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Why do I get out-of-memory (OOM) errors?

Authors: MichaelAfshar
Build basis: IBM Java v1.6 and later, WebSphere v7 and later (for use with CLM 4.x and later)

Use this guide to understand the out-of-memory (OOM) error messages, to identify the different root causes of these errors, and to learn how to prevent future occurrences.


You might see out-of-memory error messages in one of the following ways:
  • Displayed on the screen from the Eclipse or browser client while you are attempting to perform an operation
  • Written to a server log file (the standard error file)

Identifying the root cause

When you observe a java.lang.OutOfMemoryError error, the first step is to determine which kind of memory has been exhausted:
  • Heap memory: Java heap memory is used by the JVM to store all objects.
  • Native memory: Native memory is used by a more limited subset of activities, such as JIT compilers, creating threads, loading a class, or some types of file I/O (more specifically, NIO direct byte buffers).
This distinction is important because it determines the approaches necessary to troubleshoot the root cause and to prevent a recurrence of these kind of errors.

Not all native memory depletions necessarily result in a Java OOM error. Other symptoms (such as excessive paging, errors in the standard error file, or even process termination) can accompany this condition.

However, in the case of an OOM exception from the JVM, the first place to check is standard error files of the Apache Tomcat or WebSphere Application Server instance. If the OOM condition is accompanied by errors messages indicating an inability to allocate buffer space, or to stack space, or a malloc() failure, the Java OOM exception was caused by native memory exhaustion.

If a javacore file was produced by the OOM exception (and with recommend JVM settings, it should be) the analysis should then proceed to that file.

Analyzing the javacore file

A javacore file is a formatted text file that is usually created by the JVM as a result of a system event, but can also be created by manual action, such as sending a signal. A javacore file contains information about the running JVM process, its threads, monitors, and memory consumption, and can be used to determine the type of out-of-memory condition.

In some cases, depending on the logic executing when the out-of-memory error occurred, it is straightforward to distinguish which kind of memory has been exhausted. There might be additional comments with the exception in the log file reporting the OOM error, or in the javacore file that is generated.

TITLE section

For example, in the TITLE subcomponent of the javacore file, the 1TISIGINFO line in this snippet from a javacore file makes it clear that the problem is in the Java heap space. Notice the "Java heap space" after "java/lang/OutOfMemoryError":
0SECTION       TITLE subcomponent dump routine
NULL           ===============================
1TISIGINFO     Dump Event "systhrow" (00040000) Detail "java/lang/OutOfMemoryError" "Java heap space" received 
1TIDATETIME    Date:                 2012/12/10 at 05:33:3
However, there are times that more information about memory exhaustion is not available in the log files or TITLE subcomponent of the javacore file. In those cases, more analysis of the associated javacore file is necessary.

MEMINFO section

The meminfo section of the javacore file contains information about how much Java heap space was free when the OOM condition occurred. In the example below, at the time the javacore file was generated, there was about 5 GB of heap space free out of a maximum size of 6 GB. So, if this javacore file was generated during an out-of-memory event, it was not a heap space problem.
NULL           ------------------------------------------------------------------------
0SECTION       MEMINFO subcomponent dump routine
NULL           =================================
1STHEAPFREE    Bytes of Heap Space Free: 14ACBBFD8 
1STHEAPALLOC   Bytes of Heap Space Allocated: 180000000 
Note: The Bytes of Heap Space Free and Bytes of Heap Space Allocated are displayed in Hex format.

Garbage collection (GC) HISTORY section

You should also check the garbage collection history section of the javacore file. If this section is empty, the OOM error was probably caused by a native memory shortage. If the history shows that garbage collection is running too frequently, the JVM can issue an OOM exception and the following message is recorded in the file, which points to a Java heap memory exhaustion.
 .........     j9mm.83 -     Forcing J9AllocateObject() to fail due to excessive GC
Also, check the requested bytes that triggered the last allocation failure. If that was very large (and larger than the available memory in the heap), the OOM was caused by the JVM heap space exhaustion.

In summary, if the analysis of the garbage collection history section of the javacore file shows no sign of excessive garbage collection, and there is memory available in the Java heap, the cause of the OOM exception is most likely a native heap depletion.

Java heap exhaustion

An out-of-memory exception occurs when the live object population of a JVM requires more space than is available in the Java managed heap. This situation can occur for one of the following reasons:
  • The Java heap size is not large enough for the workload that the JVM is performing
  • There is not enough contiguous memory in the heap for an object
  • There is an object leak, probably caused by faulty application logic

Analyzing the garbage collection logs

With a Java heap exhaustion, troubleshooting continues by (if not already enabled) enabling verbose garbage collection, and analyzing the verbose GC logs. The -verbose:gc switch causes the JVM to print messages when a garbage collection cycle begins and ends. These messages indicate how much heap space is consumed by live data on the heap, how much space has been reclaimed at the end of a collection cycle, and other helpful information. For more information, see verbose garbage collection.

