Stack vs Heap Memory – Difference Between Them

Key Difference Between Stack and Heap Memory

  • Stack is a linear data structure whereas Heap is a hierarchical data structure.
  • Stack memory will never become fragmented whereas Heap memory can become fragmented as blocks of memory are first allocated and then freed.
  • Stack accesses local variables only while Heap allows you to access variables globally.
  • Stack variables can’t be resized whereas Heap variables can be resized.
  • Stack memory is allocated in a contiguous block whereas Heap memory is allocated in any random order.
  • Stack doesn’t require to de-allocate variables whereas in Heap de-allocation is needed.
  • Stack allocation and deallocation are done by compiler instructions whereas Heap allocation and deallocation is done by the programmer.

What is a Stack?

A stack is a special area of computer’s memory which stores temporary variables created by a function. In stack, variables are declared, stored and initialized during runtime.

It is a temporary storage memory. When the computing task is complete, the memory of the variable will be automatically erased. The stack section mostly contains methods, local variable, and reference variables.

What is Heap?

The heap is a memory used by programming languages to store global variables. By default, all global variable are stored in heap memory space. It supports Dynamic memory allocation.

The heap is not managed automatically for you and is not as tightly managed by the CPU. It is more like a free-floating region of memory.

Key Differences between Stack and Heap

Key Differences Between Stack and Heap

Parameter Stack Heap
Type of data structures A stack is a linear data structure. Heap is a hierarchical data structure.
Access speed High-speed access Slower compared to stack
Space management Space managed efficiently by OS so memory will never become fragmented. Heap Space not used as efficiently. Memory can become fragmented as blocks of memory first allocated and then freed.
Access Local variables only It allows you to access variables globally.
Limit of space size Limit on stack size dependent on OS. Does not have a specific limit on memory size.
Resize Variables cannot be resized Variables can be resized.
Memory Allocation Memory is allocated in a contiguous block. Memory is allocated in any random order.
Allocation and Deallocation Automatically done by compiler instructions. It is manually done by the programmer.
Deallocation Does not require to de-allocate variables. Explicit de-allocation is needed.
Cost Less More
Implementation A stack can be implemented in 3 ways simple array based, using dynamic memory, and Linked list based. Heap can be implemented using array and trees.
Main Issue Shortage of memory Memory fragmentation
Locality of reference Automatic compile time instructions. Adequate
Flexibility Fixed size Resizing is possible
Access time Faster Slower

Advantages of using Stack

Advantages of using Stack

Here, are the pros/benefits of using stack:

  • Helps you to manage the data in a Last In First Out(LIFO) method which is not possible with Linked list and array.
  • When a function is called the local variables are stored in a stack, and it is automatically destroyed once returned.
  • A stack is used when a variable is not used outside that function.
  • It allows you to control how memory is allocated and deallocated.
  • Stack automatically cleans up the object.
  • Not easily corrupted
  • Variables cannot be resized.

Advantages of using Heap

Advantages of using Heap

Pros/benefit of using heap memory are:

  • Heap helps you to find the greatest and minimum number
  • Garbage collection runs on the heap memory to free the memory used by the object.
  • Heap method also used in the Priority Queue.
  • It allows you to access variables globally.
  • Heap doesn’t have any limit on memory size.

Disadvantages of using Stack

Cons/Drawbacks of using Stack memory are:

  • Stack memory is very limited.
  • Creating too many objects on the stack can increase the risk of stack overflow.
  • Random access is not possible.
  • Variable storage will be overwritten, which sometimes leads to undefined behavior of the function or program.
  • The stack will fall outside of the memory area, which might lead to an abnormal termination.

Disadvantages of using Heap

Cons/drawbacks of using Heaps memory are:

  • It can provide the maximum memory an OS can provide
  • It takes more time to compute.
  • Memory management is more complicated in heap memory as it is used globally.
  • It takes too much time in execution compared to the stack.

When to use the Heap or stack?

You should use heap when you require to allocate a large block of memory. For example, you want to create a large size array or big structure to keep that variable around a long time then you should allocate it on the heap.

However, If you are working with relatively small variables that are only required until the function using them is alive. Then you need to use the stack, which is faster and easier.