What Does Thrashing Mean?

Thrashing in computing is an issue caused when virtual memory is in use. It occurs when the virtual memory of a computer is rapidly exchanging data for data on hard disk, to the exclusion of most application-level processing. As the main memory gets filled, additional pages need to be swapped in and out of virtual memory. The swapping causes a very high rate of hard disk access. Thrashing can continue for a long duration until the underlying issue is addressed. Thrashing can potentially result in total collapse of the hard drive of the computer.


Thrashing is also known as disk thrashing.

Techopedia Explains Thrashing

Thrashing happens when too many computer processes compete for inadequate memory resources. Thrashing can occur due to several factors, with the most prominent reason being insufficient RAM or memory leakage. In a computer, some applications have higher priorities than others and this can also attribute to thrashing when there is a lack of memory resources. Thrashing can cause slowdown of the system performance since data transfer has to be between the hard drive and physical memory. One of the early signs of thrashing is when an application stops responding while the disk drive light blinks on and off. The operating system often warns users of low virtual memory when thrashing is occurring.

A temporary solution for thrashing is to eliminate one or more running applications. One of the recommended ways to eliminate thrashing is to add more memory to main memory. Another way of resolving the issue of thrashing is by adjusting the size of the swap file.


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Margaret Rouse

Margaret Rouse is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical, business audience. Over the past twenty years her explanations have appeared on TechTarget websites and she's been cited as an authority in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine and Discovery Magazine.Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. If you have a suggestion for a new definition or how to improve a technical explanation, please email Margaret or contact her…