Dr. Ahmed G. Abo-Khalil

Electrical Engineering Department

Crash (computing)

A crash (or system crash) in computing is a condition where a computer or a program, either an application or part of the operating system, ceases to function properly, often exiting after encountering errors. Often the offending program may appear to freeze or hang until a crash reporting service documents details of the crash. If the program is a critical part of the operating system kernel, the entire computer may crash. This is different from a hang or freeze where the application or OS continues to run without obvious response to input.

Many crashes are the result of the execution of a single machine instruction, but the causes of this are many fold. Typical causes are when the program counter is set to an incorrect address or a buffer overflow overwrites a portion of program code due to an earlier bug. In either case, it is quite common for the processor to attempt to execute data or random memory values. Since all data values are possible but only some values are valid instructions, this often results in an illegal instruction exception. By chance such data or random values could be valid (though unplanned) instructions. One might say that the original bug that upset the program counter "caused" the crash, but the actual fault was an illegal instruction some time later. The art of debugging such crashes is connecting the actual cause of the crash (easily determined) with the code that set off the chain of events. This is often very far from obvious—the original bug is usually perfectly valid code from the processor's perspective.

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