Memory Leak in C/C++

4 minute read

What is Memory Leak?

  • Memory Leak is the improper use of Dynamic Memory

  • It happens when we get some memory (new) on the Heap and we do not free it (delete) when were dont using it, so our application is golding onto some unused memory on the Heap

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Casino Game Code (casino.cpp)


int cash = 100;  // Global Variable

void Play(int bet)
    char C[3] = {'J', 'Q','K'};
    std::cout << "Shuffling...." << std::endl;
    srand(time(NULL));             // Seeding random number generator
    for (int i = 0; i < 5; i++)
        int x = rand() % 3;
        int y = rand() % 3;
        int temp = C[x];
        C[x] = C[y];
        C[y] = temp; // Swaps characters at position x and y


    int playersGuess;
    std::cout << "What is the position of queen - 1,2 or 3? ";
    std::cin >> playersGuess;

    if (C[playersGuess - 1] == 'Q'){
        cash += 3*bet;
        std::cout << "You win ! Result = " << "'"<< C[0] << " " << C[1] << " " << C[2] << "'" << std::endl;
        std::cout << "Total Cash: " << cash << std::endl;
    else {
        cash -= bet;
        std::cout << "You lose !!! Result = " << "'"<< C[0] << " " << C[1] << " " << C[2] << "'" << std::endl;
        std::cout << "Total Cash = " << cash << std::endl;


int main()
    int bet;
    std::cout << "Welcome to the Virtual Casino \n";
    std::cout << "Total cash = " << cash << std::endl;

    while (cash > 0)
        std::cout << "What is your bet? ($) ";

        std::cin >> bet;

        if (bet == 0 || bet > cash )
        std::cout << "\n *************************************** \n";



Welcome to the Virtual Casino 
Total cash = 100
What is your bet? ($) 20
What is the position of queen - 1,2 or 3? 2
You win ! Result = 'J Q K'
Total Cash: 160
What is your bet? ($) 100
What is the position of queen - 1,2 or 3? 1
You lose !!! Result = JQKTotal Cash = 60

What is your bet? ($) 0

Above is a sample of use using the game. Were using the memory on the stack and not allocating new memory anywhere so this program doesn’t get bigger in terms of using memory.

But if want to allocate new memory on the Heap we can rewrite our statement:

Old Code:

char C[3] = {'J', 'Q','K'};

Updated Code:

char *C = new char[3]
C[0] = 'J';
C[1] = 'Q';
C[2] = 'K';

We have created an Array on the Heap and C is a pointer to Character (Char) that is pointing to the base address of the Array.

Now what happens when we run this Code?

  • The memory consumption increases!!!!

Some amount of memory from the stack is allocated for its execution. When the program starts executing, first the main method is invoked or called. All the local variables of main will sit inside the stack frame in our code (bet) and we had a Global variable called cash!

When we play our Casino Game, our main function makes multiple calls to play function. What happens when a particular function makes calls to another function? That particular function is paused and the memory is allocated for the execution of the called function. So main function will pause and play will start to execute.

Case 1:

Character Array is on the stack, it was not created using a call to new

  • Character C sits in the stack frame

When the execution of Play() will finish, control will return back to main() and memory that was allocated for the execution of play function will be reclaimed.

Anytime a function call finishes the memory that is allocated on the stack is reclaimed! There is one stack frame corresponding to each call and as soon as that call is finished the memory is claimed back.

All the local variables get cleared each time the function call finishes.

For anything on the stack we don’t have to worry about it’s deallocation, it happens automatically when the function call finishes!

Case 2:

Character Array is on the Heap

We will still have local variable C, but this variable will be of type pointer to character, and we will create a call using the new keyword to create the array on the Heap. And this pointer (C) will point to the particular memory block.

Anything that is on the Heap has to be accessed through a pointer variable.

Now when the call to play function will finish the memory allocated for the execution will be reclaimed so all the local variables will go away. But the memory on the Heap will lie unused and unreferenced and will not be deallocated.

Anything on the Heap has to be explicitly deallocated by making the call to delete keyword!

In our game we will make multiple calls to the Play() function and each time we will create a new memory block on the Heap.

Heap is not fixed in size and our application can claim/get more memory, if were not deleting memory on the Heap then we are depleting and wasting memory which is an important resource.

Memory Leaks is nothing nbut growth of Garbage in the Heap.

Languages like Java and C#, garbage is automatically cleared from the heap, so a programmer does not have to worry about “freeing” memory.

How would we fix our code in Case 2?

At the end of the Play() function we can write the line:

delete C;

This will deallocate memory off of the Heap after each function call!

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