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1. Overview

A dump is data queried from a storage medium and stored somewhere for further analysis. The Java Virtual Machine (JVM) helps to manage memory in Java, and in the case of errors, we can get a dump file from the JVM to diagnose errors.

In this tutorial, we’ll explore three common Java dump files – heap dump, thread dump, and core dump – and understand their use cases.

2. Heap Dump

During runtime, the JVM creates the heap, which contains references to objects in use in a running Java application. The heap dump contains a saved copy of the current state of all objects in use at runtime.

Additionally, it’s used to analyze the OutOfMemoryError errors in Java.

Furthermore, the heap dump can be in two formats – the classic format and the Portable Heap Format (PHD).

The classic format is human-readable, while the PHD is in binary and needs tools for further analysis. Also, PHD is the default for a heap dump.

Moreover, modern heap dumps also contain some thread information. Starting from Java 6 update 14, a heap dump also contains stack traces for threads. The stack traces in the heap dump connect objects to the threads using them.

Analysis tools like Eclipse Memory Analyzer include support to retrieve this information.

2.1. Use Case

Heap dumps can help when analyzing OutOfMemoryError in a Java application.

Let’s see some example code that throws OutOfMemoryError:

public class HeapDump {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        List numbers = new ArrayList<>();
        try {
            while (true) {
        } catch (OutOfMemoryError e) {
            System.out.println("Out of memory error occurred!");

In the example code above, we create a scenario of an infinite loop until the heap memory is full. As we know, the new keyword helps to allocate memory on the heap in Java.

To capture the heap dump of the code above, we’ll need a tool. One of the most used tools is jmap.

First, we need to get the process ID of all running Java processes on our machine by running the jps command:

$ jps

The command above outputs to the console all running Java processes:

12789 Launcher
13302 Jps
7517 HeapDump

Here, our process of interest is HeapDump. Therefore, let’s run the jmap command with the HeapDump process ID to capture the heap dump:

 $ jmap -dump:live,file=hdump.hprof 7517

The command above generates the hdump.hprof file in the project root directory.

Finally, we can use tools like Eclipse Memory Analyzer to analyze the dump file.

3. Thread Dump

The thread dump contains the snapshot of all threads in a running Java program at a specific instant.

A thread is the smallest part of a process that helps a program to operate efficiently by running multiple tasks concurrently.

Furthermore, a thread dump can help diagnose efficiency issues in a Java application. Thus, it’s a vital tool for analyzing performance issues, especially when an application is slow.

Additionally, it can help detect threads stuck in an infinite loop. It can also help identify deadlocks, where multiple threads are waiting for one other to release resources.

Additionally, it can identify a situation where certain threads aren’t getting enough CPU time. This can help identify performance bottlenecks.

3.1. Use Case

Here’s an example program that can potentially have a slow performance due to a long-running task:

public class ThreadDump {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
    private static void longRunningTask() {
        for (int i = 0; i < Integer.MAX_VALUE; i++) {
            if (Thread.currentThread().isInterrupted()) {

In the sample code above, we create a method that loops through to Integer.MAX_VALUE and outputs the value to the console. This is a long-running operation and will potentially be a performance issue.

To analyze the performance, we can capture the thread dump. First, let’s find the process ID of all running Java programs:

$ jps

The jps command outputs all Java processes to the console:

3042 ThreadDump
964 Main
3032 Launcher
3119 Jps

We have an interest in the ThreadDump process ID. Next, let’s use the jstack command with the process ID to take the thread dump:

$ jstack -l 3042 > slow-running-task-thread-dump.txt

The command above captures the thread dump and saves it in a txt file for further analysis.

4. Core Dump

The core dump, also known as the crash dump, contains the snapshot of a program when the program crashed or abruptly terminated.

The JVM runs bytecode and not native code. Hence, Java code cannot cause core dumps.

However, some Java programs use Java Native Interface (JNI) to run native code directly. It’s possible for the JNI to crash the JVM because external libraries can crash. We can take the core dump at that instant and analyze it.

Furthermore, a core dump is an OS-level dump and can be used to find the details of native calls when a JVM crashes.

4.1. Use Case

Let’s see an example that generates a core dump using JNI.

First, let’s create a class named CoreDump to load a native library:

public class CoreDump {
    private native void core();
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        new CoreDump().core();
    static {

Next, let’s compile the Java code using the javac command:


Then, let’s generate a header for native method implementation by running the javac -h command:

$ javac -h .

Finally, let’s implement a native method in C that will crash the JVM:

#include <jni.h>
#include "CoreDump.h"
void core() {
    int *p = NULL;
    *p = 0;
JNIEXPORT void JNICALL Java_CoreDump_core (JNIEnv *env, jobject obj) {
void main() {

Let’s compile the native code by running the gcc command:

$ gcc -fPIC -I"/usr/lib/jvm/java-17-graalvm/include" -I"/usr/lib/jvm/java-17-graalvm/include/linux" -shared -o CoreDump.c

This generates shared libraries named Next, let’s compile the Java code with the shared libraries:

$ java -Djava.library.path=. CoreDump

The native method crashed the JVM and generated a core dump in the project directory:

// ...
# A fatal error has been detected by the Java Runtime Environment:
# SIGSEGV (0xb) at pc=0x00007f9c48878119, pid=65743, tid=65744
# C  []  core+0x10
# Core dump will be written. Default location: Core dumps may be processed with 
# "/usr/lib/systemd/systemd-coredump %P %u %g %s %t %c %h" (or dumping to /core-java-perf/core.65743)
# An error report file with more information is saved as:
# ~/core-java-perf/hs_err_pid65743.log
// ...

The above output shows the crash information and the location of the dump file.

5. Key Differences

Here’s a summary table showing the key differences between three types of Java dump files:

Dump Type Use Case Contains
Heap Dump Diagnose memory issues like OutOfMemoryError Snapshot of objects in the Java heap
Thread Dump Troubleshoot performance issues, thread deadlocks, and infinite loops Snapshot of all thread states in the JVM
Core Dump Debug crashes caused by native libraries Process state when JVM crashes

6. Conclusion

In this article, we learned the differences between heap dump, thread dump, and core dump by looking at their uses. Additionally, we saw example code with different issues and generated a dump file for further analysis. Each dump file serves a different purpose for troubleshooting Java applications.

As always, the source code for the examples is available over on GitHub.

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