We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is Reference Counting?

By T.S. Adams
Updated May 16, 2024
Our promise to you
EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At EasyTechJunkie, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Reference counting is a computer programming technique used to streamline memory management, allowing the computer to instantly know when it is "safe" to release a particular value or block of values from memory. When programming, economy is crucial, so that programs can be run on the widest possible range of computer hardware. Random Access Memory (RAM) is is an important but finite resource for a computer. Keeping program data stored in RAM is one of the fastest ways to improve the response time of a program, but consuming too much system RAM makes the program a resource hog, an undesirable trait from the end-user's point of view. Reference counting acts to balance this by keeping data in RAM just as long as it is needed by the program.

The technique of reference counting works by keeping track of the number and name of the objects the program is using. Think of computer memory like a child's room filled with toys, and storage space on the hard drive like a chest of toys in the room. Reference counting keeps track of the specific "toys" (objects) the program (child) is playing with at any one time; in other words, the number of objects that are currently on the "floor." As soon as the program stops playing with a specific object, reference counting takes note of this, and ships the object back into storage on the hard drive, rather than allowing it to continue eating up space in the RAM.

When it comes to benefits, the primary advantage of reference counting comes from immediacy. The instant the program finishes with an object, it puts it away, freeing up space for other objects in the program, and for other programs on the computer. From an end-user point of view, this is a very clean approach; the program never takes up more memory than it requires at any specific time.

The downside of this technique is economy. In order for reference counting to operate effectively, it must utilize a perpetual monitoring device to manage the number of objects being used at any one time. This consumes a small portion of memory and CPU capacity, increasing processor overhead from the program. The result is that the decision to use reference counting becomes a balancing act, determining whether the programmer wants to allocate additional stress to the CPU or the RAM.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
EasyTechJunkie, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

EasyTechJunkie, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.