The following is the first few sections of a chapter from The Busy Coder's Guide to Android Development, plus headings for the remaining major sections, to give you an idea about the content of the chapter.

Issues with Application Heap

RAM. Developers nowadays are used to having lots of it, and a virtual machine capable of using as much of it as exists (and more, given swap files and page files).

“Graybeards” — like the author of this book — distinctly remember a time when we had 16KB of RAM and were happy for it. Such graybeards would also appreciate it if you would get off their respective lawns.

Android comes somewhere in the middle. We have orders of magnitude more RAM than, say, the TRS-80 Model III. We do not have as much RAM as does the modern notebook, let alone a Web server. As such, it is easy to run out of RAM if you do not take sufficient care.

There are two facets of memory issues with Android:

This part of the book examines memory-related issues, with this chapter focusing on the application heap. Another chapter will deal with system RAM issues. These are not to be confused with any memory-related issues inherent to graybeards.


Understanding this chapter requires that you have read the core chapters and understand how Android apps are set up and operate, particularly the chapter on Android’s process model.

You Are in a Heap of Trouble

When we think of “memory” and Java-style programming, the primary form of memory is the heap. The heap holds all of our Java objects – from an Activity to a widget to a String.

Traditional Java applications have an initial heap size determined by the virtual machine, possibly configured via command-line options when the program was run. Traditional Java applications can also request additional memory from the OS, up to some maximum, also configurable.

Android applications have the same basic structure, with very limited configurability and much lower maximums than you might expect.

The original Android devices had a heap limit of 16MB. As screens increase in resolution, the heap limit tends to rise, but only to a point. 32MB to 64MB of heap space is fairly typical, but less-expensive devices, such as Android One models, will tend towards the lower end of that range.

This heap limit can be problematic. For example, each widget or layout manager instance takes around 1KB of heap space. This is why AdapterView provides the hooks for view recycling — we cannot have a ListView with literally thousands of row views without potentially running out of heap.

API Level 11+ supports applications requesting a “large heap”. This is for applications that specifically need tons of RAM, such as an image editor to be used on a tablet. This is not for applications that run out of heap due to leaks or sloppy programming. Bear in mind that users will feel effects from large-heap applications, in that their other applications will be kicked out of memory more quickly, possibly irritating them. Also, garbage collection on large-heap applications runs more slowly, consuming more CPU time. To enable the large heap, add android:largeHeap="true" to the <application> element of your manifest. Finally, bear in mind that your “large heap” may not be any bigger than your regular heap would have been, as the “large heap” size is determined by the device manufacturer and takes into account things like available system RAM.

Determining Your Heap Size At Runtime

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Fragments of Memory

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Getting a Trim

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Warning: Contains Graphic Images

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Releasing SQLite Memory

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The 1MB IPC Transaction Limit

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