eclipse MAT, or specific tools for analyzing heap dumps.

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, core dumps, thread dumps, and heap dumps are indispensable tools in Java development, each serving a unique purpose in diagnosing and resolving different aspects of application issues. Core dumps, generated upon application crashes, provide a comprehensive snapshot of the entire memory, aiding developers in identifying and debugging the root causes of unexpected terminations. Thread dumps offer insights into the concurrent behavior of a Java application by presenting a snapshot of all active threads, enabling the detection of issues such as deadlocks or contention. Heap dumps, on the other hand, focus on memory-related problems, offering a detailed view of the Java Virtual Machine’s heap memory and facilitating the analysis of memory leaks and inefficient memory usage. Leveraging these dump types, developers can efficiently troubleshoot and optimize their Java applications, ensuring robust performance and stability. Each dump type plays a crucial role in the debugging toolkit, collectively contributing to a comprehensive and effective approach to application analysis and problem resolution.


An experience full-stack engineer well versed with Core Java, Spring/Springboot, MVC, Security, AOP, Frontend (Angular & React), and cloud technologies (such as AWS, GCP, Jenkins, Docker, K8).
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