Debug a memory leak in .NET
This article applies to: ✔️ .NET Core 3.1 SDK and later versions
Memory can leak when your app references objects that it no longer needs to perform the desired task. Referencing these objects prevents the garbage collector from reclaiming the memory used. That can result in performance degradation and an OutOfMemoryException exception being thrown.
This tutorial demonstrates the tools to analyze a memory leak in a .NET app using the .NET diagnostics CLI tools. If you're on Windows, you may be able to use Visual Studio's Memory Diagnostic tools to debug the memory leak.
This tutorial uses a sample app that intentionally leaks memory, as an exercise. You can also analyze apps that unintentionally leak memory.
In this tutorial, you will:
- Examine managed memory usage with dotnet-counters.
- Generate a dump file.
- Analyze the memory usage using the dump file.
The tutorial uses:
- .NET Core 3.1 SDK or a later version.
- dotnet-counters to check managed memory usage.
- dotnet-dump to collect and analyze a dump file (includes the SOS debugging extension).
- A sample debug target app to diagnose.
The tutorial assumes the sample apps and tools are installed and ready to use.
Examine managed memory usage
Before you start collecting diagnostic data to help root cause this scenario, make sure you're actually seeing a memory leak (growth in memory usage). You can use the dotnet-counters tool to confirm that.
Open a console window and navigate to the directory where you downloaded and unzipped the sample debug target. Run the target:
From a separate console, find the process ID:
The output should be similar to:
4807 DiagnosticScena /home/user/git/samples/core/diagnostics/DiagnosticScenarios/bin/Debug/netcoreapp3.0/DiagnosticScenarios
Now, check managed memory usage with the dotnet-counters tool. The
--refresh-interval specifies the number of seconds between refreshes:
dotnet-counters monitor --refresh-interval 1 -p 4807
The live output should be similar to:
Press p to pause, r to resume, q to quit. Status: Running [System.Runtime] # of Assemblies Loaded 118 % Time in GC (since last GC) 0 Allocation Rate (Bytes / sec) 37,896 CPU Usage (%) 0 Exceptions / sec 0 GC Heap Size (MB) 4 Gen 0 GC / sec 0 Gen 0 Size (B) 0 Gen 1 GC / sec 0 Gen 1 Size (B) 0 Gen 2 GC / sec 0 Gen 2 Size (B) 0 LOH Size (B) 0 Monitor Lock Contention Count / sec 0 Number of Active Timers 1 ThreadPool Completed Work Items / sec 10 ThreadPool Queue Length 0 ThreadPool Threads Count 1 Working Set (MB) 83
Focusing on this line:
GC Heap Size (MB) 4
You can see that the managed heap memory is 4 MB right after startup.
Now, go to the URL
Observe that the memory usage has grown to 30 MB.
GC Heap Size (MB) 30
By watching the memory usage, you can safely say that memory is growing or leaking. The next step is to collect the right data for memory analysis.
Generate memory dump
When analyzing possible memory leaks, you need access to the app's memory heap to analyze the memory contents. Looking at relationships between objects, you create theories as to why memory isn't being freed. A common diagnostic data source is a memory dump on Windows or the equivalent core dump on Linux. To generate a dump of a .NET application, you can use the dotnet-dump tool.
Using the sample debug target previously started, run the following command to generate a Linux core dump:
dotnet-dump collect -p 4807
The result is a core dump located in the same folder.
Writing minidump with heap to ./core_20190430_185145 Complete
For a comparison over time, let the original process continue running after collecting the first dump and collect a second dump the same way. You would then have two dumps over a period of time that you can compare to see where the memory usage is growing.
Restart the failed process
Once the dump is collected, you should have sufficient information to diagnose the failed process. If the failed process is running on a production server, now it's the ideal time for short-term remediation by restarting the process.
In this tutorial, you're now done with the Sample debug target and you can close it. Navigate to the terminal that started the server, and press Ctrl+C.
