In the Java platform, there are four types of references to objects. Direct references are the type you normally use, as in:
Object obj = new Object()
You can think of direct references as strong references that require no extra coding to create or access the object. The remaining three types of references are subclasses of the
Reference class found in the
java.lang.ref package. Soft references are provided by the
SoftReference class, weak references by the
WeakReference class, and phantom references by
Soft references act like a data cache. When system memory is low, the garbage collector can arbitrarily free an object whose only reference is a soft reference. In other words, if there are no strong references to an object, that object is a candidate for release. The garbage collector is required to release any soft references before throwing an
Weak references are weaker than soft references. If the only references to an object are weak references, the garbage collector can reclaim the memory used by an object at any time. There is no requirement for a low memory situation. Typically, memory used by the object is reclaimed in the next pass of the garbage collector.
Phantom references relate to cleanup tasks. They offer a notification immediately before the garbage collector performs the finalization process and frees an object. Consider it a way to do cleanup tasks within an object.