If the heap size is not large enough, the solution is to increase the numeric value of the -Xmx and -Xms arguments that are specified to start the JVM. However, this can only be done if there is enough physical memory installed on the system (or allocated to the VM). It is very difficult to provide a definition of "enough" that covers all possible end-user situations; but as a general guideline, it is imperative that an administrator ensures that there is enough free memory on the Rational Team Concert host to prevent paging of the Java process address space with its increased heap size.

If the OOM error was generated because there is insufficient contiguous memory in the heap for the object being allocated, check the size of the object requested in the garbage collection log. If the size is not unusually large, the fix, also, is to increase heap size by modifying the numeric value of the -Xmx and -Xms arguments. The following extract shows an unusually large requested object:

<af type="nursery" id="226" timestamp="Mar 10 11:05:20 2013" intervalms="165215.654">
  <minimum requested_bytes="143302192" />
The request was memory for about a 142 MB object. If you encounter a situation such as this, and you are constrained from increasing the heap size by available physical memory, contact Rational customer support.

Finally, in the relatively rare case of a Java object leak, the amount of free space on the heap decreases after a garbage collection cycle over time. Increasing the size of the Java heap will delay, but still eventually result in, an out-of-memory exception. If there is physical memory to spare, increasing the heap size will be a useful workaround to reduce the mean time between failures, but at this point, you should engage IBM customer support for further assistance.

A Java object leak is caused when an application retains references to objects that are no longer in use. In a Java application, the programmer must remove references to objects that are no longer required, usually by setting references to null. When references are not removed, the object and anything the object references stays in the Java heap and cannot be removed. Such leaks can only be corrected by the IBM programmers.

Note that garbage collection errors do not always lead to out-of-memory errors. It is possible to search a verbose garbage-collection log for "JVMST*", and if errors appear, they can be looked up and checked against a list in this document: IBM JVM Garbage Collection and Storage Allocation techniques.

Native memory exhaustion

Native memory exhaustion is either simple or difficult to track down.

A Jazz administrator should first check the system configuration first. Is the JVM configured with a (say 4 GB) heap size on a system with the same amount (say 4GB) of physical memory? That will provide poor performance, and the high probability of a native memory OOM exception.

If the basic configuration seems OK, you will probably need to involve Rational customer support for assistance. However, if you suspect that native heap exhaustion is the source of the OOM exception, the one important distinction to make is identifying when the memory footprint of the Java process increases:

  1. Is there a continual increase?
  2. Is the increase only happening during the start of the application?
  3. Is the increase only happening under certain workload-related operations?

In the 6.0.x release stream due to the introduction of more applications being collocated on one application server, especially when the Lifecycle Query Engine(LQE) application resides alongside other CLM applications, these issues have become common on Windows. Native Out Of Memory Exceptions attempts to offer advice on recognizing these and also resolving them.

Data gathering

To obtain the data needed to make this distinction, the best approach is to run a script to collect native memory that is consumed by the Java process. These scripts or procedures are described in Setting up the generation of diagnostic data for an OutOfMemoryError. On the AIX operating system, there is an aix_memory_monitor.sh script that can be downloaded from that link to collect svmon data for this process. However, the aix_memory_monitor.sh script must be run prior to the occurrence of the OOM situation. Output from this script can then be analyzed with a tool, such as The GC and memory visualization tool from IBM.


In the case of a continual increase in the Java process memory footprint (case 1 above), the root cause is probably a native memory leak.

In the case of an increase only during the application startup (case 2 above), the JVM does not have access to enough native memory within its address space. Check that technote 1265655 - Native-memory shortage causes out of memory error does not apply, and if not, adding more physical memory to the system (or allocating more memory to the VM) is necessary.

In the case of an increase that is only seen under workload-related operations (case 3 above), an assessment must be made to determine whether the following situations are occurring:

  • The application logic is using native memory inefficiently
  • The workload peaks that result in these increases can be modulated
If neither of the above is true, adding more physical memory to the system (or allocating more memory to the VM) is necessary.

Additional debugging steps will involve data collection including not only the Java process memory footprint data monitoring you have performed, but also periodic javacore files, verbose GC logs, and even (possibly) generating a Java heap dump (.phd) file.

Other memory issues

You can reduce the probability of encountering native memory exhaustion by configuring sufficient memory on the CLM application host. Check Does my server have enough memory?.

Although this page has focused on the OOM errors, consideration should also given to memory on all architectural components in a CLM configuration. A broad overview of memory demands on the client system, the load balancer, the IHS server, and the database server should be performed.

An end user can experience an OOM error when starting an Eclipse client. For more information, see technote 1624397 - Rational Team Concert Eclipse client fails to start with Out of Memory error.

IBM JVM heap dump files can be analyzed with IBM HeapAnalyzer )

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