What are the Consequences of Memory Leaks in Programming?
Rob Turner

Memory leaks are a common complication associated with programming which can result in a number of minor and major issues if they go unfixed.
Here is a brief insight into the basics of memory leaks, what conundrums they create and what you can do to deal with them as and when they do occur.

Quick overview

In the simplest terms memory leaks arise in the event that software monopolizes part of the available memory and then fails to relinquish this once a given process or task has been completed.
Memory spaces are often automatically allocated by apps, then released just as seamlessly, although it is also possible for programmers to handle this manually if necessary. It is sometimes in the case of a manual memory space allocation that a leak can occur, for example if the code does not also include the call to free up the space needed for a particular object at a particular time.

Preventing memory leaks

In terms of working out how to prevent memory leaks, your approach will vary depending on the programming language you are using.

In the case of Python, for example, you need to look for common root causes ranging from complications with the underlying libraries to reference cycles.
PHP can also conjure up unwanted memory leaks in a similar way to Python with regards to cyclical references, but also suffer if extensions are used incorrectly.

When it comes to Node JS, leaks are linked to objects of different lifespans being combined in a single snippet, which can effectively double down on the memory allocation whenever they are requested.

Detecting the symptoms

Memory leaks can start off as a small and almost undetectable issue, yet over time will gather momentum and eventually overwhelm the systems that they impact.

This means that you should be on the lookout for them wherever possible, and take action to fix them rather than allowing them to fester. This is not only about preserving the integrity of the way your apps and hardware resources operate, but also about ensuring that these errors do not end up costing you cold, hard cash through lost productivity and user disgruntlement.

Unexpected and seemingly inexplicable program slowdown is one of the most conspicuous signs of a memory leak getting out of hand. Crashes are also commonly linked with memory links, especially if they occur while the app is in the process of shutting down.

It is also worth noting that memory leaks are a potential vulnerability from a security perspective, since if malicious third parties catch wind of them, they can be used to leverage DDoS attacks and other types of cybercriminal incursions. So it is easy to see why remedying them should be a priority wherever possible.

Appreciating other consequences

From an end user perspective, memory leaks are a bother because of the way that the guilty app can continue to hold sway over system memory regardless of whether it is currently being used or is just sitting idle in the background.

Ultimately you need to think about the impact that memory leaks will have on the reputation of your app and organization as a whole, and use this as yet further motivation to find and fix them.

Bear in mind that investigating memory leaks is trickier in the earlier stages of app development, and they may only become apparent much later. Whatever the case, being aware of their existence and vigilant of their effects and consequences should give you the edge and ensure you can fight against them effectively.