Why Computers Crash

Although crashes caused by hardware are possible, most computer crashes are caused by errors in the OS software.


There are 3 fundamental types of computer program errors that are related to when/how the error is discovered: Compile-time errors, Run-time errors, and “silent” errors.  Runtime errors are the ones that result in crashes that you see as a user.

Software Explained

List from Quora

  1. Null Pointer Exception
  2. Function has bad inputs
  3. Read/write past boundaries of an array or tap into a non-existent array
  4. Write to a string that doesn’t have memory allocated (like #3)
  5. Pointer doesn’t point to a valid place
  6. Files or ports or connection handles are bad — in which case we use defensive programming to prepare for worse case
  7. Something mathematical is wrong like divide by zero
  8. Code is trying to extend beyond its system permissions
  9. System is out of memory
  10. Memory leaks are causing #9
  11. Bad library — bug introduced from other code
  12. Malicious hackers have taken over your computer

List from MakeUseOf that is more hardware-y

  1. Bad memory or motherboard
  2. BIOS settings at hardware level
  3. Corrupt registry
  4. Incorrect or corrupt drivers
  5. Hard drive issues
  6. Hardware conflicts
  7. Virus
  8. Power issues
  9. Overheating

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Computer errors are fascinating. A lifetime of learning to master.

I loved reading in The New Yorker about the early Google days where Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat pair-debugged an issue in their search results from software layer all the way down to a bit-flip from natural causes. (Reference.)

trange environmental factors came into play. When a supernova explodes, the blast wave creates high-energy particles that scatter in every direction; scientists believe there is a minute chance that one of the errant particles, known as a cosmic ray, can hit a computer chip on Earth, flipping a 0 to a 1. The world’s most robust computer systems, at nasa, financial firms, and the like, used special hardware that could tolerate single bit-flips. But Google, which was still operating like a startup, bought cheaper computers that lacked that feature.

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