What Does "Heap Check" Mean on a Cell Phone?

Heap check errors often occur when taking a photo.
... James Woodson/Photodisc/Getty Images

Heap check mode on a cell phone is a debugging tool that the phone maker includes to check for errors with the phone’s operating system and memory. Heap check notifications appear when a cell phone has an error writing to any of its memory options. Unfortunately, heap check error messages typically cause a phone to stop responding.

1 What Is Heap

A phone’s “heap” is its unused memory, typically the free storage space in its RAM. The heap is used as a buffer to temporarily store input information before that information is delivered to a specified output. For example, the heap is used when your phone’s camera takes a picture, just before that image is displayed on your screen and saved in your photo album. Newer phones may call the heap a “temporary buffer” in their error messages.

2 Heap Checking

Heap check mode is a debugging process that looks specifically at the heap in a phone’s memory. The size of information in the heap changes based on which application is running; your cell phone will always monitor to see if your app requests to use too much space or requires a larger buffer than is available. When the request is too large, the phone’s operating system performs a heap check to see what data is being processed and save what information it can. Unfortunately, this check halts most systems and will often temporarily lock your phone.

3 Explaining Errors

Errors are typically caused by problems in an app’s code or when the app tries to save too much information in the temporary buffer. Cell phone cameras are a typical cause of heap check errors because photo files are large relative to the size of a phone’s buffer and memory, allowing the buffer to be overwhelmed. If the buffer is the wrong size or not large enough to hold the image, the heap check mode will initiate and provide you with an error message. The operating system, and sometimes the app, will try to remedy the problem by adjusting its code when the phone is reset.

4 Removing the Check

When you receive a heap check message, you need to fully reset your phone so the operating system can attempt to repair any damaged code and can clear out its temporary buffer. To do this, turn off your phone and remove both the battery and any additional memory cards. Wait at least 10 seconds before you put the battery back in and turn it on. If the phone crashed when taking a picture, you need to start up your camera app before you reinsert your memory card, allowing the app to adjust to your phone’s own memory.

Geoff Whiting is a writer and copy editor who has specialized in business technology, consumer electronics and research reports since 2007. He has written for national magazines like "American Shipper" and "BIC Magazine," has written daily news articles for FierceMarkets, and has crafted research reports for Rider Research, Intel and Spotify.