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 System RAM

Your application heap is your little corner of the system RAM on the device that you focus on in your Java development. However, there are other things that you might do that consume system RAM, such as use the NDK to add C/C++ code to your app. How much system RAM you consume overall will have an impact on user acceptance of your app, as the more RAM you use, the more frequently the user’s other apps are terminated to make room for you. And, as a result, the more system RAM you use, the more likely it is that your process will be terminated when you are not in the foreground, to free up RAM for other apps. Hence, while system RAM is not something you necessarily think about as often as you do your application heap, it is something that you should pay attention to, at least a little bit.

This chapter will explain a bit more about the relationship between your app and system RAM, how you can measure how much system RAM your app is consuming, and how you can reduce that consumption.


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. Reading the chapter on issues with the application heap is also a good idea.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Alas, we have not invented the device with infinite RAM, nor the application that takes zero memory. In fact, our devices have fairly limited RAM (e.g., 1GB), and our apps therefore fight over that memory. That includes both apps that the user runs explicitly (e.g., via the home screen launcher) and apps that run based upon external factors (e.g., the app that receives a GCM push event and uses that trigger to update some data).

The good news is that the user tends to be a bit oblivious to all of the comings and goings of apps. Android keeps process around while it can and terminates them as needed to free up system RAM for other processes, without the user’s explicit involvement. Of course, power users might try to employ “task managers” and the like to be more involved in decision-making, but that’s something they opted into, not something that was forced upon them, the way that older mobile operating systems like Windows Mobile required.

However, there is a fundamental assumption in Android that apps play fair. The per-process heap limits — and the fact that apps do not necessarily have to use all the way up to those limits — means that a given Android device can power many processes at once. That starts to break down when apps do various things to consume an excessive amount of system RAM, more than what the per-process heap limit would normally constrain them to. Hence, it is a good idea to keep tabs on how much you use of system RAM, so that you can be a “good citizen” and not cause the user undue angst or force them to employ task managers to try to keep you in line.

Contributors to System RAM Consumption

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Measuring System RAM Consumption: Tools

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Measuring System RAM Consumption: Runtime

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Learn To Let Go (Of Your Heap)

The preview of this section apparently resembled a Pokémon.