Analyze the core dump
Now that you have a core dump generated, use the dotnet-dump tool to analyze the dump:
dotnet-dump analyze core_20190430_185145
core_20190430_185145 is the name of the core dump you want to analyze.
If you see an error complaining that libdl.so cannot be found, you may have to install the libc6-dev package. For more information, see Prerequisites for .NET on Linux.
You'll be presented with a prompt where you can enter SOS commands. Commonly, the first thing you want to look at is the overall state of the managed heap:
> dumpheap -stat Statistics: MT Count TotalSize Class Name ... 00007f6c1eeefba8 576 59904 System.Reflection.RuntimeMethodInfo 00007f6c1dc021c8 1749 95696 System.SByte 00000000008c9db0 3847 116080 Free 00007f6c1e784a18 175 128640 System.Char 00007f6c1dbf5510 217 133504 System.Object 00007f6c1dc014c0 467 416464 System.Byte 00007f6c21625038 6 4063376 testwebapi.Controllers.Customer 00007f6c20a67498 200000 4800000 testwebapi.Controllers.Customer 00007f6c1dc00f90 206770 19494060 System.String Total 428516 objects
Here you can see that most objects are either
You can use the
dumpheap command again with the method table (MT) to get a list of all the
> dumpheap -mt 00007f6c1dc00f90 Address MT Size ... 00007f6ad09421f8 00007faddaa50f90 94 ... 00007f6ad0965b20 00007f6c1dc00f90 80 00007f6ad0965c10 00007f6c1dc00f90 80 00007f6ad0965d00 00007f6c1dc00f90 80 00007f6ad0965df0 00007f6c1dc00f90 80 00007f6ad0965ee0 00007f6c1dc00f90 80 Statistics: MT Count TotalSize Class Name 00007f6c1dc00f90 206770 19494060 System.String Total 206770 objects
You can now use the
gcroot command on a
System.String instance to see how and why the object is rooted:
> gcroot 00007f6ad09421f8 Thread 3f68: 00007F6795BB58A0 00007F6C1D7D0745 System.Diagnostics.Tracing.CounterGroup.PollForValues() [/_/src/System.Private.CoreLib/shared/System/Diagnostics/Tracing/CounterGroup.cs @ 260] rbx: (interior) -> 00007F6BDFFFF038 System.Object -> 00007F69D0033570 testwebapi.Controllers.Processor -> 00007F69D0033588 testwebapi.Controllers.CustomerCache -> 00007F69D00335A0 System.Collections.Generic.List`1[[testwebapi.Controllers.Customer, DiagnosticScenarios]] -> 00007F6C000148A0 testwebapi.Controllers.Customer -> 00007F6AD0942258 testwebapi.Controllers.Customer -> 00007F6AD09421F8 System.String HandleTable: 00007F6C98BB15F8 (pinned handle) -> 00007F6BDFFFF038 System.Object -> 00007F69D0033570 testwebapi.Controllers.Processor -> 00007F69D0033588 testwebapi.Controllers.CustomerCache -> 00007F69D00335A0 System.Collections.Generic.List`1[[testwebapi.Controllers.Customer, DiagnosticScenarios]] -> 00007F6C000148A0 testwebapi.Controllers.Customer -> 00007F6AD0942258 testwebapi.Controllers.Customer -> 00007F6AD09421F8 System.String Found 2 roots.
You can see that the
String is directly held by the
Customer object and indirectly held by a
You can continue dumping out objects to see that most
String objects follow a similar pattern. At this point, the investigation provided sufficient information to identify the root cause in your code.
This general procedure allows you to identify the source of major memory leaks.
Clean up resources
In this tutorial, you started a sample web server. This server should have been shut down as explained in the Restart the failed process section.
You can also delete the dump file that was created.
- dotnet-trace to list processes
- dotnet-counters to check managed memory usage
- dotnet-dump to collect and analyze a dump file
- Use Visual Studio to debug memory leaks