Stack vs Heap

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Stack:

  • Stored in computer RAM just like the heap.
  • Variables created on the stack will go out of scope and automatically deallocate.
  • Much faster to allocate in comparison to variables on the heap.
  • Implemented with an actual stack data structure.
  • Stores local data, return addresses, used for parameter passing
  • Can have a stack overflow when too much of the stack is used. (mostly from infinite (or too much) recursion, very large allocations)
  • Data created on the stack can be used without pointers.
  • You would use the stack if you know exactly how much data you need to allocate before compile time and it is not too big.
  • Usually has a maximum size already determined when your program starts

Heap:

  • Stored in computer RAM just like the stack.
  • In C, variables on the heap must be destroyed manually and never fall out of scope. The data is freed with delete, delete[], or free
  • Slower to allocate in comparison to variables on the stack.
  • Used on demand to allocate a block of data for use by the program.
  • Can have fragmentation when there are a lot of allocations and deallocations
  • In C++ data created on the heap will be pointed to by pointers and allocated with new or malloc
  • Can have allocation failures if too big of a buffer is requested to be allocated.
  • You would use the heap if you don’t know exactly how much data you will need at runtime or if you need to allocate a lot of data.
  • Responsible for memory leaks
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