What is the gray circle with an exclamation mark (or bang)?

[Note: edited 7 Jun 2012, 13 Aug 2012 to make changes based on comments that have been received]

The generic memory error icon was added in Flash Player version 10.1 and will appear within a browser when the Flash Player has been particularly abused or is running in a very low memory environment. The icon, affectionately known as the Gray Circle of Death (GCOD), is a gray circle with a white exclamation mark within it.

It is not just an icon, however. It is a sign that Flash is protecting your computer from an application that is asking for more memory than your browser has available. The browser will crash if it runs out of memory and that is a Very Bad Thing. If that happens your browser may crash or your computer may crash and need a restart. Flash now has the feature in which it shuts down an application if that application causes a memory problem.

Note: One recurring comment to this post is that one application or another created in Flash often triggers this icon to appear. “Why don’t you fix Flash?” The answer to that question is that Flash is doing exactly what it is supposed to do. It is protecting your computer.

It is possible in Flash, as with most programming languages, to create create an application that doesn’t play nice.

The Flash Player tries to shield the user from either intentional or unintentional mischief that an application can create. The GCOD is shown when Flash has stepped in and kept an application running in the Flash Player from using more memory than is available. The Flash Player stops execution of an application and displays the GCOD when an application requires more memory to continue running than is available.

It is important to point out that the Flash Player has not overrun its available memory. If it had Very Bad Things would have occurred. What did happen is that Flash Player yanked the leash of an application and shut it down when it needed more memory than the browser had available.

For that reason, the GCOD is a very good feature of the Flash Player.

Getting Rid of the GCOD

Most important to most people is not what the GCOD is, but how to make it go away. In all cases, an application does not have enough memory to run. The application could be needing a reasonable amount of memory but the browser does not have that much memory available. On the other hand, the application could also go into a death spiral because of a programming error and suck up every bit of memory available in even the heftiest computers. There are many ways for an application to overrun its memory.

When the GCOD is seen, the first course of action is to contact the developer of the Flash application. I have a decent computer and I have only seen the GCOD appear because of the coding of the application. The GCOD is not a problem Flash Player causes. You see it when the safety valve has blown.

For more:
Flash Player 11 Technical Specifications
Garbage collection internals for Flash Player and Adobe AIR
Optimizing Performance for the Adobe Flash Platform

13 Responses to What is the gray circle with an exclamation mark (or bang)?

  1. Lailani says:

    Hi, i have this problem and i believe it is more the other problem than an issue with low memory. How can i fix it, and i am noo computer expert, im 19 and dopey? help please??

  2. Richard Papaconstantinou says:

    Hi Adobe, I must agree with Lailani.i have just purchased an Alienware system with 16gm of RAM 4 by 4 sticks. Sacrilege to admit, but i’m playing Cityville on the system yet I keep having a dying game with this exclamation mark coming up(or the black screen with cloud saying Flash has crashed on Chrome or something to that effect). Now the pages load very fast in 2 or 3 secs in comparison to up to 10 secs with my old Toshiba 4gb mem Satillite laptop which is great, butthe crashes are not. I’m currantly working thru this prob with Zynga, but hopefully it something I have done that can be quickly resolved and not anongoing issue with Flash,

    • Deke Smith says:

      I am not a Flash Player engineer so I can’t say one way or the other what is or is not causing this problem. The Gray Circle only appears when there is low memory. It is a symptom and not a cause of any problems. ActionScript can be written, either intentionally or unintentionally, that can bring Flash Player down to its knees no matter what computer you are using. Because it is single-threaded, the behavior of Flash Player can be completely different on different computers that are different speeds. Scripts are run one after another on cycles based on the framerate. If the scripts take a while to complete, the movie will freeze while waiting. You may be seeing a problem that manifests itself at different timings.

      Run the debug version of the Flash Player and see if you get any exceptions. Report any exceptions along with your experience of running out of memory to the developer of the Flash movies you are using.

  3. need4steer says:

    I’m getting the Grey Circle of Death (GCOD) in YouTube (this is the only place I noticed the GCOD so far).
    I’m using Internet Explorer 9 on Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit, with the latest Flash Player ( The same issue occurs at Windows 7 Ultimate 32-bit.
    I’m getting it randomly, usualy after 3-4 videos of about 3-5 minutes in their best quality (720 or 1080). I’m getting it also if I’m playing videos in a lower resulotion, though I’m getting it after 7-10 videos.

    The behavior jmadle123 described at Bug#2928203 page (at May 4, 2012 at 7:44:12 AM PDT) is exactly my behavior – I’m opening a tab, viewing a video, then closing the tab, and opening a video in a new tab – and so on.
    After 3-4 times of this (at 720p/1080p) I’m getting the GCOD.
    If I’m looking at the Task Manager I can clearly see that one of Internet Explorer’s processes is taking at least 600 M (the other are 3-4 processess are usually far behind him). I see this in the “Working Set (Memory)” column.
    I can also see a large amount of page faults (in the “Page Faults” column).

    Sounds like we are familiar well enough with the issue, but how this problem can be addressed?
    Why the memory is leaking when I play a few videos at YouTube?
    Is there a thing I can do in order to address this issue (besides replacing a browser or opening and closing too many tabs)?

    A link to Bug#2928203 page:

    • Deke Smith says:

      Hello need4steer,

      I have not had any experience with the behavior you described. So I don’t have any advice on how to mitigate your running out of memory.


  4. Kathy Mullen says:

    I am having the same problem and it is a pain to play Cityville. I think it is the flash too as suddenly I started having problems with it and took it out and put it back and got no help. I too have contacted Zinga about this problem and they tell me it is low memory. I had an online technician get on my computer today and he was all over the memory. I have used only about 1/4 of my memory so I don’t think this is it. I think it is Adobe Flash Player. They have changed something maybe.

    • Deke Smith says:

      Hello Kathy.

      Do a quick check and see if you are using a 32 bit browser or 64 bit browser. Flash uses the browser’s memory space. If you are using a 32 bit browser it can only access 2 GB of memory at most. It can be less depending how much you have available. If you have a 32 bit browser and a computer with 8 GB of RAM, one fourth of your memory is 2 GB. And that 2 GB can be shared by other 32 bit programs or system resources so the amount of memory available to Flash is much, much less. Switching to a 64 bit browser should help your memory problems.


  5. Sherry Daniels Hill says:

    I play City Ville & I have this problem alot. I have a 64bit browser, I also have 4.00GB installed memory it says that I have 3.75GB usable. That is usually all that I have going. So why am I having this problem.

    • Deke Smith says:

      Hello Sherry.

      I am not familiar with Cityville. To know for sure the program needs to be run in a profiler.

      By the way, this is the last comment I will approve about Cityville. These are questions more appropriate for the developer of the application.


  6. melody Squires says:

    I know you said no more comments about cityville which is where i am getting my problems at. Question where is the link for the debugger? Also FYI the tech support of this game gave me the link to this thread in response to my stating I was getting GCOD.

    • Deke Smith says:

      Hello Melody,

      As an end-user, there is not much you can do about GCOD except making sure your computer has plenty memory available. The application can be run in debugging mode by the developer.


  7. Rich says:

    As a developer, how do I find the cause of the GCOD? All I get is a trace saying “error: out of memory”, with no indication of which allocation caused the problem. Unfortunately, the GCOD, nor any odd memory behaviour happens when running in the Profiler, so that’s no help!

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