You are currently viewing Understanding Executor Memory Overhead in Spark

Spark Executor Memory Overhead is a very important parameter that is used to enhance memory utilization, prevent out-of-memory issues, and boost the overall efficiency of your Apache Spark applications. As a data engineer with several years of experience working with Apache Spark, I have had the opportunity to gain a deep understanding of the Spark architecture and its various components. In particular, I have worked extensively with Spark components and their configurations to improve the performance of the Spark jobs that deal with billions of data.


Apache Spark, a powerful distributed computing framework, processes data in a parallel and fault-tolerant manner across a cluster of nodes. Spark Executors play a crucial role in this distributed computing environment, executing tasks and managing resources. Memory management is a critical aspect of Spark performance, and understanding the memory overhead associated with Spark Executors is essential for optimizing application performance.

1. Spark Executor Memory Management

Spark Executors run on worker nodes and are responsible for executing tasks assigned by the Spark Driver. Each Executor operates in its isolated Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and manages both storage and computation. Memory is divided into different regions within the Executor’s JVM to handle various aspects of Spark processing, such as caching, shuffling, and task execution. Hence, it is critical to understand what each of these memory regions is used by the Spark executor.

1.1 Memory Regions in Spark Executor:

Below are explanations of each memory region in the Spark executor

  • Heap Memory: The largest portion of an Executor’s memory is allocated to the Java heap. The heap is used for storing objects created during task execution and other runtime data structures.
  • Off-Heap Memory: Some data, like serialized task results and shuffle data, is stored outside the Java heap in off-heap memory. This helps avoid Java Garbage Collection (GC) pauses affecting critical Spark operations. Executor memory overhead is used to allocate off-heap memory.
  • User Memory: User memory is reserved for caching and user data structures. It is a configurable region where data is stored in serialized form, reducing the overhead of Java object serialization.
  • Reserved Memory: A portion of the memory is reserved for system-related tasks and internal metadata. This ensures that essential Spark components have the required resources.

2. Understanding Executor Memory Overhead

Spark executor memory overhead refers to additional memory allocated beyond the user-defined executor memory in Apache Spark. It is crucial for managing off-heap memory, storing internal data structures, and accommodating system overhead. Hence, you can use Executor memory overhead to allocate additional memory to off-heap memory. The overhead ensures efficient task execution, garbage collection, and safeguarding against memory-related errors.

Effectively configuring Spark Executor memory overhead is essential for achieving optimal performance. The default value of the spark.executor.memoryOverhead is calculated by the below formula with a default minimum value of 384 MB.

# Formula used to calculate spark.executor.memoryOverhead
executorMemory * spark.executor.memoryOverheadFactor

Let’s break down the components of this formula:

  • executorMemory: This represents the user-defined executor memory, specified using the --executor-memory option in spark-submit or the spark.executor.memory configuration parameter. It defines the total amount of memory available for Spark tasks on each executor.
  • spark.executor.memoryOverheadFactor: This is a configuration parameter in Spark that represents a scaling factor applied to the executor memory to determine the additional memory allocated as overhead. It is specified using the --conf option or in the Spark configuration files. The default value for this is 0.10

This formula calculates the executor memory overhead by multiplying the user-defined executor memory (executorMemory) by the configured memory overhead factor (spark.executor.memoryOverheadFactor).

For example, if you have set --executor-memory 4g and --conf "spark.executor.memoryOverheadFactor=0.1", the formula would yield:

# Calculate off heap memory
4 GB×0.1 = 400 MB

In this case, 400 MB would be allocated as off-heap memory for Spark’s internal use, managing system overhead, and addressing off-heap requirements.

2.1 Configuring Executor Memory Overhead

When submitting a Spark application using spark-submit, you can specify the executor memory overhead using the --conf option followed by the spark.executor.memoryOverhead configuration.

# spark-submit example with memoryOverhead
spark-submit \
  --class your.main.Class \
  --master yarn \
  --deploy-mode cluster \
  --executor-memory 4g \
  --conf "spark.executor.memoryOverhead=512M" \

Properly configuring executor memory overhead, using the spark.executor.memoryOverhead configuration parameter, is essential for optimizing Spark applications by balancing memory allocation between tasks, caching, and internal Spark operations, ultimately enhancing performance and preventing out-of-memory issues.

Adjust the values according to your application’s memory requirements and the characteristics of your Spark cluster. Experiment with different configurations to find the optimal settings for your specific workload.

Remember that the optimal value for spark.executor.memoryOverhead may vary based on the specific requirements and characteristics of your Spark application. It is advisable to conduct thorough testing and profiling to identify the most suitable configuration for your particular use case.

2.2 Relevant Configuration Properties:

Spark provides several configuration options to fine-tune memory-related settings.

  • spark.executor.memory: Specifies the total memory available per Executor, including both heap and off-heap memory.
  • spark.executor.memoryOverhead: Controls the memory overhead beyond the heap size. It is crucial for handling off-heap memory, task execution overhead, and other internal memory usage.
  • spark.memory.fraction: Determines the portion of the heap space reserved for Spark’s internal memory structures. Fine-tuning this fraction helps balance between user data storage and Spark metadata.
  • spark.memory.storageFraction: Defines the proportion of the reserved memory fraction used for caching and storage. It influences the balance between computation and storage within an Executor.

3. Impact on Application Performance by Memory Overhead:

Understanding the importance of memory overhead in Spark applications is paramount for optimizing performance. Efficient memory utilization enhances task execution, minimizes out-of-memory errors, and ensures scalability. Let’s see the impact of memory overhead from below 3 points.

  • GC Overheads: Excessive memory overhead can lead to frequent garbage collection, impacting application performance. Reducing memory overhead helps minimize GC pauses and enhances overall efficiency.
  • Resource Contention: Memory overhead affects the overall resource availability for task execution. In a resource-constrained environment, high memory overhead may lead to resource contention and performance degradation.
  • Scaling Challenges: As the scale of data and processing increases, inefficient memory usage and overhead become more pronounced. Optimizing memory settings becomes crucial for horizontal scaling.

4. Best Practices for Memory Configuration:

  • Understand Workload Characteristics:
    • Tailor memory configurations based on the nature of your Spark workload, considering factors like data size, complexity of transformations, and shuffling requirements.
  • Monitor and Tune:
    • Regularly monitor Spark application metrics, including memory usage and garbage collection. Adjust configurations based on observed patterns to optimize performance.
  • Consider Off-Heap Memory:
    • Evaluate the use of off-heap memory for certain data structures and shuffle operations to reduce pressure on the Java heap and minimize GC pauses.
  • Avoid Excessive Memory Overhead:
    • Strive to keep memory overhead within reasonable limits to avoid unnecessary resource consumption and potential performance bottlenecks.
  • Scale Carefully:
    • As the data volume and processing scale, carefully scale memory configurations to meet increased demands without compromising efficiency.
  • Leverage Dynamic Allocation:
    • Consider using Spark’s dynamic allocation feature to dynamically adjust the number of Executors based on workload requirements. This helps optimize resource usage.


Effectively managing Spark Executor memory overhead is crucial for achieving optimal performance and scalability in Apache Spark applications. By modifying the factors contributing to memory overhead, configuring relevant Spark properties, and adhering to best practices, users can strike a balance between resource utilization, task execution efficiency, and overall application responsiveness. Regular monitoring and fine-tuning are essential to adapt memory configurations to the evolving demands of Spark workloads and ensure a smooth and efficient distributed computing experience.